DON’T let the weather-beaten face of John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s woman staring out from the Cobb in Lyme Regis colour your perception of this seaside town. The area’s boutiques, deli food shops and sandy beaches make it as quaint as British seaside towns come. It is the sort of place that you actually want to have an annual family holiday.
Indeed, many people do. The average property price in Lyme Regis is on the up, overtaking other chic seaside towns like Whitstable, and gaining on the super-expensive prices sported by hotspots like Sandbanks and Salcombe. Buying in Lyme Regis is clearly fashionable. Richard Addison, Savills’ expert in the area, says he has definitely noticed the City drift down south: “A lot of people fall in love with the place after a holiday and decide that they want to buy a property to bring their kids to every summer.”
Interest in Lyme Regis has widened beyond families in recent years. “It’s become a bit of a foody Mecca,” says Addison. “Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s farm isn’t far away. I think he’s brought the deli culture down with him.”
The town centre reflects this. Anyone who has recently been to Lyme Regis will rave about The Town Mill Bakery. It cooks up loaves of fresh bread then gets customers to muck in and eat up, sharing butter and condiments from a buffet table. Town Mill Cheesemonger is equally famous for its West Country produce and local interesting varieties. The mongers hit the headlines for serving up pro and anti – Royal wedding cheeses earlier this month. Just remember that they close for an hour at lunchtime and don’t open on Mondays.
While the absolutely no-frills oyster depot the Crab House Cafe in Wyke Regis is locally renowned and definitely worth a visit, there is no better place to get your posh seafood fix than at Hix Oyster & Fish House overlooking the harbour. Its menu changes daily so even if it is your third trip this year, you will experience something totally different.
Lyme Regis is the also the perfect habitat for geeks of all shapes and sizes. Lying on the Jurassic coast line, fossil hunting is big in this part of the world. Lovers of literature can join literary walks around the settings of John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, all by Thomas Hardy. Note, these books are obligatory reading for those who buy a house there, second or otherwise.
Richard Waters, the director of County Homesearch Dorset, thinks that the town has evolved in this way because it is just far away enough from London to keep day trippers away, but near enough to be a viable option for Londoners to buy a second home they can visit regularly.
The properties up for grabs in Lyme Regis are as charming as the town. The three bedroomed house on Broad Street (pictured right) has a sea view – something Addison says adds 40 per cent to the value of a home in the area – and has regency lamp posts and palm trees outside. Farmhouses complete with outbuildings, like Yawl Hill Lane pictured right, make the most of the area’s plentiful countryside by offering a substantial chunk of land. Others like St Marys, pictured right, get the best of both worlds providing half an acre of mature gardens and a sea view. But if these are a little out of your price range, Seaton, a nearby town with the same natural gifts, is significantly cheaper. Addison, however, cautions delicately that it is “a bit grotty,” lacking Lyme Regis’ style. Failing that you can, of course, always get a beach hut.
Getting to Lyme Regis can be tricky if you don’t drive. There isn’t a direct rail service from London, let alone a railway station in the town. The nearest station is Axminster, a 10 minute cab ride away. Travelling by car, however, isn’t too difficult. It takes just over three hours from central London.
The Town Mill Bakery and Town Mill Cheesemonger. Deli-style food delivered with small town sweetness.
Crab House Café. A no-fills oyster depot. Highly rated by professional foodies.
Hix Oyster & Fish House. Mark Hix’s coastal offering.
Mill Tea & Dining Room. Family run and fabulously English.