From the historical town of Lyme Regis, visit Mary Anning as she gazes over the cliffs that are full of fossils. Head to the Cobb, and the wild undercliff, to then turn away from the sea and head inland. Discover the mysterious, yet beautiful, Ware House before arriving at the impressive Cannington Viaduct, its trains no longer running. Pass an ancient settlement that the Romans developed into their own to Uplyme. Return to Lyme Regis following the River Lim along its wooded valley, passing many thatched cottages, tumbled ruins and an old waterwheel.
Distance: 6 miles/9.5km (a shorter walk, with more details of the town, is also available)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Ability: Medium, only one big climb.
Max Height: 476ft.
Min Height: 0ft.
Total climb: 530ft.
Terrain: Track, path, road and field.
Map: OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis and Bridport
Start Point: Holmbush Car Park. (Postcode: DT7 3LA, Grid Reference: SY337920, What Three Words: user.arming.nylon).
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Lyme, sometimes called the ‘Pearl of Dorset’, sits on the southern coast of England, looking out over the English Channel. It is placed in the far western corner of the county, on the border with Devon, in an area of spectacular beauty and remarkable history – being a central part of the Jurassic Coast. In May 2022 a statue was unveiled to celebrate the historical work of Mary Anning, whose many critical discoveries where extracted from Lyme’s very own cliffs.
Lyme dates back to the Saxon times, growing along the path of the river Lim and being in the ownership of the Abbotts of Sherborne Abbey. The community was set up by Cynewulf, the King of Wessex, in AD774 and used to extract salt from seawater. The town was home to an ancient chapel and a hospital for lepers, its original healing well still visible on the River Lym. The name Lyme comes from the river, originating from the welsh Llif meaning stream.
In the medieval period Lyme Regis, sitting in a strategic position, grew as a port becoming one of the most important in the country, gaining its ‘Regis’ title in 1284. However, this created a hugely varied and troublesome time for Lyme. In 1588 five ships set off from the timber Cobb to fight in the Spanish Armada. An eight week siege occurred in 1644 and it was the arrival point for the Duke of Monmouth in 1685, in his attempt to steal the crown. After his failure 12 local men were hung on the same stretch of beach that Monmouth arrived. Yet, by 1750 it had become a tourist hotspot; this is thanks to King George III’s fashionable sea bathing activity, which was believed to be good for the body and soul. In 1804 Jane Austen came to stay and was influenced by the town enough to feature it in her novel ‘Persuasion’, written in 1818, and in 1805 it was Lyme that welcomed the HMS Pickle with news to be sent around the country that the Battle of Trafalgar had been won.
The area is subject to many landslides, which have unearthed the many fossils, but destabilize the ground above. In 2005 work began on a £16 million pound engineering project to prevent any further erosion of the town. The work is complete, but damaging landslides still occur to the east and west.
From the car park, head down the hill to the bottom corner to cross over the road and down the steps into Borough Gardens. Turn left and follow the top route, with the beach and Cobb below on your right. The coastline stretches out ahead towards Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. Join a decked path and bend around to the left to reach the road at the top of town. Turn right to walk along the high street and towards the sea. Pass the 16th century Royal Lion Hotel on the left, recently acquired by Hall and Woodhouse. It stands near the site of the old town gallows and is apparently haunted. At the bottom of the hill, keep right of Bell Cliff, climb down the steps and turn right into the car park, facing out to sea.
To view Mary Anning’s statue, turn left to wander through the newly built sea defenses to the end. Mary stands on your left, in the company of her dog, Trey, looking out towards Black Venn and Charmouth, where she found many of her fossils. However, the coastline has eroded much further since her time; the old road to Charmouth now completely vanished. Mary was unveiled on her 223rd Birthday, on the 21st May 2022.
Retrace your steps back to the town and follow either the top or bottom promenade along the beach to the Cobb. Dating back to the 13th century, The Cobb wall has always proved to be a perfect shield to the town, protecting it from raging storms coming off the Atlantic. Built originally from timber and then developed in stone, it separates Monmouth and Cobb Gate beaches, creating an artificial harbour which enabled the town to grow into not only into an important port but also a shipbuilding centre. Lyme declined in the 19th century, as the size of ships increased. The eastern section ends with Victoria Pier, named after Princess Victoria who landed here with her mother in 1833. The Cobb has featured in a number of books including ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ and the 2023 film ‘Wonka’. In 2022 it was revealed that the Cobb is suffering significant signs of sea-floor erosion. The council plan to spend £3 million on repairs.
From the Cobb, walk past the right hand side of the lifeboat station towards the beach carparks. Turn right at the entrance, passing the public toilets. Squeeze along the right hand side of the bowling green and up the hill. Turn left at the chalets, then right to begin the climb up the steps, following the sound of a falling stream. The path marks the far eastern edge of the Undercliff.
The Undercliff, a five mile stretch between Axmouth and Lyme Regis, is one of the greatest wilderness areas of southern England. It has been formed from sandstone and chalk, slipping over clay and limestone, leaving a ragged coastline interspersed with different plants and animals. Some of the landslides have been the most impressive of the county, one, in 1839, creating its own island, Goat Island. The crops were still growing on the top but split from the land by giant chasms. It even became a Victorian tourist spot, but today it is shadowed by its vastly grown residents. Weaving along the path involves traversing some pretty rough terrain, as it crosses the slipped and torn landscape. It is in this area where Mary Anning, in 1823, found her most famous fossil – the Ichthyosaur skeleton.
At the gate at the top, turn left, crossing the little stream. On meeting three paths, continue straight ahead, climbing the hill. Head through a kissing gate and into a tunnel of trees, the walk frequently disturbed by scurrying animals. When you meet another path (where Dorset meets Devon), turn right and then right again, just before the house. Join the drive to the Crow’s Nest, turn right and follow the route up the hill. When you meet a small country road, turn left, walking alongside the old stone boundary marking Ware House gardens. The elegant Ware House only shows itself briefly, peeking over the wall. Its front entrance tower is covered in ivy but it leaves small gaps for the windows and a statue, sitting in an alcove high above the door. Remain on the same country lane for a further 400 metres or so to reach the main road.
Cross straight over the A3052 onto Gore Lane. Pass Hill Farm’s entrance and in 100 meters veer off the road to the left, over a stile and onto a footpath. Follow the edge of the trees as they drop down steeply on your right and cross a second stile, Uplyme beginning to appear in the valley below. Climb over a third stile and turn right in the field. Head for the far corner and continue straight on into the woodland, scattered with old stone walls and ruins. Carefully weave your way down the steep slope to meet Cuckoo Lane.
Turn left, passing a cottage and straight on to Horseman’s Hill. Follow the track to the houses and skim past the right hand side of the final home. Exit into a field with Cannington Viaduct rising on the right. Head straight down the hill to the road.
Lyme Regis was served by a branch railway which opened on 24th August 1903. The line covered a 6 mile route to Axminster, where it joined the mainline to London and Exeter, negotiating on the way a number of steep hills and deep valleys. Passenger use declined in the years following the Second World War, and only summer weekends remained busy.
Cannington Viaduct is the only significant structure on the branch, crossing the valley of a tributary to the river Lim. It is 185 meters long with ten arches rising 30 meters high. During its construction the first arch became distorted due to a slippage, and was given a brick arch ring, stabilising the structure and preventing it from moving further. Once it was complete, it was the first large scale concrete structure to have been built in the country. On 29th November 1965, the Lyme Regis line was closed, under the Beeching Act, Lyme Regis station was dismantled and rebuilt on the Watercress line at Alresford in Hampshire.
On joining the valley road, turn right to walk directly under the viaduct to then pass Cannington Farm. On reaching the next cottages, the slopes on the opposite side of the hill mark a location of an Iron Age defended settlement and a Romano British Villa. Excavations were carried out in 1850 and 1870 when a tessellated pavement and bath house were discovered. Further excavations were carried out in the 1960’s and 1970’s confirming that there had been a continuity of occupation from the late Iron Age right through the Roman period. The dig also unearthed the Holcombe Bronze Mirror, very similar to the Portesham Mirror, now in the British Museum. The small and simple Roman villa sat in the centre of an agricultural estate. Yet, confusingly, the baths were so big that it is thought that they served the community rather than just one family.
From the finds it is also suggested that Lyme, and the home of the Abbotts, in 1086, may have been derived from a single Roman salt-producing estate based at Holcombe Villa. The visible earthwork remains are a mere curving bank on the southern side of the complex and hedges on the east, all other elements are preserved as buried features.
Continue along the valley road, ignoring the road to Holcombe arriving from the left. Follow the road towards Uplyme for a further 300 metres and then bear left onto a little side road, past a pink house. Cross straight over onto a small lane and bear right into a field. Keep to the high boundary, aiming for the church on the opposite slopes, and then down to cross the river. Skim past the edge of the village cricket pitch to arrive at the village hall and out onto the road through Uplyme.
Uplyme is home to St Peter and Paul’s church that dates back to the 9th century. Also in the village is the Black Dog Pub, now closed, named after a phantom Black Dog who led a farmer to a hoard of Stuart coins, which he apparently then used to buy the pub.
Turn right on the road, heading for the Talbot Arms. Take the next footpath on the left, cutting through the Talbot Arms car park, and follow the trickle of a stream to Church Street. Cross straight following the waymarked pink arrows of the River Lim Path, to make your way through the Glen. Exit the woods onto Spring Head Road and cross straight over onto Mill Lane. From here back to Lyme is a peaceful, waterside, wooded walk scattered with old mills, thatched cottages and scattered ruins.
The Lim was fast flowing and concentrated, making it a perfect location for the milling industry. With the surrounding landscape it was wool that dominated. The old mill, now individual flats, is just one of the few surviving remains in the river valley.
Walk past the old Mill House, back into Dorset, and turn right over a bridge. Continue to follow the valley into Lyme, weaving your way around trees and over little bridges to arrive back into town. Turn right on the road to cross the river and then left, through a large gate onto another footpath. Bear right to enter into the trees, a real slice of wildness in the centre of Lyme.
Climb up the hill, the town and views hidden from sight until you reach Woodmead Road, where the blue sea and peak of Golden Cap appear to the east. Turn right to a junction to come face to face with the Dorset Hotel, where you have a choice. You can either turn left to head down the hill, back into Lyme’s town centre, or straight on to return to Holmbush car park and your vehicle.