Where is the best seaside to be beside? Undoubtedly, Lyme Regis in Dorset.
I was eight years old in 1969, when I first remember going to Lyme Regis. It was a wet day in August, (there seem to have been a lot of wet days in my memory), an uncle and aunt took me out for the day. Wrapped up against the wind and the rain we walked the Cobb and visited the aquarium and sat in the car park and ate Cornish pasties. Even squalls off the English Channel could not detract from the fact of being there.
Visits to Lyme (its original name, the “regis” was only added in 1284), were confined to day trips until 1971, our first family holiday.
We rented a caravan for the week, it cost us £15. I don’t remember really doing very much during that holiday. There were lots of walks down around the harbour. We watched the solitary trawler coming in each evening (was she called Barbarella, or is that a fanciful piece of imagination?), and I read a book called The Otterbury Incident. Thirty years later, when he was ten years old, I tried to interest my son in the same book, he looked at it with disdain, it hadn’t the sophistication of Twenty-First Century writers.
I was almost a teenager in September 1973 when we moved upmarket and rented a chalet close to the bowling green for a week. It was £20, a big hike from the £15 paid for a caravan. It had full en suite facilities and was much closer to the town. I remember the precise location because we had a dog called Rommel that was unruly in its behaviour. The behaviour was fine at home, but it escaped from our clutches and did a few circuits of the billiard table-like surface of the bowling green before being recaptured.
Memories of that week remain vivid. James Bond’s Live and Let Die was on at the cinema: I still think of Lyme Regis when I see the scene with the double decker bus going under the low bridge. The pocket money ran to a couple of trips out on the mackerel boats, trolling for whatever one could catch with hand lines. Was it 25p for a 45 minute trip in those days? Most of the holiday was spent doing simple things. I fished with a friend in the harbour, using limpets on lines to catch crabs that we threw back into the water and using rods and lines to cast spinners into deeper water in the hope of something bigger – nothing was ever caught.
I was allowed to go to the amusement arcade each day, but only as long as my pennies lasted. There was a horse racing game in the arcade on which you could bet pennies; it was mechanical and not very sophisticated, even a young boy could work out how often particular horses won and prolong his stay in the arcade until mid-morning.
There was even a moment that holiday that I have never had a chance to repeat anywhere. The chance to play bowls on the bowling green. The man in charge closely inspected our shoes to ensure that our rubber soled basketball boots would have no detrimental effect upon his turf.
Lyme Regis would never have impressed friends who went off to much more exotic destinations, yet even in much more recent times, when holidays took me across the Atlantic, Lyme Regis held its place as the best seaside I could imagine.