Just back from a wonderful, but all too short, stay at the Booklovers' Bed and Breakfast in Lyme Regis, on the South coast of England. Run by Bob and Mariko Speer (Bob pictured right), the three room bed and breakfast is perched on the top two floors of the Sanctuary Bookstore - a booklover's paradise where antique books jostle for space with the not so antique but often exotic and sometimes rare. From travel and topography to mysticism and religion by way of a generous helping of novels, thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi and much more, The Sanctuary has it all, including a popular section devoted to the most requested authors - a wonderful section in which to pick up a long lost favorite. Downstairs is a bargain basement where all books are £1 or less. And when you've had your fill of books, you can start on the bountiful collection of prints and original works of art - many of which are stored in the downstairs loo, which makes for a convenient seat while browsing the racks.
All in all, the building has, I'm told, nineteen rooms devoted to all things books and art; but lest you have visions of some expansive emporium, let me set you straight - this is a bookstore English style, with tiny rooms creatively stacked with books, art and giftable knickknacks on pretty much every conceivable surface, both vertical and horizontal. Despite being so fully utilized, the space feels warm and welcoming, not cluttered - inviting you in to explore every nook and cranny. The housewife in me couldn't help wonder at the challenge of keeping everything dusted, but I sneakily ran my finger across a couple of surfaces and found barely a speck!
The bed and breakfast can be reached from the bookstore or through its own entrance (useful for when the store is closed) and is furnished in an old fashioned, comfortable style complete with a claw foot bathtub. How is it possible, I asked myself, as I wallowed decadently, that I could have got through almost five decades without experiencing the joys of a claw foot bathtub? The guest rooms double as a storage area with books for sale lining the walls, but don't worry that you'll be woken to find a stranger sitting on the end of your bed settling in for a good read, these bookshelves are your personal and private domain for the length of your stay. Supertramp's Breakfast in America came out in 1979 when I was an impressionable 15-years-old, as a result the album's lyrics have been stuck in the back of my head ever since, so when I saw the breakfast menu I knew that a) I'd be having the kippers and b) I'd be humming the lyrics of "Take a Look at My Girlfriend" (could we have kippers for breakfast?)" for the rest of the day. Two of us had kippers which proved a success, followed by lashings of toast and marmalade. The other member of our party is yet to discover the joys of kippers for breakfast (or at any other time of the day for that matter) so opted for the continental breakfast, which paled in comparison to our kippers but she was happy enough with it. On the topic of breakfast, let me state for the record that, as far as I'm concerned, the English bed and breakfast is the natural home of the "Full English", or variations on it - scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, and so forth with, if you travel north of Scotch Corner, the likely addition of the dreaded black pudding (of which, as Lyme Regis is almost as south as you can get in Britain, there was happily no sign). Kippers are, of course, an honorable alternative or, if you're very lucky, a nice smoked haddock kedgeree would set you up for the day. In short, as a general rule, I recommend holding off on the continental breakfast unless you're actually on the Continent - which is, of course, just a short hop across the English Channel. Meanwhile, if you wish to order something a little unusual while staying at The Booklovers' B&B, you may wish to try Mariko's specialty - a traditional Japanese breakfast complete with sticky rice and miso soup.
If the idea of staying in a B&B on top of a bookstore isn't enough of an attraction for you, let me tell you a little about Lyme Regis. Located in Dorset on the South coast of England, Lyme Regis is a gentle four hour drive from London (or an even easier three hour train ride to the nearby town of Axminster). The best known town on what is billed as the Jurassic Coast is a charming place with a main street full of the sort of curious shops that you'd probably never want to visit except on vacation, plus a warren of pretty residential streets - in short, the epitome of a small English seaside town. Food options range from surprisingly good fish and chips purchased at beach-side stalls and eaten looking out at the sea while seagulls hover in hopeful anticipation, to restaurants run by celebrity chefs such as Mark Hix and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Lyme Regis (marked on the map to the left) was already a popular holiday destination by the 18th century but became reknowned in the years following 1811 when the then 11-year-old Mary Anning dug a 4-foot ichthyosaur skull out of the rocks, followed by the rest of the skeleton a few months later. The passing visitor is extremely unlikely to find anything as exciting sticking out of the rocks (believe me, we've all looked), but with patience and a keen eye it's possible to find a trilobyte or two to take home, and if all else fails the local shops are awash with all things fossil. Lyme Regis is also the setting for John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman and Jane Austen's Persuasion - walking tours of notable literary spots are available.
After our stay in Lyme Regis we drove about an hour north to Exmoor where we spent a couple of days exploring the moors and coastal towns, once favorite haunts of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. If you find yourself lucky enough to visit the area, I highly recommend Lynch Country House close to the charming small town of Porlock (infamous in literary circles as the home of the person who Coleridge claims interrupted him in mid-creative flow, and thus "Kubla Khan" remained forever unfinished). Lynch House offers B&B rooms and self-catering apartments - which, with their glorious views across the cliffs and moors, proved the perfect location to sit back and peruse one or two of the finds from The Sanctuary Bookstore.
Do you know of any other book lovers' havens that offer a place to stay? If so, please do note them in the comments section below.
Davina Morgan-Witts (BookBrowse Founder and Editor)