We went south this week to reconnoiter for family visits this summer. Dorset boasts a World Heritage site, the Jurassic Coast, where, it is said, the sea washes up fossils every high tide. Nico, my 6 year old grandson, knows more about dinosaurs and the periods in which they lived than most adults, and is keen to hit the beach with his little pick and goggles. So we wanted to see the reality, and check out the countryside. Dorset is a beautiful county, especially now that everything is blooming and full-leaved. It has more thatched-roof cottages and pretty villages than Surrey, stunning views over undulating hills of green and yellow, and stunning coastal cliffs. Narrow roads, several feet below the level of the adjacent fields, are lined with hedge-rows or canopied by leafy trees. Driving these roads takes some getting-used to by foreigners, especially Americans, but once you know the rules of the road it isn’t too scary.
We visited Lyme Regis, an old (back to Saxon times) harbor and port, which is a perfect sea-side town. It not only boasts The Cobb, which features in Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion, but Lyme Regis is also the setting for The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the novel by John Fowles, who lived there. If you saw the movie, you saw Lyme Regis. That’s only the literary side. Appropriately enough, there is a dinosaur museum chock-a-block with fossils of everything from Ammonites to complete skeletons of prehistoric creatures, and its owner has created a time line of geological periods with illustrations of the appropriate life-forms in each section. I won’t go into a full catalog of the glories of Lyme Regis, but it is worth a visit, real or virtual (Google it).
Walking along the sea wall in misty weather, we saw a small black cat crouched at the bottom of the wall, still as a statue, as stalking cats are. On top of the 4 foot high wall two huge pigeons were having a little rest. They were easily twice as large as the cat. She moved. They moved. Back to stillness and tail twitching. She leaped. Of course, they took off lazily into the air, leaving behind a presumably hungry cat who took their places at the top of the wall.
We drove over to Charmouth, another pretty village at the edge of the cliffs, about 15 minutes from Lyme Regis. Here, there is a center with information about fossil hunting and lots of examples of what has been found. That week, people had found several small-ish ammonites and lots of bits of belemnites. We put on our Wellington boots and set off down the beach to try our luck. The fossil hunting is tide dependent, and you only have 4 hours or so between tides, so it’s best to get there just after high tide and follow the sea back down the beach. We spent about half an hour searching, and Bernard found a small black bit of belemnite, but that’s it. There were already quite a few people doing the same thing.
We also saw a number of trailer camps tucked into the fields, a dead-give away that the crowds in summer will be horrendous in August, when everyone in England and Europe goes on vacation, and coupled with the narrow roads, we had visions of hot, sweaty, frustrating hours spent in the car trying to get anywhere, with a 6 year old and a 4-l/2 year old whining in the back seat, to say nothing of restaurants jammed to capacity. We’re having second thoughts about the Jurassic Coast for this August family visit.
- More Dorset –