I loved the town of Lyme Regis itself, its narrow streets with their precipitous drop to the sea quite similar to what they were in Mary Anning’s day. And the shore, of course, is unchanged—by which I mean it’s in a constant state of flux. A major landslide rearranged Black Ven in May, 2008.
The area around Lyme Regis has been designated a World Heritage Site, not just for its amazing cache of fossils, but for its geology. The cliffs of the Dorset and East Devon coast gradually dip as you go east, providing 155 kilometres of continuous exposure of Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous rocks. The whole of the Mesozoic Era, 190 million years of the earth’s history, is documented in these strata.
Discovering Fossils, a website by Roy Shepherd, is a wonderful photo-filled guide to the geology and paleontology of the area. LINK
Or check out these books
Lyme Regis Camera by John Fowles (Little, Brown and Company, 1990) Novelist John Fowles was the curator of the Philpot Museum at Lyme Regis from 1978-88 and produced several fine publications about the town. This is a collection of old photographs dating from the 1850’s.
Nomination of the Dorset and East Devon Coast for inclusion in the World Heritage List. (Dorset County Council, Devon County Council and the Dorset Coast Forum, 2000). This is something rare—a wonderful book produced by a committee! It’s a glossy, 150 page publication full of photographs and a discussion of the fossils and geology of the region, in language more or less comprehensible to the non-geologist. It was put together for the purpose summarized in its title, and is available at the Dorset County Museum.
Roberts’ History of Lyme Regis and Charmouth (1834; reissued by Lymelight Press and the Philpot Museum, 1996). George Roberts was a schoolmaster in Mary Anning’s day, and his comprehensive history of the region goes back to Roman times. There’s a fold-out tinted geological map by Henry De la Beche, and 4 other meticulous etchings. The story of the “living worthy” Miss Mary Anning takes up about 6 pages (the lightning strike is recounted, as well as Anning’s early experiences as a collector, and a list of Anning’s fossil finds is provided). The Philpot Museum reissued Roberts’ History in a limited edition in 1996.
The Undercliff: A Sketchbook of the Axmouth-Lyme Regis Nature Reserve by Elaine Franks. Forward by John Fowles. (J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1989). This is such a lovely book of line drawings, watercolours, and notes about the plants, insects, birds and animals that inhabit the forest west of Lyme Regis.
A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast by Philip Henry Gosse (London: J. Van Voorst, 1854). This book by the famous 19th century naturalist is an invaluable record of a natural world that has been largely lost due to human development. Lots of wonderful lore in it as well, like the story of a mermaid being found on the shore at Portland.
Here’s a gallery of shots of Lyme Regis and the surrounding area.