The famous five are back in Dorset: land of Blyton and Hardy; buns; and not a scrap of mobile phone signal. My family and I cottage-hop this part of the land now and then, appearing with the first snowdrops in February, or migrating south for summer in June. This time we temporarily come to roost in Lyme Regis, where the town slopes carelessly down to the sea. Within minutes of our arrival we are drawn to the ancient beach with Tintinesque intrepidity, as innumerable hordes of pleasure-seekers and fossil-hunters have been before us. The bravest among us stride the off-keel Cobb with the frank fearlessness of a John Fowles heroine. I follow dizzily behind, clutched by the fear of an unwelcome lurching baptism in the slick green waters. There are no level planes here, it seems: the town is a clotting-together of bowed hills; green bellies curving gracefully under the soil. We scuttle daily, like skittish crabs, down to the bakery on Pound Street, its steep degrees forcing our feet to run away with us, as if the sea below twitches and tosses with magnetised waves.
It is a steep climb up to the cottage: as one we turn our backs to the sea, only to meet it again at the summit where the house lies in wait. Perched on an impossible angle of high ground, I fancy that a roving giant placed it there long ago, twisting its foundations into the surprised earth with clucking satisfaction, resolutely determined to have a view with a magnitude surpassing his own.
We stand like five dumb pillars, also rooted to the spot against our will, and we too are dwarfed by the breathless scope of the Jurassic Coast. Below, the ever-changing seas are governed by a mischievous sky that twinkles recklessly throughout our stay, from a dense tombstone-grey to that brightest of blues that smarts the eyes with the hyper-lurid luminescence of dyes and potions.
Breakfast, from this lofty seat, is a grand affair; the presence of the salty sea swelling at the window gives us all twice the appetite, and I feel enervated, prematurely quickened, by its constant power.
Now and again we venture out in the bracing air, treading the coastal paths, no longer darting crabs; not sea-creatures at all but giant-legged explorers that belong to the land; its forests and scrubby cliff-top patchworks of fronded green. We loop and traipse and call until, exhausted, we settle halfway up some hill, defeated at last by nature’s clever battlements. One by one, we succumb to the urge to roll back down like whizzing marbles set loose, and I brace myself for some thumping pain that never does arrive.
But more often, indoors, we brew pot after pot of tea, and drink in that view, wordless as our mugs grow cool. Each alone with their own thoughts, communing perhaps with a private audience of shingle and seaweed shaped like wafers; with ichthyosaurs and isotopes of long-lost worlds. I think of muddy pearls on the ocean floor; that, and the cruel beaked birds of the Jurassic swooping soundlessly on the waves.