Writer finds himself author of traffic gridlock in Dorset

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The Independent Online
JOJO MOYES

John Fowles, the author of best-selling novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, has launched an attack on traffic congestion in his home town of Lyme Regis - but admits that much of it was due to the popularity of his book.

Mr Fowles claims traffic jams in the Dorset town, where an Oscar-nominated Hollywood film version of the novel, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, was shot, have reached LA-style gridlock due to tourists and shopkeepers.

Both book and movie include dramatic scenes set along Lyme Regis's most treacherous point, The Cobb, which stretches into the sea. Other literary tourists who flock to the town are devotees of Jane Austen's "Persuasion", which is partly set in Lyme Regis and has been televised.

"Much of the crowding problem is caused by shopkeepers leaving their deliveries until the middle of the day. They feel it doesn't matter if they jam Lyme Regis up," he said. "Lyme Regis is a jewel. There has, only this year, been a very successful attempt to clean one part of the setting - our once very dirty sea. They have cleaned up the sea really nicely. Now we need help to similarly cleanse our roads."

But the 69-year-old author of other classics such as The Magus and The Collector admitted yesterday that much of Lyme Regis's popularity is his fault. "I'm afraid much of it is due to my book. It's a kind of guilt I always have in me, that people come because they've read my book. They're not coming to meet me, but to see the key points."

Mr Fowles believes the congestion is the worst he has known since moving to the town in the 1960s. He said many other residents had complained, putting much of the blame on the shopkeepers who "need persuading that humanity was not evolved in order to make motorised transport the new bane and Hitler of all our existences. I hate having to say this but we need tougher legislation. But, for many shopkeepers, this is draconian. They think unless the car is allowed all the time, then they're losing trade."

Mr Fowles urged councils to tackle the worst traffic in the July-to- September tourist season. He added: "There's a park-and-ride scheme but we feel it's inadequate [as] it's only during the grockle season."

"Grockle" is the less-than-literary term used by Mr Fowles to describe tourists attracted to the town. It is a fairly common word throughout the south-west of England, although its use can be a little derogatory.

Mr Fowles said he simply wanted to open a debate, andhe cited examples of towns that had been pedestrianised to the eventual material advantage of shopkeepers. But Lyme Regis deputy town clerk Mike Lewis said there were no specific plans to tackle the author's concerns. "There has been a suggestion to ban cars altogether but it got no further," he said.

And Mr Lewis evidently felt that, as well as Mr Fowles's implicit criticism of tourists, his use of the term "grockle" to describe them might portray a Lyme Regis that was less than welcoming.

"I don't think that is quite right," he said yesterday. "I prefer to think of them as visitors or guests, rather than 'grockles'."

Leading article, page 18

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