We could have traveled a couple different directions; a large road, which would have been faster, or a smaller road, which would follow the coastline and give us some opportunities to stop and explore. We decided on the scenic route
Along the south coast is a town called Lyme Regis. We had heard of this town but didn’t know what it had to offer, but it was such a cool name, we just had to go visit. So, we headed south. I’ll try not to mention the weather too often, because, well, this is England. For the entire vacation, there was always a cloud hanging over whatever scene I was photographing. This day was no exception. It did manage to rain, “liquid sunshine” we called it, because nothing was going to ruin our holiday.
We arrived in Lyme Regis and pulled into the first car park we found. After paying to park, we discovered a map that showed us that we were still a long way from the centre of town, and it was beginning to rain. So we loaded back in the car, and continued on our way. It is a town with tiny streets, but a nice shopping district, as well as a few museums, and grocers where you can buy scones and Devon Clotted Cream. It is definitely a resort town, offering hiking opportunities on the magnificent Devon coastline, with its towering cliffs. Inland there are parks and castles to explore.
But what made Lyme Regis so interesting, besides the name, were the dinosaurs. No, there weren’t any real ones roaming the streets (although a few of the folk shopping could have been around when they did), but the town and a six mile stretch of the coastline around the town is world famous for its fossils. A 20 year old woman named Mary Anning, who lived from 1799-1847, discovered the first Ichthyosaur, a fish like creature, to be found in England. Later in her life, as a professional fossil collector, she also discovered a Plesiosaur and a Pterodactyl. We wandered into a shop on the main drag and enjoyed viewing the many different kinds of fossils on display. The town has a museum, but we did not have the time to visit. We did buy some rocks with ammonites, an extinct mullosc, for the kids to keep in their rock collections.
We took a moment to fossil hunt on the beach, but we did not have any idea what we were doing, so of course, we did not find any. I did pick up one rock that I wanted to bring home and crack open, just in case. When we opened it, it was just a rock, but it was fun thinking I might have found something. One thing about many beaches along the English shoreline, they aren’t sandy. Many are rocky, as was the one we investigated. It was fun sorting through the rocks, which came in a million different colors.
It rained while we were in Lyme Regis, but we had a lovely time, in spite of it. As we wandered back to the car, we stopped in a bakeshop and bought some yummy baguettes that we tore into and ate as we window-shopped and bought some postcards.
We left Lyme Regis, continuing in the direction we were already headed, not realizing that the road we needed to get back on our way was a few blocks behind us. But no matter, the best way to see England is to get lost, and you can’t really get very lost anyway. We just turned on the next road and were headed in the right direction, and we passed by a beautiful manor house from the 14th century. We saw something we would have missed if we had stuck to the trampled path.
At Exeter, we made a fuel stop, for our car and our bodies. I took over the driving, and Bruce took over the map. One thing that we noticed as we drove is that Cornwall is a very hilly part of England. See, where we live, in East Anglia, the landscape is extremely low and flat. We have not driven on rolling hills since we left America. It was so fun to come to the top of a hill, gazing over the valleys to see farmland covered with lavender and rape (a plant with a yellow flower from which we get oil and cattle feed).
As we neared Lostwithel, Bruce noticed that Restormel Castle was very close. He remembered it as one he had read about in our research to plan our trip. It was still early in the day, so we took the detour to the castle.
Perched on a grassy hill, high above the River Fowey, is the romantic ruin of a large circular keep. The outer stone wall is 8 feet thick and the wall walk is 25 feet above the level of the courtyard. The rooms of the castle, including a great hall, a kitchen, a chapel, and apartments, were built around a central grassy courtyard. We climbed to the top of the wall walk and enjoyed the most incredible view of the valley. Off in the distance, to the north, we watched a thunderstorm as it poured on the fields. We could hear the thunder rumble through the valleys. And yet, to the south, the sky was blue and brilliant (one of the few times all week we saw blue sky).
The history of Restormel is uncertain. It was not an important castle, only saw battle once. It was originally a wooden fortress, probably built early in the 12th century. Edmund, the last Earl of Cornwall probably built the stone keep, in the later half of the 13th century. By 1337, the castle was in need of repair and passed into the hands of the Duke of Cornwall, Edward, also known as the Black Prince. He visited the castle twice, and it was well maintained during his ownership. The only military service it saw was during the Civil war, mid 17th century, when it was patched up for use by the Parliamentarians. Sir Richard Greville captured the castle in 1644. After that, if fell into disuse. In the 18th century, artists used the ivy-covered castle as a favorite subject for paintings and engravings. The ivy was recently removed, and stairways to the wall walk were built by English Heritage, a national organization that protects and preserves the ancient buildings of the nation.
We noticed the storm was approaching the castle, so we bought a few postcards and moved on.