The last few days have been a festival of pasties, cream teas and clotted cream fudge, which can only mean one thing: we’re in the West Country. And what a spectacular part of the world it is too.
Picking up from Nick’s last entry, our first impression of Cowes was a big fat “Meh.” That was upgraded to a polite “Nice” after we went for a bit of a bike ride, but frankly, it’s not somewhere I’d return to. Which is probably a real shame, because the rest of the Isle of Wight is meant to be gorgeous. We did enjoy a bike ride along the river and back, but the real highlights were the quiet mooring- seriously, the boat hardly moved an inch in two days, it was like floating in a still lake- and the Waitrose around the corner.
We rose bright an early on the Wednesday to a glorious morning; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. However, it wasn’t quite time to crack out the summer clothes- the air temperature was bitter, and we were still wrapped up against the cold. My new sailing trousers have been seeing quite a bit of action, which I find extremely irritating. They were meant to stay in the cupboard.
Now, my experience with sea sickness so far is fairly limited. Nick and sea sickness are old buddies- they know each other well. However, it rarely affects me. When it does, it will invariably be on a day like Wednesday was: perfectly calm, the wind gently blowing us down Channel, and bright sunshine. So there I was, curled up on the couch chewing ginger sweets, eating everything I could get my hands on, and knocking back ginger tea. It’s still the beginning of the season.
So, I was glad to get into Lyme Regis, although by the time we were approaching land I was happily sitting on the foredeck enjoying the sunshine.
The coast of Dorset is absolutely stunning. For those who haven’t seen it, well, you’ll have to turn to Google or something, because even though I’ve finally summoned the energy to unpack my camera from its locker, actually taking photos seems to be a step too far. So, sorry, no photos for you. Apparently this stretch of coast, a World Heritage Site, is nicknamed the Jurassic Coast, because the rock that makes up the spectacular coastline is from the, you guessed it, Jurassic period (also the Triassic and Cretaceous periods, but thanks to Stephen Spielberg, no-one really cares about them). Because of this, you can’t move for fossils, something the tourism industry has gone to pains to capitalise on. Fossil walks, fossil museums, more fossil shops that you can poke a stick at. I excitedly imagined myself the discoverer of a new species of dinosaur or something, but no. It’s more fish and those spiral-looking things (called Ammonites, as I now know).
Our destination was Lyme Regis, which I had never heard of, but apparently it’s well known as a holiday spot for British families. I can see why. It’s extremely quaint. It’s small enough to give you the impression that you’ve just stumbled across Dorset’s best kept secret, yet it has enough going on to create a vibrant atmosphere, even mid-week in May. The drying fishing harbour (more on that in a minute- bet you can’t wait!) is at one end of a gently curving bay. There’s a couple of pubs, a convenient shop, the tiny Yacht Club and a row of shacks along the beach selling fish and chips, ice-cream and burgers. Walk along the promenade next to the pebbled beach, and only a few hundred metres away (if you can’t walk that far without stopping for a cup of tea or an ice-cream, don’t worry- there’s plenty of small cafes along the beachfront) is the town. I say town, it’s tiny, with a short high street with yet more cafes, but also a few bakeries, fossil shops and a Tescos. It was very atmospheric.
View of the bay from Lyme Regis beach
Back to the harbour. We had called up the day before leaving the Isle of Wight to confirm the harbour would have somewhere for us to moor. They assured us that yes, there were the summer pontoons which they had put out in the outer harbour that very day. Perfect. However, as we approached and radioed for permission to enter, they told us that the pontoons weren’t in use thanks to the Easterly wind. We’d have to go in the inner harbour and tie up along the wall.
Well, it was an interesting experience. Not the first time we’ve had to tie up to a harbour wall, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but we didn’t have a fender board and that presented a challenge. There were several ladders and pipes running down the wall which offered even more opportunity to damage our hull, and we scurried around trying to arrange our fenders and lines so our boat was protected as much as possible until we could make a fender board. Of course, this part of the harbour was also a 12th century wall and a site of interest in itself. So, of course, we had an audience. We love an audience, especially when we’re manoeuvring in very close quarters and trying out a mooring technique we’re far from comfortable with. And this seemed to be of the participating kind. So we were peppered with questions as we tried to work:
“Is that your boat? Is it just the two of you? Goodness me, it’s huge [it’s not, but all the surrounding fishing boats were tiny- it’s all a matter of perspective]. How do you manage it, just the two of you? Do you live on it? Where have you come from? Oh, my sister lives in Kent, whereabouts were you? Ohh, yes, I know where that is, it’s near Whitstable, isn’t it? So where next? Spain? Will you cross the ocean? Oh, how adventurous. Well, I’d better leave you to it. You look busy! Good luck!”
Anyway. Very nice people. And my spirits lifted considerably when, instead of wooden blocks for making a fender board, the harbour master and Nick returned with a fender literally the size of a dingy, which we rammed between the boat and the wall. Finally, after about an hour, we were settled in, secure, and reasonably confident our hull was going to remain in one piece.
It was a sunny evening, so we did what any self respecting person arriving into a seaside village would do: went down the foreshore and got a pint of beer and takeaway fish and chips, which we enjoyed on the beach. The fish had been caught that day, we were assured, and boy it tasted like it. Absolutely delicious.
The next day, Thursday, was a bit of a washout- literally; it was raining all day- but Friday dawned bright and, if not warm, then at least not icy cold. So we decided to go for a walk along the dedicated coastal path. Well, it may have been near the coast, but all we could see was wooded forest. Lovely, but not what I was expecting. The path was sodden, and quite slippery in places, so we returned to town and had a cup of tea in the sunshine on the beach instead. Perfect!
We could have stayed several more days, but sleep was a struggle- the boat swung around madly when the wind got up, and the lines creaked and screeched all night. Once the water was out and we were dried out on the bottom it was fine- lovely, actually- but that only lasted a couple of hours. So we decided to get going and move to our next port: Brixham!