Lyme Regis was a surprise which turned into a delight. Sounds a bit gushing, but it’s true.
The town sits at the bottom of hills where the rushing River Lym flows into the sea. I loved the beautifully preserved Georgian architecture, the compact friendly town centre – and the old signs around the place showing fascinating irrelevances such as how much tax they levied on a barrel of tar in 1752 or similar.
Lyme has the famous Cobb (harbour wall) where the French Lieutenant’s Woman was filmed, working fishing boats in the harbour, cosy old pubs with dark wood panelling and carvings and those teeny photographs they only have in old pubs when everyone had better eyesight and wore no specs. It also has some great fish restaurants including that of Mark Hix – designed like a glass conservatory set at the top of the public gardens with panoramic – I am not exaggerating – views out to sea and of Golden Cap and the cliffs to the east which obligingly curve around Lyme Bay thus improving the vista immensely. I like Hix’s. I like the food and the staff and the fact that he supports sustainable fishing in Lyme Bay.
There were a lot of London-sounding voices in Lyme among business owners and tourists alike but who can blame early-retirement banker types from moving to the coast and running small businesses in such a friendly character-full place? Much better to keep the place popular and cared-for, which is undoubtedly is, than to see locals struggling to attract investment as is happening in some other places.
Lyme is so hilly that it seems a bit like hard work when you arrive but after two days you don’t notice it. I wondered if anyone had studied the health of the locals and compared them to say, a sample populaion from Weymouth, which is more or less dead flat. I’d be interested in the stats for cardio-vascular disease in the two places. In Lyme people get a fair old cardio workout even if they’re only popping down to the Co-op for a pint of milk.
On the other hand perhaps people try harder to keep fit in Weymouth because it is flat. Like the guy I saw in his 80’s, rollerblading along the Promenade. There again, there was someone out swimming vast widths of Lyme Bay last Wednesday morning when it was bone-numbingly cold. Maybe it was Lyme’s only triathlete in training.
The Aquarium on the Cobb had to be visited. The Aquarium guy – there was only one – was talking to some other visitors inside so we felt I only right to wait like well-trained British people to pay him before entering through the fishnetty curtain.
The Aquarium leaflet had advertised trained grey mullet. “Trained!” I imagined them leaping through hoops and performing triple axels like dolphin ice skaters (shome mishtake surely. Ed.) so I was quite flipping anticipatory.
Finally we paid. We’d need to shell out an extra £4 for the performing mullet.
“What do they do?” Ok, I’m mercenary.
“I’ve raised the mullet from very small fish and trained them to take fish flakes from the hand,” he said with the air of man expecting a delighted response.
I was a bit disappointed. Roy the Koi used to do that in our garden pond. In fact he would leap out of the water and slide across the waterlily leaves with a showman’s flourish of orange, black and white to take a fish pellet. Tragically, like a scaly Houdini, it was his undoing. He sadly dessicated in the sun while we were out one day after doing a showman slide to a place from which he could no longer access the water.
Aquarium guy showed us the grey mullet, which were swimming about and looked in good conditon – great quality seawater – and I said “Will they take flake from you?”
“No.” he said “Too cold at he moment for them to feed.” Oh. He took us to see the bright-eyed sea-bass – a bit sad in a tank when they are fast-swimming beauties who are usually netted in the oxygenated treacherous swirling currents of The Race off Portland Bill. According to the Portland Bill lighthouse keeper, fishermen sailed their boatsinto the Race, cut the engines and fished as the momentum of water forced them backwards out of it again.
”They used to be just bass before the restauranteurs got hold of them and started calling them “wild sea bass” and upped the prices. “ Right enough. My dad used to catch them. Always delicious though.
There were other fascinating creatures. He showed us how starfish cling and move and eject their stomachs to envelop prey and then pull their stomachs back inside their bodies to digest the food.
I particularly liked the velvet swimming crabs with the sticky-out furious red eyes. They are hellish little characters – wildly aggressive and great fun to try and catch for your rock-pool specimen collection because they wave their pincers at you menacingly and you can practically hear them swearing viciously like an ultra-crabby version of Father Ted’s companion Father Jack.
There were no moray eels for me to have the heebie-jeebies over, which was a bit disappointing because one quite likes having the heebie-jeebies now and again.
Talking heebie-jeebies, there was a massive crayfish in one tank with antennae about two feet long. It reminded me of the snorkelling in the Caribbean when I’d got a bit carried away exploring a coral reef, gone a bit too far out, and wondered what the line was extending from a dark hole in the rocks.
I got closer to look – a bit of flotsam or jetsam, I thought… then realised with a panicky intake of breath that what I was looking it was the four foot long antennae of a feck-off giant crayfish backed into his hidey-hole. As I looked, I could see the shape of his head and noticed the other long antennae….I backed off at some speed in case the creature took exception to my presence, heebies well and truly jeebied.
In the tank at the end of the aquarium were two rather gorgeous specimens, all decked out in their orange mating colours wearing the most garish lipstick – Lumpsuckers. They were caught locally and given to the aquarium to show for a bit before being returned to the sea.
It was great to get an up-close look at these extraordinary fish – with the sucker pad visible underneath between their wide frilly fins. They looked more than a bit confused and sad and their beautiful courting costumes are going to waste because they are both males.
We left the aquarium hoping the lumpsuckers are returned to wow the girls in Lyme Bay again very soon.
The Harbour and The Cobb