Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Green and Pleasant Land, Part 5: Lyme Regis

We hated to leave Dartmoor. We really did. But I’d promised Daughter #2 some fossil-hunting on the beach in Lyme Regis. Those of you who are Jane Austen fans will recognize that name, I’m sure...so we once again set forth, this time for the shore.

Best pub name spotted en route: The Salty Monk. ☺

Lyme Regis itself is a charming little town, clinging closely to the shore. And I don’t use the term “clinging” lightly—there’s a heck of a drop from the main road through town to the beach itself. Blessedly, there’s plenty of visitor parking, though it did involve a very steep walk down to the shore—not bad on the way down, but uphill was definitely a challenge. Thank goodness for all those hours I’ve spent on the elliptical!

The climate of the immediate south coast of England is amazingly mild. We hardy New Englanders were astonished to see fuchsia grown as a hedge, rather than a summer-time potted plant doomed to death in the first good October frost!

As we trundled down the hill, we were delighted with this view of the famous Cobb... famous, of course, as the location of an important scene in Persuasion—where Louisa Musgrove imprudently jumps the stairs leading down from its top. The Cobb is a partial breakwater, creating a small, protected harbor for the local fishing fleet—though now, the main denizens appear to be pleasure craft.

What I found interesting about the Cobb was the angle at which it was built: good for allowing breaking waves to run off, but a little unnerving to walk on, especially in a brisk breeze (that's Daughter #1, walking at an angle!) But even more interesting was the thought that Jane Austen knew this town and this very place—a bit of a shiver down the spine moment!

Being good Jane Austen fans, my son and husband and I spent a good long time debating which of the stairs leading down from the Cobb were the ones that Louisa jumped from. In the end, we decided it must be these (also known by the name "Granny's Teeth"!), as they were the most suitably archaic and untrustworthy looking (honestly, if I’d been Louisa, I might have preferred jumping rather than trying to negotiate them in a stiff breeze in a long skirt!

Next, it was time to go fossil hunting. This whole 95-mile section of the south coast is called England’s “Jurassic Coast”. Going east from Orcombe Point to Old Harry Rocks is like traveling in time, from the early Triassic period onward. Lyme Regis is located in the oldest part of the coast, its formations dating to 200 to 195 million years ago. Down the beach from the Cobb a great cliff face looms up, made of very crumbly black shale, the remains of an ancient ocean bed (you can see it in the pictures above of the Cobb.) And as gravity and the weather erode it, the fossils of creatures that died and left their remains in the oozy black mud of that old ocean end up on the beach, where they can be picked up from amongst the clitter of rocks and flints by geeky American tourists like us.

Here's part of our haul.
What you see here are ammonite fossils, distant and extinct relatives of today’s squid and nautiluses; the little star-shaped one is possibly an echinoid, a relative of today’s starfish and sea urchins. It was a lot of fun, actually, and reminded me of my long-ago days as an archaeology student doing field surface surveys. We had a lovely if late lunch at a pub close to the Cobb, then dragged ourselves back up the hill to our car, to go to our next destination. But I’ll be back to the Jurassic Coast some day.

Next installment: Not the Isle of Wight, sadly, but a few other sites of interest.


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Added to my bucket list, Marissa! Thanks for bringing us along on your travels. :-)

Marissa Doyle said...

You're welcome! There are several locations along this coast I'd love to see.