Thursday, August 25, 2016

Discovering Dorset on a Double Decker Bus--From Ludworth to Lyme Regis

Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Discovering Dorset on a Double Decker Bus--From Ludworth to Lyme Regis
     I really had only one single full day in Dorset and I intended to make the absolute most of it. The bus drivers had assured me, the previous day, that buses would run along the coast on schedule today—I had much to feel grateful for—without the buses I’d be nowhere!
     Being an early riser by habitude, I watched The Breakfast Show on TV (did I mention that I feel lost without a TV set at home in London?), then dressed and prepared myself for a hectic day ahead. I went down exactly at 8.00 am to make myself a Continental breakfast to take away: toast with marmalade, juice, fruit. I would have to forego the Full English breakfast (to which I had been looking forward) because I had an 8.17 bus to catch that would take me for 2 stops to the Esplanade and then an 8. 40 bus to take to Lyme Regis. I bought myself a Full Day Pass for 12 pounds (turned out the driver charged me more—it ought to have been no more than 8 pounds—like I said, I was getting used to rotten luck!). Since I reached The Esplanade early—there weren’t many people around except for dog-walkers—I got myself a lovely cappuccino on the beach and sat to watch the sun throw shimmery zigzags on the water.
     About 10 minutes later, my bus pulled up. I showed my pass to the driver and took my seat up on the top deck, right in front, as is my wont. Five minutes later, a member of the bus company got on board and took a seat next to me. I had my bus time table open and was trying to figure out my connections. I intended to stay on the bus along the Jurrasic Coast all the way to Lyme Regis (about 2 hours away) through sprawling Dorset countryside, stop on my way back at Bridport and West Bay, stay at each place for an hour, then return to Weymouth by 2.00 pm. After a quick sandwich lunch somewhere, I thought I would take another bus going in the opposite direction to Ludworth Cove to see Durdle Door. But looking hard at the time table, I discovered that there were only 2 buses a day from Weymouth to Ludworth Cove and nothing after 12 noon! Wait, what??? On the other hand, the ‘Jurrasic Coaster’ ran all day! Once again, it was only Providence that prevented me from having another rotten disappointing day. It was time to reverse my plans—it would be Ludworth Cove and Durdle Door first, followed by Lyme Regis!
     I literally ran off the bus just as it was preparing to leave! My bus to Ludworth did not leave for another half an hour. This gave me time to people-watch on The Esplanade—to watch life return to the town. Dog-walkers disappeared, early breakfasters appeared. Businesses began to set up for the day. It is a good time to note down a few things about Weymouth.
A Bit About Weymouth:
     Weymouth, a typical coastal Dorset town, was put on the tourist map in the 1700s when King George III (the ‘mad’ one) made a trip there. Ever since then, the English have flocked to this ‘seaside’ town (which is what the Brits call the beach). To commemorate this visit, there is a huge statue on The Esplanade that has given the entire area a name: King George Statue! The King is shown standing in ceremonial gear—all wigged and powdered with a stack of books by his side, wearing an ermine-lined cape and hose. The sculpture is painted in vivid colors—which gave me an idea of how the ancient Greek sculptures might have looked when freshly executed.
     Shops line the beach front—selling souvenirs (postcards, magnets—which I bought) plus every possible kind of beach paraphernalia (spades, pails, even boogie boards and dingies!). There are also tons of restaurants and very predictable ones: for the Brits have a seaside routine. It includes eating fried food (mainly fish and chips although I did also see funnel cakes) for lunch or ‘tea’ and eating a ‘cream tea’ (which, for the longest time, I used to think was tea with cream in it. Turned out the Brits never put cream in their tea—they use milk. The cream in question in a ‘cream tea’ refers to the lashings of clotted cream that are piled on to a split scone together with strawberry jam—which is what they eat with their ‘pot of tea’). They also must eat ice-cream at the beach and thousands of cones are consumed each day at the seaside. They will queue patiently for up to 15 minutes for an ice-cream cone! They find a spot on the sand, cover it with a blanket or a tent (I rarely saw deck chairs) and open their coolers filled with cold drinks and sandwiches. The beach is covered with colorful human beings for everything is brightly colored—from their swimsuits to their umbrellas to their towels. The water was filled with human bodies—because these days are exceedingly warm for them and they seem to prefer swimming to sunbathing. You apparently cannot leave Weymouth without eating fish and chips—I would be the exception. When they have turned beetroot red, they pack up and leave and resolve to return again, the next year. They have been doing this for two centuries! So, a trip to Weymouth was for me a lesson in British Cultural Studies.           
Off to Ludworth Cove:
     My bus arrived in 20 minutes’ time. I sat on the top deck with a middle-aged couple from Barcelona who had the bus time table open and were also trying to figure it out. We got into conversation and discovered that we were carrying the exact same leather bag--that I had purchased in Barcelona! Now what are the odds of that happening? We also discovered that we were both off to Ludworth—they to the Cove, me to Durdle Door. It was their intention to get off the bus at Ludworth Cove and walk along the South Dorset Coast Path for about 25 minutes to Durdle Door. Since Durdle Door was my priority, I decided to do the reverse journey—see the natural rock formation that juts out into the sea and then walk to Ludworth Cove—if I felt up to it. Having lost an hour in the morning, I was reluctant to veer too far off plan.
Getting to Durdle Door:
     It was a gorgeous day—I will say that. Dorset slumbered under perfect blue skies. But it was also a trifle too humid and when I got off the bus at what is called “Durdle Door National Park”, I had no idea what to expect. About four other people got off with me. The driver told us that there would be a return bus in exactly an hour. This would be plenty, I thought, to see the Door, take a few pictures and return to the stop.
     Well…..nothing had warned me about how challenging it is to get from the bus stop to the viewing point. You walk downhill for about 20 minutes and arrive at a kiosk that sells cool drinks and souvenirs and distributes maps of the area (they were out of stock when I asked for one). From there, you walk downhill for another 20 minutes along a well-trodden path passing by people who have seen the sight and are on their return trek. They are panting like dogs and you begin to wonder how on earth you are going to get back up again! At times the path is so steep and the gravel so loose that you risk slipping—I almost did at one time although my shoes have terrific traction.
     Anyway, after what seems like an eternity, you arrive at the coast and are rewarded by stunning seascapes. The water is an incredible blue—never have I seen such a color except in Hawai’i and at the Cote D’Azur. You see an almost perfect cove deep below you and you notice stone steps carved into the side of the hill that would get you down. People are swimming in the sea, there are sunbathers and kayakers—but you wonder where the heck is the Door. And another five minutes later, there it is.
     As I explained, Durdle Door is a natural rock formation in the shape of a door or gate—it is a perfect rock arch that extends into the sea from a rocky promontory on the coast. This entire area is known as the Jurrasic Coast because geological activity caused many shifts that resulted in interesting rock projections, well-formed bays and coves and white-faced chalk cliffs. In fact, Dorset probably has just as many white cliffs as does Dover—which have become legendary. Across the English Channel are the Channel islands—Jersey and Guernsey—but you cannot see them from this part of Dorset. People had paused to take pictures. While I am always the rare being who is usually alone at such sites, on this occasion there were three of us: another man who sounded American and a woman. We requested each other to take our pictures with the Door in the background—and that was how I got talking to the woman.
     Pictures taken, it was Been There, Done That. I saw the entrance to the Dorset Coastal Path and for a while I stood undecided. Should I walk to Ludworth Cove? Or should I pass? It was already about 11. 30 and I was keen to get a move on. It would have been lovely to see the Cove which Hardy had described as “perfect as the Mediterranean”, but there was just as glorious a cove just below me. In fact, the Dorset coast at this point is visually stunning. On a clear day—such as the one we had—you feel you can see forever, past the white cliffs that border the ocean to the distant beaches of Bournemouth.
     My decision was made. I was going back to the bus stop. I had about 20 minutes to do it—to climb that challenging hill and get past the farms and fields to the bus stop. It was easier to do in company and the single other lady with me climbed alongside me. She informed me that her friend was waiting at the top with her 14-year  old dog. She felt sure the dog would not be able to make the climb back up—so she had declined to see the sight. The lady with me had an aunt who had a painting of Durdle Door and decided to see it for herself. Hence, her solo excursion.
     Well, let’s just say, on the climb back up, I realized I could never do the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. It will have to be the train for me! So that’s one item on my Bucket List that will remain unticked off! We soldiered on and at the top, I requested the lady’s friend (after we were introduced) to give me a ride to the bus-stop. They very graciously did so and I was spared a further climb for another twenty minutes. I shared the back seat with a dog named Yoshi who promptly left his bed to climb on to my lap and look out of the window! Good Job I love dogs so much! Five minutes later, I was dropped off to my bus stop and after receiving grateful thanks from me, they drove off. After ten minutes, my Jurrasic Coaster ambled along and in I jumped. Half an hour later, I was back at the King’s Statue ready to take my connecting bus (No. 53) to Lyme Regis.
Off to Lyme Regis:
     The bus was pretty packed this time with a lot of people getting off either en route or at Lyme Regis. Once again, my seat at the top and in the front gave me spectacular views of the county of Dorset stretching out in emerald-green gentle rolling hills and of charming stone-clad villages with little pubs, ancient red brick village halls and the like. We passed by the wide expanse of Chesil Beach (which goes on forever) and which Ian McEwan, my favorite author, made familiar in his book On Chesil Beach. We also passed the hilltop stone structure called Abbotsbury Abbey which occupies an enviable spot and offers grand coastline views. Or was it Clavel Tower?At Bridport, we drove through the main street and I got a sense of the locations used in the TV series, Broadchurch (which I had loved) although the bulk of the filming was done just another 20 minutes away in the much smaller coastal town of West Bay. I stayed on the bus past West Bay and finally arrived at Lyme Regis at about 1.45
pm. Another lady who had clambered up to the top got off one village earlier at Charmouth. She told me how much she loved sitting on the upper deck (no matter how many loads she is carrying). She also told me that she loves traveling and exploring alone. I had found a kindred spirit!
Exploring Lyme Regis:
     I was excited to be in Lyme Regis—another place that has been on my To Do List for ages. Why Lyme Regis? Well, ever since I read the book by John Fowles and then saw the film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, where the opening scene presents this endless walk along The Cobb by the Victorian female protagonist, I have wanted to be there myself. Before Fowles, Jane Austen had set a memorable scene at Lyme Regis (a town she knew well as her family often spent their summers there) when Louisa Musgrove in her novel Persuasion tumbles down the steps when trying to be a show-off. Later on, more recently, I read Remarkable Creatures, the novel by Tracy Chevalier which introduced the world to Mary Anning, the amateur paleontologist who discovered the almost perfect skeleton of an ichthyosaur (an extinct cross between a crocodile and a dinosaur) on the beach while collecting fossils. Her original home has been converted into the Lyme Regis Philpot Museum—and I was keen to visit that. So, in many ways, this was a literary pilgrimage: a search for some of the spots in England to which I had become introduced through fiction.
Visiting the Lyme Regis Philpot Museum:
     I gave myself two hours to visit Lyme Regis and to do all the items that I wished to tick off. Rather obliging, the bus dropped me right outside the Museum which made it really easy for me to drop everything and go there first. There is a big cut-out of Mary Anning in Victorian garb welcoming visitors inside. There is a fee of 5. 50 pounds but since their credit card machine wasn’t working, they let me in for free—which was very kind of them indeed. The house has been refurbished a couple of times to make it structurally strong but the interior is exactly as it would have been in Anning’s time. It was from here that she would run to the beach each morning, hope the tide had left fossils behind, search for them with her brother and then sell them outside her house to passing visitors. Remember this is the Jurrasic Coast and there are still plenty of fossils to be had—mainly of ammonites or nautilus shell-creatures.
     The museum has plenty to offer and it is a pretty wonderful place in which you could easily spend half a day if you wished to read all the exhibits. It is beautifully curated (John Fowles was once the curator here—it is what gave rise to his other novel, The Collector and I understand that The Magus also has some connection to Lyme Regis and to this museum). He collected a lot of interesting natural objects (bird’s nests, for instance) that are on display in a special section devoted to him and his work. There is a section devoted, likewise, to Jane Austen and to Persuasion, to Mary Anning and her work and a passing reference to Tracy Chevalier (they really ought to give her more prominence as most of the people in the Museum seemed to come there because they had read her book). Lyme Regis and Dorset’s sea-faring history is also well documented at this place and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my visit even though it was very brief. There are walking tours of Anning’s Lyme Regis and fossil hunting tours offered on different days of the week, but since my visit was short, I could not avail of them.
Off to The Cobb and On It:
     My feet have already begun to protest from too much walking—so I am restricting my movements to the minimum and trying to take buses wherever I can. However, I could not resist walking along The Cobb—a 13th century structure that was built to keep the tidal waves from lashing the town. Over the centuries, it has been rebuilt and strengthened, but it is only when you are actually on it and walking over its uneven stones that you realize how unbalanced it is—it seems to be leaning towards the right hand side and bending into the sea. Certainly it was a mighty experience to walk on The Cobb, to wonder how Meryl Streep could possibly have strode so fast upon it with Jeremy Irons’ character following swiftly behind her, to pose and take pictures and gain a sense of what it might have been like to be a Victorian woman. I loved every second of it.
     It is also when you are on The Cobb that you realize where Louisa Musgrove tumbled in Austen’s indelible scene. Along the walk to the Cobb from the Marine Parade, I kept thinking she had fallen from there to the beach. But it was from The Cobb that she had fallen because it is built in tiers. When I tried going down those stairs myself, believe me I was terrified. There is no hand rail to guide you down, the stairs are high and steep and very narrow—so you need to walk down really gingerly. Imagine doing that in your ankle-length Regency dress with your fancy heeled leather shoes and a parasol in your hand! No wonder poor Louisa fell!!!  I had pictures of me taken at the steps and then hurried off to buy my souvenirs for I had a bus to catch in another 45 minutes and I had no idea how long it would take as the pick-up point was different from the drop-off one! 
   Lyme Regis like Weymouth had wall-to-wall human beings on the beach and the rocks and the benches and everywhere! It was simply packed to bursting. On the waterfront, the shops were doing brisk business in sales of fish and chips and ice-cream. Loads of people were frolicking in the waves. It could have been Weymouth all over again—there was so little difference.
     I walked towards Broad Street and, quite by accident, found the house (Pyne House) which is the most likely house that Austen’s family rented on their summer visits to the seaside town. Further up the road, there are more houses and one of them was inhabited by Mary Anning after she moved from her birth home. The streets are narrow and fully festooned with red, white and blue buntings (to celebrate the Olympics?) Traffic moves sluggishly in and out as there is little room for vehicles and human beings. It was so hot that if you were not in the water, you desperately looked for a small bit of shade to plop down in. It was also very humid. I simply had to get an ice-cream myself and I picked it up from a local Co-op shop.
     Ten minutes later, my bus arrived. I hopped in and later discovered I had taken the wrong one. At Bridport, I would need to change to get to West Bay. By this time, I had found out that not a lot of the scenes from Broadchurch were shot in Bridport (although the cast and crew made it their base). West Bay was where I would need to be. So when the bus arrived at Bridport (and because I had already done so much walking for the day), I stayed put at the bus station for half an hour and awaited the right bus. A quarter of an hour later, I was in West Bay and it was here that I hopped off. I gave myself one hour to find the locations and then get back on the bus to Weymouth.
Exploring West Bay:
     The tourist center in Bridport apparently distributes a large poster giving details of exact locations in West Bay where Broadchurch was shot. Since I could not get a hold of one as I could not find it, I had taken a photograph of the poster on my phone that I had found at the bus station and used it as a guide to find the spots.
     West Bay is also a seaside town—but smaller than Weymouth, Lyme Regis or Bridport. It is basically a wide marina with tons of boats and fishing craft moored about and then a wide pebbly beach. Before I crossed the beach, I passed by the tiny Methodist Church at the corner which was dressed up to function as the home of the old newsagent who was accused of the crime and who committed suicide in the show. I took some pictures there too.  Then, I crossed the sands and arrived at the iconic brown cliff that borders the ocean and where Danny Latimer’s body was found in the opening episode of Broadchurch. That was my first goal—to get there and take pictures of myself in front of the massive cliff face. When that was done (and an enormous amount of pebbly sand had lodged itself in my shoes and socklets), I hurried off the beach at the very end and made my way to the jutting pier that is lined with benches—the last scene of the show was set here with David Tennant and Olivia Coleman’s characters discussing their futures.
     Further into the town, I went past little boys fishing for crabs. I could easily recognize the modern glass-fronted building that was the police station in the series—I took a picture on those famous steps. And even further away, just in front of me, I saw the little strip of homes that are built on a lagoon and that functioned as David Tennant’s home. It is strange really to come upon these places and recognize them—as if you had actually been in those spots before. I got into conversation with a couple whom I had requested to take my picture and they told me that they were thrilled to see stars frequently during the filming as they live in the town, year-round.   
       A few minutes later, with my feet aching and my energy fast dissipating, I waited at the bus stop for the bus which was about 20 minutes’ late—when it did come, I rode it back to Weymouth and reached about 6. 30 pm. Because I am reluctant to enter restaurants alone (and simply had no stomach for takeaway), I returned on a bus for two stops to my room at the B and B and had some tea and cookies for dinner! It had been such a full and purposeful day that I was ready to crash. The heat had contributed to my fatigue so I jumped into a shower and felt deeply refreshed. Then, I sank down on my bed to watch some more TV and off I went to bed.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...

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