Days 11-12 – Holy Mackerel!

Starting mileage: 15622 km
Day started: 9:00 / 10:30
Day ended: 23:00 / 22:00

Devon

Devon

It seems we are unable to leave Dorset. There’s just so much to see here, eat, drink! Also, the car needed some minor repairs as well, so we got back to Wareham again, for a brief spot of welding at Kombi Klassics. Thanks, guys! ūüôā Luckily, Wareham is a good place to spend two hours at without being bored, so we didn’t mind that much.

The food in Dorset continues to amaze; on our way West we stopped off at Chesil Smokery in Bridport, where we bought some lovely, butter-soft trout; after that, we drove straight down into Lyme Regis.

There are some unmistakable sounds associated with the Dorset coast. The screeching of gulls; the soft lapping of the waves on shingle; the tingling of tackle; and the rhythmical ringing of a geologist’s hammer. Between Charmouth and Seaton the cliffs are full of fossils, ready for the taking. Lyme Regis’ Mary Anning¬†was a world famous¬†paleontologist¬†and there is small museum dedicated to her.¬†To me it’s one of the most awe-inspiring places on the planet, and one of the biggest surprises of England. Coming from a country where finding a few meagre fossils involved mounting a week-long expedition with the school geology club, the idea that anyone – children love it, adults are fascinated by it – can just go out on the beach, rummage a bit around rubble and find a whole ammonite or belemnite was simply shocking. We did guided fossil hunting in Charmouth few years ago and it’s definitely worth trying.¬†Between fossil hunt, beach combing and mudlarking, the English have an endless supply of fascinating riches hidden just beneath the surface of their land.

To the east of the town lay the belemnite beds Рthe belemnites being the ancient cousins of the squid; what you can find is their fossilized rostra, or inner skeletons. To the west, about 5 minute walk along the tide line and under cliffs of Blue Lias Formation, is the stunning 200 million years old ammonite graveyard: a bed of flat rock paved with spiral shells of the ammonites. These are just the things you can spot walking along the beach, without too much effort. The dinosaur bones take a bit more luck to find, but they are still there somewhere!

We returned to Lyme Regis the next morning – yet another Dorset morning! – to set sail on a tiny wooden boat into the sea, to fish for mackerel. Mackerel fishing, tourist edition, involves about as much skill as playing slot machines: the fish either catches the bait or it doesn’t, all you need to do is to hold the line and pull it out when you feel the tug. That said, it’s great fun and we did manage to catch the most fish out of everyone on the boat – three medium ones, one small fry – enough to provide us with a fish supper. It was, I believe, the first time I ate something I had caught with my own hands.

Lyme Regis changed a lot since our last visit; the watermill area, which used to be just a small gallery and a souvenir shop, is now a foodie shopping centre, with a cheesemongers, local brewery, crafts centre and a mill store selling freshly ground flour and cookies. There are three farm shops on the high street, an indie cafe opposite the museum, and a shop selling freshly made FUDGE in several flavours, the smell of which permeates the entire neighbourhood. Herbie’s Dino Bar still stands in the harbour though, selling the best whitebait & chips on the coast.

There is one more place in Lyme I need to mention: the Sanctuary Bookshop. Now, I’m an e-book man through and through, but even I was stunned by this labyrinthian space in which every nook and cranny is filled with old books, magazines and comic books. Part hoarder’s attic, part Tim-Burton-as-librarian nightmare, the Sanctuary is a real place of wonder; and they even host a B&B now on the upper floor.

In the afternoon we left the Lyme and¬†finally¬†crossed into Devon,¬†heading for the Beer Quarry Caves, by way of an open air museum-like village of Colyford (with Seaton Tramway running straight through it, and the petrol station turned into car museum). Now, if you’ve been to Purbeck and Portland and you think you’ve had enough stones and quarries for one holiday and can safely skip this last bit – don’t. The quarry was worked ceaselessly since Roman times until the 19th century, and the tour of it is fascinating, even if the temperature below falls to a steady 8 degrees centigrade, with freezing water dripping endlessly on your neck. I won’t spoil the details of the story told by the guide (a fellow IT guy who decided to leave a well paid office job to work in the caves) but it involves smugglers, freemasons, World War II explosives and forced rhubarb.

Ammonite graveyard

Ammonite graveyard

Mackerel fishing

Mackerel fishing

Sanctuary Bookshop

Sanctuary Bookshop


In between our trips to Lyme Regis we stayed at Highlands End Holiday Park – one of the places we try to avoid, a huge static caravan city with a bit for campers and tents stuck at the end. That said, it had a nice location on the top of a 200ft cliff, and a open-till-late bar with selection of local ales, so it wasn’t¬†that¬†bad, except for the price of ¬£19 with hookup for the cheapest pitch.

Until yesterday I had no idea National Trust even runs camping sites. Now I know to look out for them. The Prattshayes is a small, cheap (£12 with hookup) field on an old farm, a mile from the Exmouth coast, with all the basic facilities in good shape, and solar-powered showers. There is a bit of noise from a road somewhere, which is strange as there is no big roads anywhere nearby on the map.

The nights have stopped being piercingly freezing, and are now just cold. The winds eased down as well.

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