LYME REGIS, Dorset's most westerly town, shelters snugly between steep, fossil-filled cliffs. Its intimate size and photogenic qualities make this a popular and congested spot in high summer, with some upmarket literary associations – Jane Austen set part of Persuasion in Lyme, while the film adaptation of John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman was shot here. Colourwashed cottages and elegant Regency and Victorian villas line its seafront and flanking streets, but Lyme's best-known feature is a practical reminder of its commercial origins: The Cobb, a curving harbour wall first constructed in the thirteenth century.
The cliffs around Lyme are made up of a complex layer of limestone, greensand and unstable clay, a perfect medium for preserving fossils, which are exposed by landslips of the waterlogged clays. In 1811, the almost complete skeleton of a 30-foot ichthyosaurus was discovered here. The area's complex geology can be enjoyed on both sides of town: to the west lies the Undercliff, a fascinating jumble of overgrown landslips, now a nature reserve. East of Lyme, the Dorset Coast Path is closed as far as jaded Charmouth, but at low tide you can walk for two miles along the beach, then, just past Charmouth, rejoin the coastal path to the headland of Golden Cap, whose brilliant outcrop of auburn sandstone is crowned with gorse.
Lyme's nearest train station is in Axminster, five miles north (bus #31).