Mondays are the day I daydream the most, today I am thinking about being in England, particularly in a place called Lyme Regis!
It’s a quaint little sea-side village, which in the summer is invaded by thousands of tourists, or as the locals call them – Grockles. The famous Cob and beach front wall are lined with deck chairs where the Grockles prostrate themselves bathed in tanning oils trying to catch a rare English tan. Behind them the brightly painted houses blare in the sunlight with the ocean softly rolling along the beach below. It is the perfect picture and the best place to relax for a summer holiday. Well that is if you like sharing a beach with a thousand other tourists, tripping over deck chairs while you race up to the ice cream van, fighting the crowds as you walk up the hill to the best pubs and the never-ending traffic that doesn’t know that there is a back way out of the village.
This is Lyme Regis in summer – it is so beautiful that everyone wants to be here, before you know it, you can no longer see the quaint little village that was so famously pictured in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion through the heaving mass of oiled up lobster coloured bodies.
Like Austen I like to visit this Sea Side oasis after the season has turned when the crowds are gone and the locals come out of hiding. The village is situated in the on one side of a cliff as it climbs out of a valley; the whole village is effectively built on a hill. The cliff front is the home of the botanical gardens giving the perfect place to sit and have a picnic dinner during the summer, while looking out to sea. That brings us to the iconic Sea Front and the Cob; both have become places of historical and cultural import. The sea front is where Mary Anning discovered some of England’s greatest fossil hordes – because of the great fossil finds the coast line has now been added to the national trust or as its more commonly known as “The Jurassic Coast”. Culturally it has been featured by writers like Jane Austen and John Fowels (whose novel A French Lieutenants Woman was also filmed here). Others like Tolkien and the poet Tennyson (who went straight to the Cob on arrival and demanded to be shown where Louisa Musgrove from Jane Austen’s Persuasion fell) just came to visit and absorb the infamous atmosphere.
In taking all of this in it is no wonder that the place gets so crowded in summer, but like Jane Austen, I prefer to visit once the crowds have gone and the locals come out of hiding, the brightly painted houses may no longer shine in the sun, instead give off a small sense of warmth as the landscape around changes from the glorious green of summer to the rough shades of winter.
I think back on the last day that I went to Lyme; my grandparents who live in the neighbouring village of Charmouth took me there to look around while they buy groceries. As we come into the village through the narrow high street they discuss the best logistics: it is decided that my grandmother and I will get out at the bottom of this hill and walk up looking at the shops and purchasing whatever groceries that are needed, my grandfather will park at the top of the hill and do the same walking down the hill until he meets us in the middle at the fruit and veg store.
As soon as we are out of the car and it has sped off up the hill at an alarming speed I am confronted by carol singers who are loitering around the giant Christmas tree that is at the bottom of the high street, I briefly marvel at their bravery in standing out in the wind and cold and continuing to sing, before my grandmother takes me into a coffee shop. We sit by the window that looks out over the tip of the wall at the sea – I can see one of the iron canons that lines the wall in memory of when Lyme was turned into a fort against invading armies (there have been several – French, German, French, Spanish, French). We sip our coffees slowly and I have a piece of cake, my grandmother doesn’t need any cake as she has just put half a packet of sugar in her coffee. I guiltily picture my Grandfather doing most of the grocery shopping and getting it all packed away in the car before we have even left the coffee shop.
Each store front is decorated for Christmas, with the soft lights glowing through the Victorian windows lighting up the whole street. My grandmother idly looks at various objects and asks me if anything would be suitable for one of my cousins, nothing is, so she leaves me to look in the book store while she goes into the grocery store. I lounge in the warmth and spend more time looking out of the window than I do at the books. The locals who are red-faced, meander past oblivious to the cold, they stop to chat to one another and watch the carol singers. I can see my grandfather laden down with bags heading back up the hill to the car; suddenly my grandmother pops up in front of me and is given a good laugh after startling me.
I take the bags from her and head up the hill in search of my grandfather, despite the cold I love looking around at the village, if you ignore the cars you almost feel as though you could be slipping back to the 1700’s. My grandfather has craftily parked right near the entrance to the botanical gardens, which lead down to the sea front and their favourite fish monger, my grandfather takes the shopping and hands me another scarf, he knows how much I whinge with the cold.
The botanical gardens are one of my favourite places, no matter what time of year you come they seem to be full of life. Even this close to Christmas the grass is green and small vibrant bushes line the paths. As we crest the hill and look down on the Cob my breath catches – giant magnificent storm clouds are rushing towards us. You can see the clouds moving and interchanging as parts become dark and folded. While I stop and stare my grandfather doubles his pace as its obvious a storm is coming, one look at the sea below which is churning up and pelting the Cob, tells even a storm novice like me that we don’t want to be caught in this. Yet I feel so caught up in the contrast between the wild uncontrollable storm that is about to break on this picturesque village that I dawdle, my grandmother links her arm through mine as we walk slowly down the hill.
We catch up to my grandfather inside the fish mongers, he is chatting away with the man who is serving about the tides and the expected haul for the next few days. In seeing my grandmother the man’s face lights up, he pulls out some prawns for her to look at – “all the way from Australia and still fresh” – my grandparents both start laughing and look at me, my grandmother shakes her head “I can’t serve Australian prawns to an Australian” this of course turns the man’s attention on me “Oh you’re the granddaughter from Australia” we chat away as my grandmother decides on what nice English fish she is going to put in tonight’s pie.
My grandfather wants to show me the new life boat and take me for a walk out on the Cob but takes one look at how close the clouds are to the shore and turns back along the front. We decide to walk along the front and back up through the village as the path through the gardens looks a bit steep and if the storm comes it will be wet and slippery. As we are about half way along the inevitable happens, the storm breaks. I can see the edge of the storm lining the cliff as the first drops hit my head. I look up surprised; instead of the straight lines of rain I see swirls of snow. It’s unusual for this time of year and on the coast –to me it’s delightful, as my grandparents rush for cover I swirl around, pretending that I am four. I can hear my grandfather chuckling as I slip and almost fall, I give up then and join them under cover. It’s then that I realise how cold, wet snow in your clothes really is. A quiet calm presses down on us as we watch the gentle snow falling into the waves which are now rising above the wall.
Eventually there is a quick break in the storm and my grandfather scurries up the botanical garden path while my grandmother and I rush down the front to meet him once he has got the car and bought it down the hill.
Back at their home as I unpack the groceries I continue to watch the storm out of their kitchen window. I hold the picturesque beauty of Lyme Regis being confronted by the overwhelming storm in my mind’s eye and somehow I get through Monday.