For years I’ve been wanting to go fossil hunting on the UK’s southern Jurassic Coast. I’ve been down that way to attend Tank Fest (yes, a Tank Festival) and Monkey World (Chimpanzee Rescue Centre) but after lending Mum a couple of books on Mary Anning I finally now had a keen adventure buddy! With my parents going a little stir crazy (like us all) during lockdown we decided that with restrictions lifting we would take a long weekend ‘staycation’ to Lyme Regis. This was not a decision taken lightly, and it was one that made me very anxious – but ultimately, I decided if they were going anywhere, I should too – and after a few months I’d given up trying to tell them what they should do – unsurprisingly at 75 years old, this never went down too well.
We booked four nights at the Ferne Hill Hotel, Charmouth, Lyme Regis. It ended up being the most expensive hotel I’ve ever paid for. Not because it was overly expensive, but usually when I travel alone I stay in hostels or in in less expensive countries – basic hotels. For the rarer, more luxurious holiday, I’ve always had a roomie – splitting the cost, and I almost never travel in peak season! But it was worth every single penny and I was very excited that there was an outdoor swimming pool.
Normally now when my parents and I drive somewhere – I am the driver. It usually goes without saying, and I suppose it makes up for the hundreds of hours they’ve driven me around. But not this time. I was mentally exhausted and couldn’t face dealing with two sets of directions (MumDad) plus the in-built sat nav.. AND the recent addition of google maps on the iPhone – I wanted to sit in the back like a moody teenager with my headphones in, staring out the window and writing in my journal. So this is what I did.
We made a stop at Costa Coffee – with a one way system that meant you couldn’t use the toilet until you’d bought your drinks. The service was painfully slow – people were getting annoyed – non mask wearers being told off (and then sharing their opinions loudly) others were standing too close – and we all needed the loo. By the time we got our drinks we’d had a mini argument amongst ourselves (who knows, or cares what about) but getting back into the car and saying ‘well that was fun eh?’ brought out collective laughter and we continued on our way…
…past Stonehenge. Very cool. Also, very small (compared to what I imagined it to be.)
We had to call the hotel en-route to book a 50 minute time slot for the pool – which initially I was concerned about, because I thought all the guests would want to swim all the time. This wasn’t the case and every day we managed to book the time we wanted and it was wonderful to have the whole pool to ourselves – not only feeling incredibly luxurious, but I know it would have made me anxious having others around. We also had to pre-book our dinner and breakfast choices, as they weren’t on full staff – not a problem at all, and the menu was good – with a vegan option for each course.
They had, rightly of course, put in strict rules to adhere to Covid regulations and keep the hotel as sanitized and clean as possible, and maintain distance between guests and the staff. It felt a little odd at times – probably more so for the staff, but it meant we were always at ease – much more so than I felt I would be. The hotel really was delightful, with everyone being very friendly and accommodating.
That night we had the most glorious swim – and before dinner discovered there was a little forest walk behind the hotel. After months of living in a construction site (a house has been torn down and re-built 3 meters from my bedroom, drilling 9am -6pm every day) I was in absolute heaven.
The next morning after a delicious, five course (!) breakfast we drove into Lyme Regis.. it was a little stressful. Unsurprisingly, on the hottest day of the year so far, hundreds of others had decided to do the same thing, and we had to park outside the main town. This – we later realised, was a HUGE blessing – the car park was actually on top of Black Ven, one of the main fossil hunting areas. Mum and I were incredibly excited. The tide was in so we couldn’t actually fossil hunt, but spoke to a professional fossil hunter who ran guided tours, but was fully booked during the time we were there – Coved restrictions meant only one household per tour.
The cliff faces, made of thick clays and thin limestone were incredible to look at. Knowing that huge dinosaurs had been found there, and many more are still embedded, waiting for the seas erosion to uncover them was quite mind-blowing. I was very excited at the prospect of looking for fossils myself, but we had to wait until the tide went out, later that afternoon.
To get into Lyme Regis we had a gorgeous, but fairly short coastal walk – the sky was bright blue and the sea was glistening. It was pure heaven to be out and about, and I was so happy to be somewhere new, exploring.
Lyme Regis itself is very cute. With old style English buildings, many painted pastel, small cobbled streets and lampposts adorned with ammonites – it really is picture perfect. Admiring the colourful little beach huts, each made into mini homes, I realised that this was my first English seaside holiday, a cultural experience in itself.
We went on to The Cobb, a large manmade wall protecting the harbour, but first I decided we needed ice cream – and even as a vegan there was a lot of choice! Happy, happy days. Another thing I noticed that seemed to be quintessentially English (or British?) was the little forts families and friends built around themselves on the beach. Just cloth on wooden sticks, dug into the sand marking territories. Unsure what they are called, I googled ‘beach accessory fortress’ with no meaningful results. Widening the search term a little I eventually found out these are windbreakers! I’ve never seen them used too much in any other country, building a beach tented city, but in times of Covid especially, they make sense I suppose!
After a pretty mediocre pub lunch (still, in the sunshine, having fun hiding our food from the seagulls) Mum and I went for a gloriously refreshing dip in the sea. Coming from Asia it took me a while to get used to the idea that people could, and would, just hang out in the water like at home – yes, it’s a lot colder – but it’s not only bearable, it’s really, really nice.
Whilst Mum and Dad slowly made their way up to the car park I went further down the beach, which was now at low tide. This was me in my element. Walking back to Black Ven I squelched along the mud, fascinated by the rock pools and the little mini islands that had appeared, draped in algae.
At Black Ven I saw fossils. Real fossils, from a realllly long time ago. 200+ million years. Imagine that. TWO-HUNDRED-MILLION-YEARS! I cannot! But it filled me with such excitement.. and I filled them with Humpty & Rainbow. (Note how my shadow shows me to be very Mary Anning shaped.. and if you look beneath my shadow.. there are fossils..) Oh life!
After another gorgeous private swim session at the hotel we headed to The Tytherleigh Arms for dinner, recommended by my friend Sarah over at Coffee Then Travel who lives in the area. A beautiful 16th Century Coaching Inn, the food was phenomenal. To be honest, as a vegan I thought the menu looked decent, I didn’t know what half the things were – nor did I care. But wow, not only did these mystery items come out impeccably served, they tasted absolutely divine. My parents felt the same in regards to their omnivore meals!
Next day started with a gorgeous morning walk before breakfast, then we headed off to ‘Golden Cap‘ a National Trust Sight with the highest point on the South Coast.
Mum decided not to join us on the last little steep incline to Golden Cap itself, so we left her in a field…and came back to her sat down in the heather (long grass?), almost invisible to the untrained eye – looking like she was on safari bird watching. With my fear of falling I stayed about 10m away from the edge, enjoying the view from safety – unlike my Dad – you never know when you might accidently fling yourself off something eh? Even the thought of it now makes my feet tingly; a physical response I feel is completely inappropriate to a situation where you want to keep yourself firmly on the ground. In 2015 a sculpture was placed near Golden Cap. Picture below…..
With some time to spare before my swimming date (seeing a friend, a real life friend!!) we headed over to nearby Burton Bradstock. Mum and I ate chips on the beach, admiring the eroding sandstone cliffs, and went for a dip in the sea (obviously,) whilst Dad took himself up the coast.
For our last stop of the day we headed to Charmouth beach where I was dropped off for my play date with Sarah. Mum even asked her to drive me back to the hotel afterwards… I guess it doesn’t matter how old you get – the Mummy/Daughter dynamic will never change, I felt like such a child… Haha! As always, the cliff faces were utterly breathtakingly spectacular – just looking at them, you can see the millions of years of history compressed together; knowing there is so much more to be revealed!
And I found out from Joel that it was here in 2016 a large Ichthyosaur fossil was discovered in the cliffs by Chris Moore, thought to be 180 Million years old (the fossil…) Irritatingly it has been dubbed ‘Attenborough’s Sea Dragon‘ though he had nothing to do with its discovery or excavation!
This made me even more excited for the following day where we were going to the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, followed by some fossil hunting at Monmouth Beach….
Which you can read about here: Fossil Hunting in Lyme Regis