A small walk around the little town of Lyme Regis, delving down the back streets and along the river valley. Discover an art work by Bansky and a healing well for lepers, standing in the grounds of a disappeared chapel. Weave through the narrow streets to the church, sitting on the edge of the land looking out to sea, with the famous Mary Anning resting in its grounds. Cross over one of the oldest bridges in the county and wander along the beach to the Cobb, sticking out to sea, defending coast and country for centuries.
- Distance – 3 miles/4 km
- Duration – 1 hour.
- Exertion – Easy, steep climbs up to the car parks.
- Terrain – Path, lane, road and promenade
- Dogs – On leads at all times. Restrictions on the beaches.
- Maps – OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis and Bridport
- Start – Car park on Cobb road
- Refreshments – Large selection in the town, along the promenade and at the harbour.
The small seaside town of Lyme Regis is situated in the far western corner of Dorset, hidden down chalk valleys on the Jurassic coast. It is full of history, playing varied, yet important, roles throughout the centuries. Evidence of royal visits, fierce battles of war and historical scientific developments still line the streets.
Starting at the Cobb car park, head for the stairs and/or ramp in the lower corner, bringing you out onto Cobb Road. Opposite is the pink Belmont House, an 18th century building that was saved recently from ruin. Today it is under the management of the Landmark Trust. Turn right, cross the road and take the steps on your left hand side. Here you enter into the Langmoor and Lister gardens. Between the roofs and trees, as you look down hill, the harbour and famous Cobb come into view. The promenade and beach sit below you and the town sits on the seafront ahead. Behind the town, the coastline disappears to the east, Golden Cap sticking up high above the sea with its, often illuminated, golden top. On a clear day you can even see as far as Portland Bill.
Remaining on the higher route, join a decked path and then follow the tarmac path to come out onto Pound Street at the top of the centre of town. Turn right and cross over at the junction to enter on to the little pedestrianised street – Sherborne Lane. This lane is typical of what the original town would have looked like, small varied shaped houses mixing thatch, tile, brick and cob all crammed next to each other along narrow lanes.
At the bottom on the hill you meet the river Lim with Sherborne Lane ending at the junction. To continue the walk take Mill Green Road, but before you do look out for an official art work by Banksy. On the wall, where the river is split into two, stands a small origami crane with an orange fish in its mouth. The work has been claimed by the artist himself, but it is slowly starting to fade, the fish hardly visible.
Mill Green brings you back to the river after a small diversion. This route used to be the old road out of Lyme, saving the horses the fight with the hills. Keep to the footpath until you arrive at a road with a waterfall just upstream. Turn right and make your way up another road. Turn right again and walk through the residential estate to then take the next footpath on the right, returning to the river. Retrace your steps back to Banksy’s Crane and cross over the road onto a narrow footpath in-between the river and the diverted stream (the Lynch) to the mill.
On your right is the Leper’s well. On the hillside behind, in 1246, a Friary was built and later a religious hospital. A chapel was built especially for the lepers, around the well, but no remains exist. It can be visited via a small bridge over the river.
Continue along the footpath where it brings you out by the old mill. Again you enter into small tightly packed streets with colourful houses. There is no strict route here, its nice to explore and to discover hidden shops, restaurants and museums.
Head for the church to carry on with the walk. The church used to be much further inland, but due to the process of erosion, it is now precariously close to the edge. However, thanks to huge engineering works on the coastal defences in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lyme is now much more protected.
Lyme has one notorious resident who’s grave can be found in the churchyard just as you enter. Buried with her brother, Joseph, and siblings, Mary Anning helped change perceptions of science. Her life was a tricky one, her family were poor, she survived a lightening strike as a baby and a landslide that unfortunately killed her dog, Trey. Growing up her father would take Joseph and her out onto the cliffs looking for ‘curiosities’ that they could then sell. These curiosities were fossils such like ammonites, belamites and vertebrates. Her father died when she was young but she continued the work, even opening her own shop. In 1811 she discovered a huge skull fossil of an ichthyosaur with her brother and later the rest of the body by herself. These discoveries helped science understand that the world was a lot older than they thought, breaking through the belief of religion. She received little recognition for her work, although it is also rumoured that she was the inspiration for Terry Sullivans lyrics to ‘She Sells Seashells On The Sea Shore’. Recently she has had strong return to the foreground. Her name is more well known, a Hollywood film has been made (filmed in the town) with her as the central character and a statue was unveiled on 21st May 2022 (her 223rd birthday).
From the church walk up the hill to the next car park. After turning right to enter, follow the bottom boundary, past the toilets and to the next footpath that takes you down 114 steps to the beach. This path is a brand new route incorporated into the design of the coastal defences.
The open sea lies out in front of you, known as Lyme Bay. Although it looks peaceful now, this area has seen an extensive amount of activity. The calm water hides a wealth of treasure too. Hundreds of shipwrecks litter the sea floor spanning the centuries. To name just a few in 1377 there were a series of storms that led to 50 ships being lost here, in July 1588 the San Salvador, a captured Armada ship, sank while being moved. In July 1748 the Laguiticus de Lille Dieu was lost off Lyme with a cargo of wool, thankfully all on board were saved, and on November 4th 1913 the Empress of India, a 14,000 ton battleship, was deliberately sunk in Lyme Bay whilst being used as a naval target.
Once at the bottom of the steps turn left to follow the defences to the end. You can climb down more steps to reach the beach for a little fossil exploring, however, take care, the base of the steps can be inaccessible at high tide and the cliffs themselves are unstable and prone to frequent landslides.
To make your way back to the town either retrace your steps along the sea defences or, at low tide, it is relatively easy to clamber back over the flat rocky beach. Entering back to the town is noticeable, the coastal cliffs are replaced with strong castle like sea walls complete with turrets and blocked up ancient doorways. Lyme Regis museum has its own simple access from the sea route, up a twisting staircase. The museum is worth a visit, filled with fossils, maps, nautical history, Mary Anning discoveries and many other historical features of Lyme.
After the museum you can either continue your circular walk or explore the centre of town up Pound street via Bridge street. This bridge is one of the oldest in Dorset, crossing the Lim over a small section called the Buddle. Until the 1913, on the south side of the bridge, stood a house. From the road, it would have just looked like a normal street. Mary Anning is said to have lived in the house for a time, the rear windows looking directly out to sea.
To continue the walk, follow the beach onto the promenade. Lyme Regis became a popular destination for tourism during the Georgian and into the Victorian time, even still today. This was encouraged by the 18th century belief that swimming in the sea was beneficial for ones health. With nearby Weymouth being frequented by King George, Dorset became increasingly fashionable.
Follow the promenade down to the Cobb where it feels like a second little town. The Cobb has provided shelter here for hundreds of years. It became a hugely important port and ship building site and in 1780 was even larger and more popular than Liverpool. Its location also helped with defending England against any threat of invading countries. Cannons still sit on the harbour wall as a reminder of these battles.
Lyme Regis has also made its mark in the literary world. Jane Austen stayed in the town in 1804. In her novel ‘Pursuasion’ the character Louisa Musgrove falls down Granny’s teeth steeps, here on the Cobb. Also, John Fowles lived in Belmont House who wrote ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, made into a film in the 1981, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. The dramatic and romantic scene of the woman standing at the end of the Cobb is ingrained into many minds, whether they have seen the film or not.
In the 17th century, England was in the middle of a Civil War. Lyme Regis played a huge part in this, protecting the coast from invaders from France. It finally ended in 1660 with the return of King Charles II from exile. On his death, James II claimed the throne. The Duke of Monmouth, who was an illegitimate son of Charles, believed that he should be the king and in 1685, the same year of King James’ coronation, he landed on Monmouth beach in Lyme Regis. He stayed in the town for a number of weeks recruiting thousands of supporters. Unfortunately his efforts were unsuccessful and once quashed, at the Battle of Seymour in Somerset, he escaped to be later found rather dishevelled in a ditch near Verwood.
Many of his followers were faced with a court hearing headed by Judge Jeffreys, who also happened to reside over for Tolpuddle Martyrs court case and was known for being very harsh. Seventy four of the Duke of Monmouth’s supporters were sentenced to death, one hundred and seventy four were sentenced to transportation. Those that were sentenced to death were sent away in batches and 12 of them were hung on Monmouth beach, exactly where they landed a few weeks previous. It was a cruel and harsh punishment, not only were they hung, they had their entrails burnt and the corpses were quartered. Their dismembered parts were then exhibited for all to see.
From Monmouth beach you can either climb up the hill back to the car park via Cobb road or back though the Longmoor and Lister gardens.