Cordial Lyme

... and at the other end of the county Catherine Stebbings finds dinosaurs, squids and trams
It would be difficult to get lost in Lyme Regis - everything tumbles down the hill towards the sea. Yet Dorset's most westerly town is well protected from the ravages of ocean waves. Below the lively high street, a long promenade forms the main causeway from the town to the Cobb, the curving harbour wall that dates back to the 13th century. This massive structure has a mythic quality that has fascinated writers and artists for centuries. But although Jane Austen and John Fowles put Lyme on the literary map - with Persuasion and The French Lieutenant's Woman respectively - the town has too much self-respect and too much to offer to present you with Regency dresses or Meryl Streep's hooded face around each corner.

This engaging resort is well equipped with entertainments - including a dinosaur museum and an intriguing marine exhibition area along the Cobb. In addition, there's always the fascination of the British seaside: along the promenade sunbathers lounge on hired deckchairs watching bathers in the sea. Shops overflowing with buckets and spades are squeezed between the smarter B&Bs. A drop down, and you find yourself on the beach - patches of golden sand interspersed by large stretches of pebbles along the seafront.

And pebbly beaches sprawl along the coast from Lyme. There are rich pickings here: fossil hunters search among rocks or dig away at the foot of the charcoal-grey cliffs. Meanwhile swimmers brave the freezing waters, children mess about in bobbing boats and windsurfers skim out to sea.

The visitors

Catherine Stebbings, writer, and her husband Jonathan, teacher, took their daughters, Imogen, seven, Polly, five and Claudia, three.

Catherine: We had a wonderful, if exhausting day. It was lovely not to be confined to the beach all day. We visited Dinosaurland, went fossil hunting, picnicked on the beach, popped into the marine aquarium, looked around the shops and still had time for a tram ride through the countryside.

Jonathan: I don't like beaches; they are cold, wet and sandy; but it's important to make the effort for the children. Lyme is brilliant because it is so varied. We could break up the day between sunbathing and sand castle making with fossil hunting, museum visiting and browsing around the shops in the town. There is always something going on in Lyme, whether it's the town band playing on the parade, sand games for children, or guided walks. I would love to come back without children to walk the famous Undercliff from Lyme to Seaton and perhaps to tackle the coastal walk over Golden Cap.

We took the tram ride from Colyton, just 15 minutes' drive away, to Seaton, which was a lovely way to enjoy the countryside. By the end of the day I felt foolhardy enough to enter the annual greasy pole competition, only to be bopped into the murky depths of the harbour.

Imogen: I liked the museums most. We went to the dinosaur museum and saw lots of fossils and models of dinosaurs and some living animals, like an iguana and a tortoise. I did a fun shoot and the man gave me a special stone as a prize. Afterwards we went fossil hunting on the pebbly beach and I found some ammonites like the ones in the museum. It is really exciting to find something millions of years old.

We had a picnic on the Cobb then went to the marine museum full of fish from the harbour. There was a lovely, rusty-coloured octopus moving slowly over the rocks, gripping with his legs then suddenly swooping away.

Polly: Lyme Regis is a lovely town with lots of old buildings and little shops selling buckets and spades. The sea was green-blue and there were hills in the distance. There was a nice sandy beach with lots of people on it and we couldn't take the dog there so we went on the little beach in the Cobb. I didn't go into the sea because it was too cold.

I enjoyed the ride on the tram. We saw squirrels and ducks on the line and herons fishing in the river. Mummy saw a kingfisher.

Claudia: I like the seaside. I made lots of sand castles and got very dirty. Daddy fell in the sea with a big splash.

The deal.

Tourist Information: Church St (01297 442138) for accommodation and copies of What's on in Lyme Regis.

Parking: Use the well signposted Park and Rides as there is little parking in Lyme; small pay-and-display car parks by the Cobb and at the top and bottom of the High Street.

Access: narrow pavements and steep hills in the town make walking with children difficult. Easy access along the parade and Cobb and on to the sandy harbour beach. Dogs are not allowed on the harbour beach.

Museums: Dinosaurland is a small exhibition explaining the history of prehistoric earth and the fossilised forms left behind. Well explained and nicely low key. Open daily 10am-5pm (later in summer): adults pounds 3,20, children pounds l.90, OAPs pounds 2.90. Marine Aquarium & Cobb History is a charming small museum showing live exhibits brought in by local fisherman. Everything is returned to the sea at the end of the season. Open 10am-late, adults pounds l.20, children five-to-16 70p, OAPs pounds 1.

Tram rides on classic trams run daily every 20 mins. Round trips 50 mins. Adults pounds 4.20, children pounds 2.40, OAPs pounds 3.40.