A day that starts with the natural wonders of the Jurassic Coast and ends with a pastel sunset on pastel houses by the sea is one to make you see the world through (English) rose-coloured glasses indeed.
While navigating the winding country roads of Dorset is a challenge (I hadn’t driven a manual for some time, and this was a pretty rubbish re-introduction I must say – ha!), it is also a delight if you can veer your eyes off the road. Patchwork green farmlands with hedges of stone and tree, foxgloves lining the narrow roads, and the most fairy tale of cobblestone villages you could imagine – moss covered and with roofs made of straw – at times I almost expected Peter Rabbit to dart in front of the car.
Hungry (probably from expending all the energy from my last meal by clenching the steering wheel tightly and despairing over two way streets with only one lane), we head direct to the seaside on arriving in town to find some grub. The beachfront footpath carried us past a long stretch of colourful, weatherboard boat houses – the like of which we saw in many of the Southwest coastal towns. I never tired of seeing them, and was always envious of owners reclining in deck chairs out front. We ate a modest meal at the Harbour Inn, watching the gigantic seagulls gliding on the shore (or let’s face it, begging for chips). But as the sun withdrew and the cool shadows eased down the beach, the sky turned a musky pink which mirrored the pastel houses and boat sheds, making everything seem right and at ease. I was charmed by Lyme Regis already.
STAY: HIX Townhouse
I’d not heard of Mark Hix before this trip to Lyme Regis (for other non-Brits, he’s an acclaimed chef, restaurateur and cookbook author), but I left here a fan. The HIX Townhouse was his (being a Dorset boy) first foray into the hotel world. With only 8 rooms, the Townhouse is located at the top of Broad Street as it forks off up the hill into Pound Street. Of course, it came on my radar due to having a book-lined ‘Reading Room’ (which was, errr, booked). Arriving quite late as we did, there was a key waiting and we checked ourselves in to the Fishing Room. The interiors were tastefully on-theme, with a deep sea-coloured throw on the bed, puffa fish on the ceiling, framed sea-life sketches on the walls, rods and books on the subject around too. If vegetarian Phil was horrified, he didn’t show it. I loved it.
In the morning, I couldn’t help but gush over the local touches – Bramley shower items (Phil keeps promising to make me apple pie with Bramley apples, so I think of them as the tastiest possible variety), and the breakfast hamper delivered from Mark Hix’s nearby restaurant Hix Oyster & Fish House (which I would love to try when we are next in town) with Dorset Cereals, and fresh local diary, salmon, fruit and baked items. We then head for coffee at t he local Galley Cafe, which serves coffee by the (closed when we were there) local micro-roaster Amid Giants and Idols.
We strolled back down by the seafront, which was alive with holiday-makers and locals sapping up the sun, eating ice-cream or fish and chips.
SHOP: Ryder & Hope
I had a huge crush on this store as soon as I laid eyes on it (it has undergone a name change – it was called Ryder & Hinks when I was there). I walked past a few times, eyeing it off – I may have even batted my eyelids at it, Phil may have rolled his at me.
I think if I was to ever open a store, I would probably get too excited and just order things that I even remotely liked, until it was crammed and an uncomfortable experience for everyone. But the owner of this store has curated it with only things supremely beautiful and useful and then arranged them like an interior stylist boss and there you have it: Ryder & Hope.
For the record: Phil thinks as fondly of this store as I do now, given it provided us with the world’s most alluring beard oil (Capt. Fawcett’s – get your hands on some for your furry-chinned partners ladies – I may be sounding casual about this, but I’m really fondly holding you by the collar – ha!)
LYME LITERARY CONNECTIONS
Not only did Jane Austen stay in Lyme Regis in 1803/1804 (likely in Pyne House, as above), where she wrote and set part of Persuasion, this seaside town had holiday visits from many other celebrated writers. Oscar Wilde came and stayed at Old Monmouth Hotel (then called White Hart) in 1891, scratching his name into the window. In 1904, Beatrix Potter worked on The Tale of the Little Pig Robinson here, just two years after publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And Tolkein couldn’t get enough of the place, coming regularly between 1905 and 1910. I have all kinds of wonders about what would have been if Potter and Tolkein hung out, maybe worked on a story together.
Tucked just off the main street is the 700 year-old Town Mill, which houses a working watermill, micro-brewery, gallery, bakery and more. We wander the very English, garden-lined waterways behind this complex (and got a little lost trying to find our way back into town). When we jumped into the car to continue on the road further Southwest, I felt a tinge of sadness about leaving Lyme Regis. Given the town hugs the Dorset border with Devon, within minutes we were in another county, and close to our lunch destination – nearby Axminster and the River Cottage Canteen & Deli!
DEVON DETOUR: River Cottage Canteen, Axminster
A happy patron on the website of this famed establishment gushes “As good as if Hugh cooked it himself!”, and despite sadly having never had Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall cook for me (I’ve met and interviewed Paul West from the Aus version – does that count?), O can’t imagine how he could do better than the delicious lunch we enjoyed at River Cottage Canteen. The produce was so fresh, the flavours sharp and tasty and just look at that goddamn haloumi – OH MY! They also nailed the whole British farmhouse produce vibe in the rustic interiors and well-stocked cheese and chutney counter.
OK, the flags probably helped.
Or maybe it was that on the way there we were mistaken and drove to the actual River Cottage farm that was not open to the public, where we saw real, gumboot-clad young farmers working that actual property, that made us feel like we had an authentic experience. Whatever it was, this 15 minute detour from the coast was a damn good idea that made my tummy very happy.