Lyme Regis harbour
Lyme Regis harbour

The pretty fishing port of Lyme Regis is one of the most popular visitor destinations along the lovely Jurassic Coast of Dorset, and with good justification; the setting is superb, and the town has a distinct charm. The Jurassic Coast gets its name because the cliffs here abound in fossil remains laid down in the Jurassic period.

The stretch of coast between Lyme Regis and nearby Charmouth, where the Jurassic Coast visitor centre is located, is one of the best stretches of the coast for fossil hunters. A fairly sedate walk along the beach at low tide brings you to exposed cliffs where it is very easy to find fossil remains (our 11-year-old son proved very adept at discovering fossils, even though we had left our hammer at home!).

Mary Anning

One of the most famous residents of Lyme Regis was Mary Anning. Born in 1799, Anning was only 11 when she discovered the remains of an ichthyosaur at Black Ven, just east of Lyme Regis. Anning dedicated herself to digging fossils out of the cliffs and selling them to visitors. Some of her prize finds are in the Science Museum in London.

So famous did she become in her time that a little rhyme was made up about her: "She sells seashells by the seashore". Mary Anning's grave can be seen in the churchyard, and the site of her house is now the town museum.

Sunrise over The Cobb
Sunrise over The Cobb

The Cobb

Palaeontology aside, Lyme Regis is famous for its literary associations. Author John Fowles lived here, and his novel The French Lieutenant's Woman was set in the town. In the most famous scene in the film made of Fowles's novel, actress Meryl Streep stands at the end of The Cobb, the 13th-century seawall that protects Lyme Regis harbour, and waits for her love to return to her.

The Cobb is a remarkable structure. It is composed of two long arms built of stone blocks, curving out into the sea to create an inner harbour, safe from the sea. For centuries The Cobb made Lyme Regis one of the most visited harbours along the south coast, but the harbour eventually silted up, and today only smaller fishing vessels and charter craft can enter safely.

Near the tip of the western arm of the Cobb is a set of stone steps set into the inner wall (see photo gallery). Novelist Jane Austen used these steps in Persuasion, where Louisa Musgrove slipped and fell while attempting to negotiate the awkward descent (I'm not surprised - it is mighty tricky!). You can walk along the top of the Cobb, though caution should be exercised in wet weather, as the surface may be slippery.

The Pilot Boat Inn
The Pilot Boat Inn


Step ashore for a moment and wander along the Marine Walk to the Pilot Boat Inn. This pretty pub was the home of the original Lassie, the inspiration for the novel of the same name. It seems that many years ago the landlord of the Pilot Boat had a collie named Lassie. In 1915 the HMS Formidable became the first boat sunk in WWI by a German U-boat.

Bodies from the Formidable were taken to the Pilot Boat. One crewman was thought to be dead and was laid upon the floor. Lassie lay beside the 'dead' man and licked his face. The corpse suddenly awoke, much to the surprise of all present! This true story was later used as an inspiration for the series of Lassie books, films, and television series.

The known history of Lyme Regis dates to the year 774, when Cynewulf, king of Wessex, gave a grant of land here to the Abbey of Sherborne. Nothing is known about the earliest settlement, but we are on firmer historical ground when it comes to the medieval period.

Edward I granted Lyme the right to become a free borough in 1284, and in 1315 part of the manor of Lyme was ceded to the crown, with the result that the term "Regis", (Royal) was added to the name. In 1328 we see the first written mention of The Cobb; at that time it was built of timber and rock.

Lyme's next real appearance in the history of the realm occurred during the English Civil War when the town was besieged by Royalist troops for over 2 months. The inhabitants withstood the siege and the Cavaliers were forced to retreat.

Monmouth's Rebellion

In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis to begin his futile and short-lived invasion. Monmouth landed just west of The Cobb and gathered his men in the Market Square. Here, with banners flying, they rallied support for a rebellion. One hundred men from Lyme joined the rebels and marched north. But Monmouth never managed to raise the support he had hoped for, and eventually his army was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Retribution for the rebels was swift and terrible.

The infamous Judge Jeffries exacted retribution on Monmouth's supporters during his 'Bloody Assizes', condemning 12 men of Lyme to death. Eleven were drawn and quartered on the very beach where Monmouth had landed, while the twelfth man escaped this savage punishment because his sister paid Jeffries £1000 to allow him to be executed without the ignominy and suffering of being drawn and quartered!

Editor's Notes

Lest that last paragraph put you off, let me report that my family and I found Lyme a wonderful place to visit. It is incredibly easy to find fossils on the beach, there is wonderful walking along the coast, and the harbour is a delight.

Lyme is not too big and not too bustling, but offers plenty of facilities for accommodation and eating out. One of my favourite spots along the south coast.


An American visitor looks at Lyme Regis

About Lyme Regis
Address: Lyme Regis, Jurassic Coast, Dorset, England
Attraction Type: Town
Location map
OS: SY338 922
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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