Why Lyme still chimes with the times
Fossil-hunters and foodies love this Dorset resort, says Lesley Gillilan
Landslides are a fact of life in and around Lyme Regis. The Dorset town is in a permanent state of “active erosion” — whole sections of Jurassic Coast can disappear within the space of an afternoon. In May, 400 metres of cliff plunged seaward, cutting off a section of beach between Lyme and nearby Charmouth.
Has it put buyers off? Absolutely not. According to Martin Hall, of local agency Palmer Snell, his branch is the busiest of the chain’s 40 West Country offices. House-buyers here tend to think sea views and Lyme Bay sunsets, not liassic clay landslips.
That is not surprising, especially since most of Lyme’s houses have remained on firm ground for at least 200 years. The Cobb, a curved harbour wall, dates from the 13th century. Jane Austen set part of Persuasion here, while Meryl Streep put Lyme Regis firmly on the tourist map in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
The seafront is lined with Georgian townhouses, all ice cream-coloured stucco. The high street, which slopes down from Uplyme to Gun Cliff Walk, is full of tea shops, antiques shops, fossil shops, jettied upper storeys and half-timbering.
History — from ammonites to Austen —underpins local tourism. And the beach is part of the town’s Coast Protection Scheme. The old one was replaced with sand from Brittany and pebbles from the Isle of Wight. A fresh crowd of foodies will surely be joining the fossil-hunters now that Mark Hix (of The Ivy) has opened his Oyster and Fish House on the front.
Many of the buyers who snoop around Broad Street’s estate agents are looking for holiday homes. Kevin Hunt, of Fortnum Smith and Banwell, reckons that as much as half of the market is in second homes. They don’t seem to mind that many of the seaview properties don’t have gardens or parking; nor that some of the oldest houses — like the 16th-century, Grade IIlisted cottage for sale at £335,000 (Fortnum Smith and Banwell 01297 445666) — are on the road into town.
The Arched House (£995,000) has a walled garden, sea views and looks out over the River Lym, plus 10 bedrooms and artist’s studio.
Regency-style townhouses at the former Buena Vista hotel are priced at about £445,000. At the budget end of the Lyme Regis market, a one-bedroom attic flat is for sale at £129,000, while The Ark, a wooden chalet between Undercliff and Monmouth Beach, has been snapped up for about £85,000. A beach hut recently sold for £25,000 in a “mini auction”.
Classical setting: the main beach at Lyme Regis (above) and Meryl Streep (inset) in which helped to put the town on the tourist map