Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking, Lyme Regis sounds like one of those made-up place names, like Boggy Bottom in Abbots Langley, or Cockbridge in Derbyshire, but it absolutely exists, both on a map and in real life and you can stay in your very own Lyme Regis holiday cottage!
Sure, it sounds like it’s straight from the pages of a PG Wodehouse novel, but once you get there, you’ll see that actually, it’s all rather lovely. In fact, hold and expand that thought. Dorset itself is all rather lovely.
I’ve spent a fair few years knocking around Dorset. A posting to the town of Blandford Forum during my Army years proved to be a useful launchpad for exploring Dorset, and I learned to drive in and around the highways and byways of this fair county. As a result, I’m one of the few people who know how to safely overtake the normal Dorset traffic, which consists mostly of tractors, horses and people wearing straw smocks.
The backstory of how a bone idle layabout like me came to be residing temporarily in Lyme Regis is complex and fraught with details that I won’t bore you with. But suffice to say, it involved Mrs B and her burgeoning interior design-themed Instagram account, a new camera she’d acquired, and something to do with the beauty of the local area.
So we duly loaded up two small children, packed a case or two of stuff and set the ever-trusty SatNav for Lyme Regis.
Regis is a popular suffix for a lot of towns and having Bognor Regis near me in Sussex (site of a kick-ass Butlins – see separate Blog that Mrs B will surely make me write at some stage), I can hopefully explain that the Regis title bestows Royal favour on a town or implies that Royalty, at some stage, resided or owned the area.
In later years, as Latin fell out of favour, the suffix of Regis was replaced by the prefix of Kings – so that gave birth to places like Kings Lynn and … uhh … *checks Google* Kings Landing in Game of Thrones? You get the idea.
So what makes Lyme Regis so worthy of Royal patronage? Well, at one stage, back in the mists of time, it was a major British Port – hard to believe in this day and age when you gaze upon the slumbering, idyllic, harbour; dotted with sailboats and pleasure cruises and people eating ice creams.
But at one stage this was one of the beating hearts of thirteenth-century England where mercantile traders set sail for foreign shores to bring back all manner of treasures and treats.
Frankly, given the diet of 13th-century English people, I too would have bestowed Royal patronage on the first sailor who brought me back anything that didn’t immediately give me scurvy. If I was King, the first sailor to bring me an orange would have got a knighthood.
And so, after a gentle drive through the highways and byways of Dorset (without me having to use any of my horse overtaking skills), we came down a long and gentle hill, and below us, in all its majesty, was the town of Lyme Regis.
Like many a Dorset village, it was picture postcard perfect and reassuringly unspoiled by the 21st century, with a complete absence of billboard hoardings, crowds and mobile phone signal. I think I even saw a thatched roof dotted here and there around the village.
I could tell we were getting closer to the centre of the town as the roads slowly got narrower and narrower, and more and more twisty as we moved into the town. A throng of locals was gathered outside pubs and cafes for what I assume is the local game of “laughing at stuck tourists trying to get around hairpin bends”.
I’m not even joking, at one stage I had to physically breathe in, to try and fit myself between two timber-clad houses, only realising afterwards that this does not actually work if you’re in a large metal car.
After several minutes of this, I was starting to get slightly irritable with charmingly unspoiled English towns and came to find myself longing for the sight of an efficient eight-lane autobahn when suddenly, Mrs B gave a squeal of excitement and pointed out that we were near our charming looking Lyme Regis holiday cottage – Brook Cottage.
Lyme Regis Holiday Cottage
Our Lyme Regis holiday cottage – Brook Cottage, as the name suggests, is near a brook. Well, I say brook, but at the time we were there it had just rained, so it was more of a torrent, but it was easy enough to picture it being a happily babbling brook in normal times.
And I say brook, but actually, Google maps tells me it’s actually the River Lym. The Lyme Regis cottage is a lovely 1930s semi-detached boutique cottage right in the centre of town, which had three utterly beautiful bedrooms to sleep a total of five people. Brook Cottage’s unique position means it has its own teeny-tiny little bridge over the water and therefore, you have to park your car up by Gosling Bridge, unload and then park nearby.
But, once you get your bags in, your reward is a beautiful house, with each room having really tasteful décor. This elicited further squealing from Mrs B, as well as a comfortable lounge with a large screen TV, plus WiFi provision – which elicited the first and only excited squeal of the weekend from The Boy.
If you own a hairy member of your family that isn’t the husband, you’ll also be pleased to hear that the cottage is also pet friendly and if you came in an electric car, the local car park is about 3 minutes away, is reasonably priced and has a couple of charging bays you can snaffle.
Now, I am no interior designer, that’s for sure, but what struck me most about the location was that the entire Lyme Regis cottage was bathed in light for most of the day.
I’m also not smart enough to understand how that’s possible, but clearly clever use of furniture, paints and mirrors all add up to giving Brook Cottage an almost dreamlike quality. When the sun hit the apex of the sky and literal shafts of light started to poke into the house, I began to suspect I was actually in a fantastically well-designed movie set, a la The Truman Show, rather than a Lyme Regis cottage in the middle of the town.
Having settled in and had the obligatory arrival cup of tea (well, we are British), I had a little nose around. A well-stocked and cosy kitchen was at the back of the house, where the owners had thoughtfully left us a little gift basket containing Dorset-themed treats.
There was a downstairs bathroom and the front room came well stocked with family board games in case the weather took a turn for the worse, or worse, the wifi dropped out.
Upstairs, there was a generously sized master bedroom with a cloud-like comfy bed, as well as a couple of smaller rooms containing a double and single bed respectively, which my children duly rated as “excellent”. And Mrs B liked the décor, so as a family, it was very much job done.
Hotels in Lyme Regis
If self-catering is what you want, then Brook Cottage is what you need in spades, but then, this is a lazy travel blog, so maybe you want to be looked after a little more during your precious weekends?
If that’s the case, the joy is that there are no chain hotels in Lyme Regis – the gaudy green neon of a Holiday Inn would probably have caused the local town planners to have a stroke – so you are spoilt for choice when it comes to independent B&Bs and local hotels in Lyme Regis.
Top of the Pops has got to be the boutique Lyme 1 Hotel in the centre of town for the location and the well-regarded breakfast hampers. Although if you do want the full Hotel experience, the Dower House Hotel just outside of Lyme Regis gives you just that, plus a heated outdoor pool, in case you suffer an attack of cowardice and the sea feels just a touch too chilly. Apart from those, Google away and go nuts – you won’t go too far wrong.
Things to do in and around Lyme Regis
I immediately felt very at home being so near to the Jurassic Coast, because, like me, the landscape and coast are both rugged and dramatic, and, also like me, are crumbling and very old.
The first thing on Saturday morning was a short walk into town to have a bit of exploration. Our route took us firstly through the Langmoor and Lister gardens, a beautifully presented leafy garden area with views over Lyme Regis beach, where my boy immediately pretended to be a soldier in the Vitamin War (he still can’t pronounce Vietnam – see a separate blog that Mrs B will, at some stage, make me write no doubt).
At the bottom, there was a crazy golf course and at the very bottom, there was the inevitable amusement arcade where your children can relieve you of any spare cash you might have lying around.
Once you hit the seafront and the splendid Lyme Regis beach, there’s a very pleasant seaside walk along the South West Coastal Path, decorated with dinosaur-themed art and information, as befitting the area’s Jurassic history.
Now, one of the things Lyme Regis is famous for is the Cobb. The what, Jim? The Cobb – it’s the local name for the harbour wall, and the reason it’s so famous is that it’s where the famous scene from the 1981 film The French Lieutenant’s Woman was filmed, which, in turn, was based on the 1969 novel by John Fowles. You know the one – big stormy sea, couple snogging romantically on the harbour arm as the waves crash over.
I gently suggested to Mrs B that we could have a bash at re-enacting that – I could be Jeremy Irons and she could be Meryl Streep – but she pointed out that I am more Rusty than Iron, so alas it was not to be. Perhaps you will have more luck.
After a snogless walk along the Cobb, the children were delighted to find that there was a small and reasonably priced local aquarium in the vicinity, where you could get up close and personal with the local sea life.
After a short walk, you can also find out how a lot of them taste in the local restaurants, but before we tried any of those out, the weather was closing in so we dived into the Lyme Regis Museum to hear all about the history of this fascinating town – and I’m not even being sarcastic here – it was genuinely intriguing.
Firstly, it’s a lot bigger than you’d expect of a town museum and whoever runs it, unlike me, knows how to tell a proper story. Sure, there are the things you’d expect of a town museum – sepia-tinted photographs of long-dead local celebrities, various firemen’s hats worn by long-dead local firemen, faded postcards showing Victorian ladies at the seaside showing a shocking amount of ankle, that sort of jazz.
But surprisingly, Lyme Regis museum combines the social, physical and anthropological history of the local area in a really engaging and thoughtful story, to the point you get genuinely invested in the town and leave with high hopes for its future.
Sure, it starts with a display of Jurassic rocks, but it finishes with you thinking maybe you really should buy a small cottage there, or at least subscribe to the local newspaper.
We also got nagged into taking the children to the arcade – but the less said about that, the better. I’m still paying off that overdraft.
Eating in Lyme Regis
With a break in the British Summer rain appearing, we duly made a break for some food. There’s a really good range of places to eat and if it’s just simple things like chips and ice creams you want, they’re everywhere in the town.
If it’s locally caught seafood you want, you are certainly in luck with that score. The Millside was really highly rated by the locals, and the menu certainly looked good with a tempting array of freshly caught seafood and English dishes and my stomach grumbled contentedly at the thought of a really good fish pie with lashings of English mustard.
Unfortunately, the children would, and do, rather eat bogies than face a fish dish, so it was with some regret we returned to the drawing board.
Poco Pizza also reared its head as an option but was swiftly refused by The Boy, who dismissed melted cheese as “too sloppy and disgusting”, which is a hell of a brave call for a boy who actively eats his own snot.
Losing the will to live, we eventually settled on a pub dinner in the Royal Sovereign, which from the outside looked like a typical English pub with something for everyone, but surprisingly had a strong Greek flavour to the menu.
Now, I’m a bit sceptical of pubs doing non -traditional food and having lived in Cyprus for a couple of years, I like to think I know my way around a Mezze meal.
When you eat in England, you expect many things – terrible service, greasy tables, indifferent food – but what I was absolutely not expecting, was to eat the best chicken gyros outside of Greece inside a rain-splatted pub in Lyme Regis. It was exceptional.
Now, as any fool (as I am) knows, the two key things to getting really good gyros are, the pitta bread must be strong enough to hold the chicken, but also light enough to not overwhelm you with the taste of dough and the tzatziki can’t be all yoghurt. You need the cooling tang of the cucumber, the zing of the mint and the gentle kick of the garlic to come through the sauce and mix with the chicken and these gyros have nailed it all, right to the wall.
I can’t remember what the rest of the family had – more bogies, probably – but I still carry the taste of that gyros in my memory long after I got up reluctantly from the table. I’ve only ever really felt that way a few times before in life – meeting Mrs B for the first time, holding my children for the first time – but that gyros comes a pretty close fourth. Mrs B actively refuses to let me place a framed photo of that gyros up on our family photo wall though.
It was with no small measure of regret that we packed up to leave our Lyme Regis cottage the next day. There was so much more we wanted to pack in – perhaps a sun-kissed walk a bit further along the Jurassic Coast, perhaps a trip to the town mill and microbrewery, but that would have to save for another day.
What I can say is, if you want a gentle family break somewhere that works for all the family, you could do a lot worse than recharge your batteries in a Lyme Regis holiday cottage for a couple of days.
It’s idyllic and peaceful and captures your heart in a truly unexpected way, even if the weather is a bit ropey and you do get caught in the rain. The children’s shoes were full of sand and their heads were full of seaside which is a pretty happy way to close out a weekend break in Lyme Regis.
Mind you, I would say that, because I’m getting softer in my old age. As Mrs B says – I’m definitely less iron these days.