We have just returned from a holiday to Lyme Regis, the Pearl of Dorset, and what a fantastic time we’ve had! The main agenda, of course, was to soak up the delights of the Jurassic Coast, fossil finding was a must! Living in Norfolk we are used to hearing of Mammoth bones and tusks being discovered on the beaches. Lyme Regis, however, is known for finds dating back even further – 180 million years, hence the Jurassic label. It is where, in the early 1800s, Mary Anning first discovered the Ichthyosaur, the Plesiosaur, and one of the first ever Pterodactyls (minus the skull).
My first and only visit to Dorset, prior to this trip, took place in 1992, precisely 30 years ago. As an excitable and energetic 10-year-old I searched the rocks for signs of ammonites, having recently learnt all about them at school.
This time, I was bringing along my dinosaur obsessed 9-year-old and my slightly less obsessed, but no less excited, younger 2 children. In my eagerness to explore the coast I completely forgot that I am not quite as agile as I was when I was 10; Multiple Sclerosis lurked dimly in the back of my mind, waiting for the right moment to pounce. And pounce it did, almost as soon as my feet touched the stony beach. My children danced effortlessly over the rocks, racing far ahead of me, while my husband dallied along behind us, preoccupied with photographing the views. I watched longingly as my children climbed further and further up the coast, yelling excitedly each time they found a fossil. I could never quite catch them up, I stumbled along, my legs weighed down by an invisible force and my feet as numb as they’ve ever been. More than once I fell backwards as my legs gave way and I struggled to get back up. As my kids came to my rescue they likened me to our pet tortoise, Ringo, who we once found lying upside down.
Eventually we found a suitable rock for me to perch on where I could rest whilst keeping an eye on the fossil finding procedures – quietly observing but passionately longing to join in.
Along the first part of Monmouth beach the stones and rocks lie along the cliffside, with sand lining the shore. This made it marginally accessible for me to walk in short bursts. Further along, however, and towards the famed Ammonite Pavement that I so badly wanted to see, the rocks occupied all of the beach and it simply wasn’t an option for us to venture there. We could see families off in the distance, chisels and hammers in hand, and I felt a huge pang of mum guilt. My children, however, made no fuss and gallantly held my hands to assist me on my way back. In the end my husband had to rescue me with my wheelchair because my legs had entirely given up on me. My body was screaming at me for having the audacity to put it under such strain, but when I looked at my kids’ smiling faces, I couldn’t care less what my body was trying to say.
We learnt our lesson from this first mission. The next time we approached the beach, we took my wheelchair, which meant that my legs were saved from walking the short distance from the carpark to the beach and then my husband could carry it so that I had a seat ready and waiting for me on the sand.
By their very nature, beaches are totally inaccessible to people with mobility issues. I’ve written before about the stresses involved in a day at the seaside. When you add rocks to the equation it’s even more of a problem and I can’t help thinking back with longing to the days when I could clamber over rocks, play amongst the rock pools and even just stroll along the sand … perhaps with the added delight of wearing flip-flops!