“A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.” – Jane Austen
England’s Jurassic Coast
Have you ever thought how cool would it be to dig up fossils? Do you love beaches and ocean views? Do you like to immerse yourself in cultures and experience local food and drink? If you answered yes to any of these questions, add Lyme Regis to your travel bucket list. Known for its geology, scenery, historical landmarks and a particular enchanting fossil, Lyme Regis is one of the villages located on the Jurassic Coast, England’s very first natural World Heritage Site. The 95-mile stretch of rocky coast dates back to the Mesozoic Era 250 million years ago. The ever-changing coastline crumbles like a cake of time, layer upon layer of early life constantly eroding and exposing a fossil treasure trove, a playground for both paleontologists and casual fossil hunters. Visitors to the coast can find (or buy) fossils like ichthyosaurs, pliosaurs, plesiosaurs, prehistoric vegetation and the iconic ammonite by the bagful–if you know where to look.
What on the surface may seem like a typical beachside town, Lyme Regis has a distinct charm reflected everywhere from lampposts to local art and product packaging: the ammonite. But if fossils and rocks aren’t high on your list of interests, the area still has plenty to offer. This sparkling seaside gem is full of specialty food and drinks, quirky gift and clothing shops, museums, aquariums, and, of course, the sea. Lyme Regis boasts five beaches to choose from and a healthy dose of activities in and around it. Sailing, swimming, waterskiing, angling, hiking and basking in the sun are popular here, defying the common misconception that the UK is drizzly and dreary. And if literature piques your interest, try a Jane Austen tour. In 1803 and 1804, she visited the town on two separate occasions and set her novel Persuasions in the village. Today, visitors can see the places the author loved, the house she stayed in and the sites featured in the story.
Travel Well’s Visit to the Jurassic Coast
We took a day trip to Lyme Regis with our friend Carol from her cottage in Melbury Osmond 45 minutes away, and very quickly the town moved to the top of our favorite travel destinations. In our exploration of this magnet for fossil hunters, we discovered an unforgettable find of our own: the best sausage roll we’ve ever had. On a search for coffee, we stumbled upon the Town Mill Bakery, a small bakery behind what is still a working water mill, where we found delicious coffee and then some. We watched as two bakers pulled freshly baked loaves, bread bowls, pizzas and other goodies out of ovens along the walls of the single open room and lined them on wooden trays with parchment paper scribbled with descriptions and pricing. Enamored with the selection, we parked ourselves at one of the long picnic tables lining the center of the room and waited to be first in line for the first-come first-served style eatery to officially open for lunch. When the clock struck 12:30, we selected two (enormous) apple sausage rolls and a mediterranean pizza. After falling in love with the sweet and savory rolls, we snagged the last one to take home and savor as the bakery filled with eager customers.
Around the corner from the bakery, we explored the rest of the mill: a small brewery serving English style beer, it too featuring the much-loved ammonite on bottle labels; the old-fashioned Town Mill Cheesemonger carrying an impressive selection of cheeses as well as ice cream, preserves, chutneys and even wine and port to accompany your cheese; The Courtyard Cafe and art gallery; and The Miller’s Garden. The Town Mill is a tiny town in itself. Thankfully for us, while we were surrounded by delicious, not-exactly-healthy food, we were also surrounded by steep hills to climb and help us work off the extra calories.
We continued our walk to the water’s edge and along the Marine Parade to try our hand at fossil digging. Armed with a tip from a local and nothing more, we walked along the rocky beach and crumbling cliffs looking for frail rocks we could split open like a book. Within a few minutes, we were able to find multiple small ammonite fossils, though nothing nearly as impressive as we saw on display in town shops. While we could have searched for hours, we walked back to the main street see what the shops had to offer. As you might expect, the ammonites were again the center of attention as local artists created necklaces, earrings, bracelets and other pieces of jewelry with the fossils, along with other unique rock and stone pieces.
Lyme Regis has non-fossil uniquities, too: ghost walks, specialty food stores, and a little theater by the sea, to name a few. I even found a local bookstore crammed floor to ceiling with vintage books and was surprised when the store owner kindly found me a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I had been searching for for months. I added the find to a few bottles of local beer and treats before we had to make our way back to Carol’s cottage. While it was difficult to leave, we were so thankful she so generously hosted us and brought us to Lyme Regis, and we know we will return for a longer stay in there as soon as possible.
To plan a visit to Lyme Regis, check out the town’s vacation guide on everything from the logistics to how to get active, eat well and explore the area.
For another vibrant Jurassic Coast destination on a larger scale, check out Weymouth for even more beaches, shopping and spectacular food.
Accessibility note: Many places in Lyme Regis are accessible to people of all mobility levels. However, the town is situated on a very steep hill, so many roads are on a sharp incline and many buildings require the use of stairs. Lyme Regis’s vacation guide includes helpful information on accessibility, but both Travel Well and the guide recommend checking directly with specific accommodations, tours and transportation ahead of your visit.