‘Going to the seaside’ is a popular British rite of passage. Come the age of 12-14, it would be incredulous if you hadn’t visited or frequented the picturesque, balmy British coastline.
Northerners might traverse to North Wales or the prettier Pembrokeshire. The Scottish stay local and go to their west coast. Southerners? It’s straight in the campervan, flooring it down the M3 to the Cornish coast side.
So, what do we miss along the way? Dorset and the Jurassic Coastline, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (but you wouldn’t know it) and an extremely bucolic and pretty county which is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from London.
I’ve done the long weekend in Cornwall and honestly, it’s a spectacular place. The water so azure you’d mistake it for the Mediterranean, the untouched coastline not littered with high rises or glass-clad mansions, the history and stately homes, quaint seaside villages and the pasties! Cornwall is a county well-worth the visit, but there are other easier and no less scenic options.
Cue, Dorset. I had flirted sporadically with Dorset (a few work trips to a rundown city and a photoshoot in a port) and frankly I was far from impressed. Some British seaside villages have remained cemented in a 60s style past, which could be quirky and kitsch (Margate-esque) but are not. Instead, there’s a lack of infrastructure and old buildings that are in desperate need of a reboot, but which the local council doesn’t have the finances to offer. The result is a melting pot of old blended incongruously with the new. At best, the result is Brighton, at worst it’s Poole.
I was afraid to implant myself for three-days into a place of unromantic bygone origin, but then again I was keen to go for a fossil hunt and the Jurassic Coast was the best the UK had to offer in way of the possibilities of discovering the next ichthyosaur skeleton. So, we headed in our own rundown Peugeot and made our way to Lyme Regis.
Lyme Regis is a very pretty, rustic town with original buildings and a proud local history. Famously featured in Jane Austen’s Persuasion (‘we are for Lyme’) and the home of notable fossil hunter Mary Anning, I was overwhelmed and astounded by the wild beauty of this place. It’s small, but not claustrophobically so. The locals really are the backbone to this town and this is reflected in the shops, pubs and eateries. Thank goodness, tourism has not become the main currency of this town. There wasn’t a Wetherspoons, Costa or Poundland in sight.
Chartmouth is the perfect beach to get your tools out for a day of fossil foraging. It’s packed with likeminded fossil hunting enthusiasts and you’ll be lucky to walk away with so much as a Ammonite, let alone something a little more unique or rare. Additionally, while you are there, it’s well worth exploring the south coast walk. It’s not a quiet, countryside stroll, it’s quite taxing but affords the most spectacular views and scenery. I have walked quite a lot of the British/Welsh coastline and found this the most hard going path.
For our final day we visited Durdle Door, an inimitable and exceptional landmark and the perfect example of natural limestone formed over thousands of years of powerful wave erosion. It’s a rocky, well-frequented beach but a unique example of the variety and diversity of the British coastline.
Dorset was a county that exceeded all of my expectations. It’s less touristy, polite and refined then Cornwall, but Dorset really does have its own unique pulse, temper and aesthetic. It’s a purposeful county, not a lethargic one. Here, you really get a sense of England’s bucolic and fishing industries.
There’s a reason it’s been the country of influence for British creative greats like Thomas Hardy. It’s one of the only southern counties that’s really got into my bones and had an arresting impact.