Fossils, Fish and Fowles; SEASIDE CLASSICS Which Are Our Best Seaside Resorts - the Best Beaches, the Best Places to Stay? Peter Hardy Starts Our New Series with Lyme Regis

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER HARDY

MY CATCH bore little relation to the basket of fresh prawns on display at the harbour seafood stall.

Although I had only minutes earlier fished it from a salty pool on Monmouth beach at Lyme Regis, it was already past its sell-by date - by 160 million years.

Fossils, in my case an ammonite from the Jurassic period, are simply waiting to be gathered at this quaint Dorset seaside resort. Finding these jewels requires little skill, just eagle eyes and a bit of luck. Fragments of fossilised rock are washed from the crumbling cliffs.

Lyme Regis - on the Dorset and Devon Jurassic Coast, which two years ago became Britain's first World Heritage Site - remains the quintessential British seaside resort, surprisingly unchanged.

Once an important port and fashionable watering hole, it reclaimed its fame through local author John Fowles, who based part of The French Lieutenant's Woman here.

The cluster of Georgian houses and fisherman's cottages tumble down a steep hill and hide behind the Cobb, the manmade harbour wall, which protects it from westerly storms.

Lyme Regis has made few concessions to the demands of mass tourism, with only a handful of hotels to supplement the B&Bs and selfcatering cottages.

HOW TO GET THERE

BY ROAD: 156 miles from London, 153 miles from Birmingham, 75 miles from Bristol.

BY RAIL: nearest station is Axminster, on the Waterloo to Exeter line.

WHERE TO STAY

ALL accommodation can be booked through the Tourist Information hotline (01305 269035). Prices per person per night, unless stated otherwise.

GOLD: Three-star Hotel Alexandra (01297 442 010) has commanding sea views.

A private gate from the lawn takes you into the Langmuir Gardens, which sweep down to the beach. Half board [pounds sterling]50-110.

SILVER: Two-star Hotel Buena Vista (01297 442494) on Pound Street has sea views and is well positioned for the shops and beach. Half board [pounds sterling]60-70.

B&B: The White House (01297 443420) is an 18th-century Georgian house at the top of the town. All seven rooms en suite, [pounds sterling]22-28.

SELF-CATERING: Blacksmith Cottage (01297 489778) sleeps four, [pounds sterling]275-520.

Cliff Cottage (01420 472512) sleeps four, [pounds sterling]185-385. Bay Cottage (01297 444593) sleeps six, [pounds sterling]280-550.

WHERE TO EAT

GOLD: Turles Bistro (01297 445792) fish specialties. …