UK weather: In the eye of the approaching storm in Lyme Regis

 

Harry May has been taking his wooden boat out fishing for mackerel off Lyme Regis for more 40 years, but the fisherman has never felt winds like the gusts buffeting the Dorset coast on Wednesday.

"I've never seen or felt anything like this wind," Mr May told The Independent from his house overlooking the town's famous 18th-century harbour, called the Cobb. "The forces are just so extreme, myself and some of the other boat owners and fisherman are starting to wonder if the Cobb can take the force of the sea battering it day after day."

The Cobb, a harbour defence made famous in the film The French Lieutenant's Woman, was showing visible signs of the abuse on Wednesday as the winter's first red weather warning was issued by the Met Office. It warned of gust over 100mph as a huge storm battered coastal areas posing "a risk to life" and threatening "widespread damage."

In Lyme Regis this meant a morning of driving rain and wild wind, before the afternoon tide brought more massive waves smashing into the beach and over the top of the Cobb.

Nearby a lorry was overturned on the A35 as locals talked of "unheard of" and "extreme" weather conditions over recent days. These conditions also threatened to flood homes at West Bay and Portland further up Dorset's Jurassic Coast.

John Dover, a volunteer at the Lyme Regis RNLI station, said the extreme seas were "taking their toll on the harbour".

He told The Independent: "The Cobb is essentially a piece of Regency architecture and, while it's strong, people are talking about cracks in its walls and storm damage."

Sally Holman, the mayor of the town, confirmed the historic harbour was "being constantly monitored" for "structural issues", but said the real issue in Lyme Regis was the "success story" of a decade of engineering that has stopped the town, which she called the "biggest landslip risk in Europe", from slipping into the sea in what has been the wettest and wildest winter in a generation.

Wednesday night's storm was just the latest wild weather to "batter" the pretty seaside resort, said local resident Dympan Duncan.

She said, "We've been buffeted for weeks but this latest storm really does feel very extreme. I'm hooked on keeping track of the wind online like many of us here, and with winds hitting 70mph I can struggle to sleep at night."

Mrs Duncan was like many locals watching the giant waves from a safe distance. Others were taking the opportunity for some fun.

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Surfer Ben Bowditch took advantage of the rare conditions

Surfer Ben Bowditch, 16, said he hadn't told his parents before braving the waves. He said, "It's rare we get waves this big here so I couldn't not come down."

Further up the beach tourist Nigel Cox, 51, was one of many taking pictures of the storm, while local photographer Maisie Hill in turn took pictures of the tourists for an art project

She said, "We've got wild seas and wind but this afternoon for a brief moment no rain, so it's brought everybody out. No one can deny the impact of the weather here in the last two months, so it's wonderful to be able to get out in it without getting soaked for once"

With high tide hitting at 5.30pm and wild winds expected overnight local resident and RNLI volunteer Richard Horobin said, "It's far wilder than any other storm this winter and fantastic to look at, but I'd advise looking at the waves breaking over the Cobb from a safe distance."

The focus has now turned to Wales, where gales are expected to cause further "widespread damage".

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