- 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 important roles throughout the centuries. Evidence of royal visits, fierce battles of war and historical scientific developments still litter 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. Between the roofs and tress, as you look down hill, the harbour and famous Cobb come into view. Turn right, cross the road and take the steps on your left hand side. Here you enter into the Langmoor and Lister gardens. The promenade and beach sit below you and the town is in front of you. Straight ahead the coastline disappears to the east, Golden Cap sticking up high above the coastline with its, often illuminated, golden top. On a clear day you can even see as far as Portland Bill.
Remaining on the higher path, join a decked path and then follow the tarmac path to come out onto Pound Street in the centre of the town. Turn right and cross over at the junction to enter on to the 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.
Mill Green brings you back to the river after a small diversion. This route used to be the old road out of Lyme. Keep to the footpath until it brings you out on a road with a waterfall ahead of you in the river. Turn right and make your way up to another road. Turn right again and make your way through the residential estate and then take the next path on your right. This brings you back 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 to the mill.
On your right is the Leper’s well. It marks the spot of an ancient hospital that housed and cared for those with the disease. 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 until more recently having never been credited during her own lifetime. The are many stories based on Mary Anning and soon a movie will be released set in Lyme itself, but only roughly based on her life. It is also rumoured that she was the inspiration for Terry Sullivans lyrics to ‘She Sells Seashells On The Sea Shore’.
Ammonite stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and was filmed in Lyme in the autumn of 2019.
From the church walk up the hill to the next car park. After turning right to enter it, follow the bottom boundary, past the toilets and to the next footpath that takes you down to the beach, this route was introduced along with the coastal defences and has a total of 114 steps to descend.
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 sea 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 your route. up a twisting staircase. The museum is worth a visit, filled with fossils, maps, nautical history, Mary Anning evidence 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 being one of the oldest in Dorset.
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 new belief of swimming in the sea being beneficial for ones health. Nearby Weymouth being frequented by King George, Dorset became hugely 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 in the 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 Belmount House (which is on the other side of Cobb road, opposite the car park where this walk began). Clearly visible by its colourful tower, which contained his writing room, John Fowles 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.