Trying to judge the weather for a trip away is very much like backing a horse. You study previous form, expert advice and can even have some one on one time with the beast itself, but when push comes to shove you normally end up just taking a punt based on nothing more than gut feeling and instinct. That’s exactly what we ended up doing for the long Easter weekend with no clear consensus emerging from the various forecasts on temperature, rainfall or indeed wind. As this was to be our first camping trip of the year all three held added significance but what’s life without an element of the unknown? As it turned out our gamble payed off with mostly dry conditions, little wind and temperatures which, though far from toasty overnight, did at least stay on the right side of freezing. All perfect for a few days down in Lyme Regis with fossils, birds and a few nights under canvas on the cards.
With Friday being a bank holiday we set off early to try and beat the worst of the traffic and ended up making excellent time, arriving just after midday. Unable to pitch the tent for another couple of hours we instead headed straight into Lyme Regis where, despite a slight drizzle, we enjoyed wandering out along the Cobb. Those of you who have watched The French Lieutenant’s Woman may recognise the location.
This was mere foreplay however as what I really wanted to do was get stuck into some fossil hunting along the cliffs West of town. Previous exploration there had turned up an excellent seam of Devil’s Toenails (Oysters) and I was hoping to find more of the same following another year of erosion. It quickly became apparent however that I was going to have to hunt elsewhere as a series of substantial landslips had completely buried my target area. In reality this is not that surprising as the cliffs at Lyme Regis are some of the most mobile in the world providing the town with both its main attraction and the source of its potential destruction. More on that a little later. What I did find alarming though was quite how much material was still tumbling down towards the beach, a result of saturated rocks and earth simply being unable to support themselves any longer. Needless to say I kept my distance and instead focussed along the shore where we turned up a good selection of Ammonites and left with backpacks considerably heavier than when we’d arrived.
A couple of light showers kept things on the damp side but, as can be seen from the picture above, that didn’t stop large numbers partaking in this peculiar pastime. What many may have missed however were the remains of an old narrow gauge railway which used to run along the beach here and served a quarry extracting limestone for use in the making of cement. Opened sometime between 1830 and 1840 it didn’t close until 1913 and other than a short length of track exposed at low tide you’d be hard pressed to identify the location of either today. I certainly hadn’t seen them before and just wish I’d taken a few more photos now that I realise their significance. Hopefully in this one you can pick out the best preserved section of rails as well as the old course of the line.
Alas all good things must come to an end and for us it was time to put up the tent. Being a three night stay we’d elected to use our biggest tent, not my favourite by any means due to its less than simple pitching procedure. That was following the instructions however and by adopting a completely different set of steps we had the thing up in no time. Is this another case of tent designers never going camping in the same way that people who lay out roads have never actually driven a car for themselves? Regardless we had emerged triumphant and there was even a spot of sunshine with which to celebrate.
Still a few hours from sunset we decided to walk back down into Lyme Regis following the route of the river Lym. It takes in a delightful mixture of woodland, pasture and the old mills of Lyme Regis itself before thrusting you back out onto the coast. In past years this mixture of habitat has often brought us some early spring migrants but, other than the ever reliable Chiffchaffs, we once again drew a blank. There were however excellent sightings of Grey Wagtail and Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus this as yet unidentified but quite impressive fungi.
We headed East along the coast this time and soon came to the latest in a series of major structural undertakings which have attempted to stabilise and protect the town from further landslips. Formally known as phase four this £20 million sea wall has been built to protect 240 homes as well as the main road into Lyme Regis. Without it the future for this side of town was looking distinctly bleak and even now remains somewhat uncertain. Even if it proves successful the expected lifespan is only 60 years, and then what?
Back at the tent and it was time to relax and enjoy that immediate contact with nature that only camping can provide. Blackbirds, Robins, Chaffinches and House Sparrows were happy to perch and sing often right outside our door whilst the distant sound of calling Yellowhammers, Pheasants and soaring Buzzards all added to the background orchestra. After the sun had set these daytime species were replaced with the distinctive calls of at least two Tawny Owls. Both sounded close but with temperatures after dark plummeting to below five degrees (and on Sunday night even lower) I somehow lacked the motivation to get up and look for them. Funny that.