Lyme Regis literary trail

lyme regis

This walking trail in and around Lyme Regis includes two coastal walks, walks along the Cobb and in the town, a visit to the Philpot Museum and two nights at The Bay Hotel in Lyme Regis where Inspector Morse in The Way Through The Woods (1993) reads a letter in The Times containing a cryptic poem concerning a young girl’s disappearance.

The walks, on clearly marked paths and sections of the World Heritage Dorset Coastal Path, are moderately strenuous with some steep climbs along the coastline.

Lyme Regis, the site of the landing of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, lies at the innermost point of the great half-circle of Lyme Bay, cradled by hills and protected by the harbour wall known as the Cobb.

This ancient breakwater, with stones studded with fossils, has featured strongly in Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818) and in John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969).

Jane Austen holidayed here in 1803 and 1804, lodging in Broad Street and walking extensively; there is a commemorative Jane Austen Garden.

John Fowles (1926-2005) moved into Underhill Farm in October 1965, and then to Belmont House in May 1969. Here Fowles wrote The Ebony Tower (1974), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), A Maggot (1985) and The Tree (1992).

Belmont House is now a Landmark Trust property and available for a holiday stay. Sleeps 8.

Fossils have been discovered locally since the early nineteenth century and it is believed that the tongue twister, ‘She sells seashells on the sea shore’ is derived from the exploits of Mary Anning, who found an entire marine dinosaur in 1811 and continued to find and sell fossils here throughout her life. John Fowles was Curator of the Philpot Museum from 1978-88.

Most famously (especially since the release of the film starring Meryl Streep) The Cobb is where the French Lieutenant’s woman stands alone gazing out to sea. John Fowles’ elegant study of Sarah Woodruff, the French Lieutenant’s Woman, thematically draws upon Persuasion and Tennyson’s Maud (1855) (from which it quotes), and features striking descriptions of the local area.

The Cobb, to Fowles, is a superb fragment of folk-art: ‘Primitive yet complex, elephantine but delicate; as full of subtle curves and volumes as a Henry Moore or a Michelangelo; and pure, clean, salt, a paragon of mass.’

And one, but once, she lifted her eyes.
And suddenly, sweetly, strangely blush’d
To find they were met by my own

There are excellent walks along the harbour wall and westwards along the grey cliffs of Ware Cleeves, and to the east along the slopes and ledges of Black Ven, Stone Barrow and Golden Cap towards Charmouth in the footsteps of (amongst others) Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Lord Tennyson, Francis Palgrave, Beatrix Potter, John Fowles and Colin Dexter.

The Undercliff

The Undercliff stretches five miles westward towards Seaton. It is one of the most geologically dynamic areas of Europe, and a World Heritage Site. Here, at Underhill Farm, John Fowles wrote The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Trees, plants, birds, animals and butterflies thrive on the isolation of the Undercliff, where erosion has created canyons, bluffs, rock towers and pools smothered in vegetation. It is an awesome place.

Charles Smithson was lost on the Undercliff when he came across Sarah Woodfuff lying ‘in the complete abandonment of dead sleep’ in a sunny bower, and was immediately infatuated.


Getting there

Lyme Regis is easy to get to by car or train.

By Train: Alight at Axminster, a stop on the London Waterloo to Exeter inter-city line. Take a taxi or bus the last five miles to Lyme Regis.

By car: From London take the M3 and then the A303. From the A303 take the A358 at Ilminster and then the A35 east at Axminster.
From the north take the M5.
Turn off the A35 between Bridport and Axminster following signs to Lyme Regis.

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