Sunday 25 September 2011

English seaside weekend

Posting about Dorset in the late summer here brought back good memories of a very different Dorset experience, on the coast, in February last year. Not perhaps the most obvious choice for a weekend break - who'd go to an English seaside town in mid-winter? - it was intended as a weekend writers' retreat, with a fun but sadly short-lived creative writing group I was part of at the time (the other members departed for other countries soon afterwards).

We were a short drive from the town of Lyme Regis - all steep cobbled streets and quaint historic buildings leading down to the 'Cobb', the harbour wall famously haunted by Meryl Streep shrouded in black cloak as the French Lieutenant's Woman. John Fowles lived in Lyme Regis for 35 years until his death, and understood the romantic appeal of this coastline where the English first engaged with the Spanish Armada in 1558 (remember Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I improbably but memorably striding the cliffs watching the battle in billowing white?). Jane Austen also loved it here and made the Cobb an important setting in Persuasion.

There are wonderful views from the Cobb ... this is the Jurassic Coast, stretching along England's southern shores from Devon to Dorset. Along these cliffs you can see a continuous sequence of rock formations that span 185 million years of the Earth's history.

People scour the beaches here in search of fossils. But author Ian McEwan discovered it's not a good idea to take things away, when he took a couple of pebbles home from nearby Chesil Beach while doing research for his novella On Chesil Beach. A zealous, sharp-eyed conservation officer spotted the pebbles on his desk in a newspaper photo and he was ordered to hand them back!

The Lyme Regis Museum, top left, filled with fossils telling the story of the cliffs' history

A little further down the coast, these are the views from the Golden Cap (below) - the distinctive golden rock outcrop between Bridport and Charmouth, which is the highest point of Britain's south coast. And this golden light was exactly as these unedited photos show - amazing in mid-winter.

These were taken from the Anchor Inn pub where we had a drink (well wrapped up) at the outside tables with a view ... 

... to east and west ...

English beaches tend to be a subject of derision when you've spent time on gorgeous golden African sands. But I thought this stretch of coast had its own special beauty.

In between beach excursions some writing did in fact take place, in front of a huge log fire, with not too much seriousness, a fair amount of red wine and home-cooking in this old rented farmhouse just a few miles inland ...

with views to the sea in front and the rolling hills of Dorset behind ...

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