We went to the Jurassic Coast in August 2015. We took the train from London to Weymouth (direct trains, 2h40m) where a rental car was waiting for us. We started our tour with a ten minute car ride to nearby Isle of Portland, a tied island that is connected to the mainland by a road. The road sits on Chesil Beach, a barrier beach, separated from the coast by a lagoon, which stretches much further West and which we’d have on our left for a good while longer on our way to Lyme Regis later that day.
The famous Portland stone that originates from the local quarries has been used worldwide for landmark buildings such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the U.N. Headquarters in New York. Portland Harbour, between Weymouth and Portland, is one of the largest man-made harbours in the world. Until 1995 it was used as Royal Navy base and there are still a couple of old, decommissioned Navy ships anchoring at its piers.
You can get the best views from the former prison HMP The Verne’s Jailhouse Cafe, which is located on the top of the hill.
From Portland we drove west along the coast and enjoyed the beautiful views left (sea, cliffs and beach) and right (rolling hills).
Our next stop was in West Bay with its brown-coloured rocky cliffs, where we had smoked haddock chowder, fish stew and fresh crab salad for lunch at Rosie’s – best seafood (albeit kiosk) in the area. We were running late on our reservation, so it had been cancelled (fair enough) and we had to wait 40 minutes before we were sat at a table by one of the waiters, but it was worth the wait.
A short while later we arrived at our bed-and-breakfast in Lyme Regis. The town looks a bit past its prime (it was a very popular sea side resort in the 1800s with famous guests such as Jane Austen regularly staying there for extended periods of time), but it still has a lot of charm and a very pleasant, unpretentious, cosy, friendly atmosphere.
The main man-made sight of the town is the famous Cobb, a walkable breakwater featuring in several books and films. Its origins date back to the 14th century, the current version was built in the 19th century. Don’t do the Aquarium near the Cobb, it’s a sorry little room the size of an average living room with a few water tanks along the walls featuring nothing of any interest, but they still charge £6 for admission.
We found a few good places to eat out at. Don’t expect the same quality as in the Cotswolds, the better places in London, or – beware – any place in France, but if you manage your expectations you’ll be pleasantly surprised to get a hearty, tasty meal for a tenner at several of the local haunts.
We loved the tiny seafood stall called (you guessed it) The Seafood Stall, next to the Cobb, where a lady in her sixties sells little styrofoam cups of delicious lobster meat for £3 and other seafood. At the time of our visit it was ranked the #1 ‘restaurant’ in Lyme Regis on Tripadvisor, with high rankings also on other sites.
The Whole Hog right next to the main square and the Lyme Regis Museum serves excellent take-away pulled pork sandwiches, don’t be put off by the long queues, they’re there for a reason.
Frank and Beans Gelateria a bit further up the road on the right hand side has some of the best ice cream we’ve had in England. The ice cream is not home-made, but bought from a UK-based Italian ice-cream maker, which seemed fair enough to us. We also liked the burgers at LBK Burger Bar and there are a couple of decent Italian restaurants.
There are a few high-quality eateries around, but we didn’t feel that the Hix Oyster & Fish House, run by London-based chef Mark Hix, or the Alexandria Hotel’s restaurant seemed like great value for money.
Lyme Regis Museum, built around 1900, with wooden galleries and tight spiral staircases, is an absolute gem, and it was here that we booked our fossil hunting tour with two incredibly knowledgeable guides, both of whom had personally found more than one well-preserved Ichthyosaurus (Greek for ‘fish-lizard’, they’re about 2 to 3m long), following in the tradition of local heroine Mary Anning, who had discovered the first complete fossil in the early 19th century.
We were amazed to hear that our guides actually made a good part of their living by selling fossils to museums, some worth more than £10,000 each, what a cool way to make money, if you love the outdoors (we do)!
The tour itself took about 4 hours and was very educational and a lot of fun, with our guides happily answering any number of questions and sharing anecdotes. We found a few baby ammonites and some other tiny fossils (having heard about the phenomenal income opportunities we shyly asked our guides about their value, but they said no one would pay anything for them, there are too many better-preserved, larger samples around, millions, actually, never mind).
When we returned to Lyme Regis, the tide had gone low, exposing the moss-covered rocks and sands along the coastline and providing a great view of the Jurassic Coast towards West Bay in the east.
The next day we did some more fossil-hunting at nearby Charmouth Beach. From there we drove the short distance to Seatown, where we did the 10-minute climb of Stonebarrow Hill to the one side of town, then, on the other side, the 1.5h climb (up there and back with time to enjoy the views) to the highest point on the southern coast of the UK, the Golden Cap, which rises nearly 200m straight up from the sea. As expected, the views in all four directions were brilliant.
On our way back to Weymouth, we went a bit beyond Weymouth further east and visited Durdle Door, a giant natural limestone arch near Lulworth, Dorset, very picturesque. We also passed by the Osmington White Horse, a 100m x 100m hill figure sculpted in 1808 into the limestone Osmington hill just north of Weymouth.
We will definitely be back to the Jurassic Coast some time.