Everyone loves this iconic Jurassic Coast seaside resort, the famous Cobb like a protective arm around the harbour, the view of Dorset’s landmark Golden Cap, fish & chips and seagulls, sand and pebbles.
This is a place that’s on the border of Devon and Dorset, and on the border of coast and countryside. As with every historic town it has its own back story and there’s a back route here that’s a great way to discover a bit of Lyme behind the scenes and avoid the summer crowds.
The clue is in the little River Lim that flows through the town into Lyme Bay, sometimes vanishing from sight underneath the road, then bubbling up unexpectedly in one of the deep channels that still keep the millstones turning at the historic Town Mill.
This walk is accompanied all the way by the sound of the river and takes in another listed mill, a unique artisan studio and the treat of a tapas bar before strolling back again. Choose a parking spot between Uplyme and Lyme itself, find Church Lane and pick up the East Devon Way - a wide and shady footpath that invites you to follow the river towards the sea. It's extraordinary how quickly you can be in another world, just a few steps from the busy main road, out of sight, out of hearing and out of mind.
The lane becomes a path, becomes a track, becomes a place that makes you wonder why you never found it before. You’ll find a tunnel of beech and sycamore, the river shallow and musical, the steep sides thick with ferns and wild garlic, hidden houses with long gardens, all a stone’s throw from the town centre and its cram of holiday cottages.
Part of the East Devon Way is shared with Mill Lane which rather gives the game away. Just as the woodland gives way to a surprise of fields, just as the river starts to pick up speed and purpose, there’s an ancient watermill – now being restored under the watchful eye of English Heritage. It’s a rare treat to get a glimpse of a building that’s been embedded in the landscape for centuries and it’s impossible not to try to imagine who is going to live there and whether, one way or another, it’s still in the same family.
The next stretch of the path takes you into the outskirts of Lyme, alongside a stony ford. As the houses start to touch each other, the courtyard of Town Mill offers a little haven, the turning back point on this occasion, though the seafront is just moments away. However, not before two more special treats.
The warmly welcoming artisan studio of Melanie Molesworth and Julia Bird is a tranquil space in the old Miller’s Garage, with delicate artwork created from pressed seaweed. The beautiful patterns and colours take your breath away. They celebrate an underwater version of a botanical garden, and a creative partnership that has inspired foraging in style - Melanie along the coastlines of Devon and Dorset with her studio in Lyme, and Julia in Cornwall with her studio at Trebyan Forge, Lanhydrock, Bodmin. www.molesworthandbird.com
Any self-respecting walk needs refreshment along the way. The courtyard is also home to The Strawberry Tree and the unexpected delight of Spanish and North African cooking. Just when you think you might have a quick cup of coffee before retracing your steps back to the car, you realise that slow-cooked chorizo in sweet sherry, spicy chickpeas on creamy yoghurt, a glass of white wine and a bottle of Cerveza & Limon are on the menu. What better companion on a slow walk than delicious slow-cooked food. The choice is clearly made for you. www.strawberry-tree.co.uk
This three-mile round trip has managed to include geography, history, art and culinary culture. It’s hidden behind the scenes in plain sight and is definitely one to remember and repeat – after all, there’s a tapas menu to work through.