Literary Walks: Lyme Regis

Dear reader, I meant to offer a “Tea and a Book” recommendation for June, but there was just too much to do in preparation for travel. I will try again later this month. In the meantime I thought I’d start a new feature on the blog — “Literary Walks.” I love to follow in the footsteps of authors and view the inspirations for their settings and conflicts. Who knows, perhaps I could collect enough material for a guidebook? We’ll see how it goes.

Today’s post is inspired by a setting shared by four of my favorite novels.
(Each image is linked to Goodreads)

Lyme Regis lies on the Dorset/Devon border in the south of England. I’ve borrowed a map provided by The Alexandra Hotel to help orient you to the town. (Just so you know, The Alexandra is a lovely place to stay, with two restaurants and numerous rooms that overlook the sea. They also offer a glorious afternoon tea.)


I suggest starting your walk on Silver Street at the Mariner’s Hotel, which once was known as Morley Cottage. Elizabeth Philpot, an enthusiastic fossil hunter featured in Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, lived here with her sisters. Continue on to Broad Street, the main shopping area, and browse the shops–you’ll find clothing, hiking supplies, jewelry, art, fossils, and more. You also might fortify yourself at one of the many restaurants.


Then walk along the Marine Parade to the stone jetty known as the Cobb and take special notice of “Granny’s Teeth,” the little steps that silly Louisa Musgrove leaps from in Persuasion. While on the Cobb also think of the mysterious Sarah Woodruff, the so-called “French Lieutenant’s Woman,” standing alone and staring out to sea in a way that thoroughly captivates Charles Smithson. Make time to visit the Lyme Regis Museum, formerly the site of Mary Anning‘s shop, to learn about the Jurassic coast as well Lyme’s history and literary connections.

There are at least two fine beaches for fossil hunting, but do keep the tide tables in mind. Monmouth Beach (see at the lower left on the map above) is always a good bet, and you can imagine yourself Mary Anning or Elizabeth Philpott as you search for ammonites and other specimens. This page gives all the details on Lyme’s beaches.


For me, the most intriguing aspect of Lyme Regis is the Undercliff. I will Let John Fowles explain in this passage from The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

There runs, between Lyme Regis and Axmouth six miles to the west, one of the strangest coastal landscapes in Southern England […] People have been lost in it for hours, and cannot believe, when they see on the map where they were lost, that their sense of isolation–and if the weather be bad, desolation–could have seemed so great.

The Undercliff–for this land is really the mile-long slope caused by the erosion of the ancient vertical cliff face–is very steep. Flat places are as rare as visitors in it. But this steepness in effect tilts it, and its vegetation, towards the sun; and it is this fact, together with the water from the countless springs that have caused the erosion, that lends the area its botanical strangeness–its wild arbutus and ilex and other trees rarely seen growing in England; its enormous ashes and beeches; its green Brazilian chasms choked with ivy and the liana of wild clematis; its bracken that grows seven, eight feet tall; its flowers that bloom a month earlier than anywhere else in the district. In summer it is the nearest this country can offer to a tropical jungle.

I love these images of Sarah in the Undercliff from the 1981 film.

If you’d like to know more, here is a more detailed description of one woman’s trek from Lyme Regis to Seaton through the Undercliff. As for us, it took a little over four hours to get to Seaton (including time for photos and a lunch break). Of course, you don’t have to walk the entire thing. I do, however, recommend a particular diversion off the main path that I learned about while reading Penelope Lively’s Whitbread Award-winning A Stitch in Time. In the book, the Lucas family invites Maria Foster and her parents to a “proper beach” that can only be accessed from the Undercliff path. The way proves precarious:

Maria put one foot slowly and carefully in front of the other, steadying herself with a hand on a sapling or jutting rock where possible. Once she skidded on some treacherous shale that slithered under her shoes, so that she sat down hard, bruising herself. It could have been worse. Below and out of sight, hair-raising cries from the other children suggested fatal accidents of one kind or another. […] At last they were all down and there, as promised, was a beach. Though not, at first sight, a beach very much different from any other except that, also as promised, there was no one else in sight.


In 2015 Steve and I found that beach, and Lively did not exaggerate the difficulty of the descent. But it was all worth it when we found what I now call “the secret beach” and enjoyed it all on our own for quite some time. (Yes, that rocky beach is tough to walk on, but the feeling of utter isolation in this magical landscape more than compensated for the strain on our ankles.)

Well, that’s at least a full day of walking for you when you visit Lyme Regis! Other things you might do that aren’t particularly literary–walk to Golden Cap, have a nice bathe in the sea (cold but so refreshing!), rent a kayak, go fishing for mackerel, and much more. Click here for more information.

I’m hoping to offer one more Literary Walk before we return, so please stay tuned!

Friday Favorites: Tea in Georgetown

Every time we travel I strive to thoroughly explore the tea options in that area. As it turns out, Georgetown has a lot to offer!

1. Ladurée
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this French tea room in Paris, London, and New York. Now I can add Washington DC to the list. The M street location has a cozy dining room and encourages reservations. Their specialty is macarons, but they also offer a menu of sweets and savories along with their signature tea blends. After Steve and I snuggled kittens at The Kitten Lounge (go here for the details), we enjoyed a pot of Othello black tea and some sweet treats.


How could we resist the French toast?


For desert (ha!) we shared the Ispahan — macaron, rose petal cream, fresh raspberry and lychee. (Yes, that’s a rose petal on top.) It was magical.

See all U.S. Laudurée locations. You can also find them in France, of course, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Russia!

2. Lady Camellia
The next day, after visiting a small and quirky stationery/tea shop, Just Paper and Tea, and soaking up the atmosphere at The Lantern (see more here), I decided to drop by Lady Camellia for tea.


They strongly suggest reservations, but since it was earlyish on a week day, and just me, I decided to take a chance. They kindly seated me right away. This tea room is small and scores high on the cozy scale. The servers are attentive and both the tea and food were delicious.


I asked for something that wasn’t really on the menu: one scone (with cream and jam) and two tea sandwiches. They were happy to indulge me, and I got a little more sandwich than expected! I really liked this place — so bright and pleasant.

3. Ching Ching Cha
I saw this one recommended so many times during my research that I was very keen to see it, and it turned out to be a refreshing detour from my usual tea (over)indulgences.


Again, I went at 11:00ish, so there wasn’t much of a crowd. One can sit at a regular table with chairs or choose a low table with cushions on the floor (which seems to be a favorite for families with smaller children). The menu of teas and food is extensive, and they offer a “Tea Meal’ with three vegetables, a featured dish with jasmine rice, and a bowl of soup. Knowing I would have lunch later, I ordered almond cookies and mochi (rice cake filled with green tea ice cream), along with the Alisha Oolong–“floral touch of orchid, robust in body yet sweet with a marvelous bouquet.”


The process of steeping the Oolong was somewhat complicated, and the shop’s owner kindly demonstrated for me. A pot of water is kept hot on the burner. First you rinse the leaves a few times with the hot water, dumping this water into the pottery jug (see above) that stands next to the teapot. Once the leaves are rinsed they begin to open, and at that point you can re-steep those leaves practically all day long. (See the unfurled leaves in this photo on Instagram.) After steeping for a minute or so, you pour the tea into the “teapot” (the thing that looks like a large creamer) and then pour from that into the wee cup. So relaxing and no sugar or caffeine overload from the tea. (Oolong has some caffeine, but not anywhere near as much as black tea.) I could have sipped all day–sadly, there was packing to do back at the hotel. I did a little browsing in their shop before I left and hope to feature my purchase in a future blog post.

That wraps up my tour of Georgetown tea rooms. Stay tuned for June’s “Tea and a Book”!

A Tour of Washington DC Indie Bookstores

I’ve made a resolution since returning from Brooklyn–when joining my husband on business trips I will endeavor to research, patronize, and publicize my favorite independent bookstores. (In case you missed it, you’ll find some wonderful Brooklyn options in this post.) On this trip our hotel was in Georgetown, so I picked bookstores within walking distance.

Perhaps the most famous indie bookstore in the District is Politics & Prose, but it was more than an hour’s walk away, and since I’d been there when we lived in D.C. it seemed appropriate to explore other options.


On Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe is a large, bustling store open from 7:30am to 1:30am, except on Friday and Saturday when it’s open until 3am. (Wow!) It has a hip and energetic vibe that encourages both leisurely, uninterrupted browsing and boisterous socializing in the cafe/bar. I appreciated how much space they devoted to recommended books, and when I saw Ghosted by Rosie Walsh on prominent display–and noted its blurbs–I had to have it.

Kramerbooks has so much to offer, but it isn’t a cozy sort of bookstore. Lucky for me, I found plenty of cozy in the two used bookstores I visited.


Also near Dupont Circle, Second Story Books is open 10-10 daily and offers a wonderfully ordered, inviting, and tranquil environment perfect for browsing. It also has a fascinating history of expansion and consolidation dating back to 1973. At one point they had six stores from Alexandria to Baltimore. These days there are two: the 16,000-square-foot warehouse store in Rockville (oooh!) and the Dupont Circle location, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2018. They offer so many interesting services beyond the typical appraisal/consignment options. Learn more here.

After a leisurely stretch of browsing, I came away with a neat edition of Jane Gardam’s Bilgewater and the ginormous Complete Old English Poems, translated by Craig Williamson.

(I really need a running list of obscure titles on my phone so that when I go to stores like this I can search with a purpose instead of wandering in a fog of overwhelmed delight.)


My favorite bookstore of the D.C. visit was this lovely shop in Georgetown. Founded in 1996, The Lantern is run entirely by volunteers and all the proceeds fund scholarships for Bryn Mawr student summer internships. I could have browsed this store all day, and perhaps I will actually spend a day there in the future, armed with that wish list on my phone, eh? I was tempted by so many books on their shelves but managed to walk out of there with just one–Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor. (How could I resist that title?) Of course I am a big fan of A.S. Byatt, and won’t it be interesting to read something written by her estranged sister? Drama!


Here are the lovely new editions to my library.

Stay tuned for a blog post about–you guessed it–TEA in Georgetown!

The Tao of Meow*

This past Wednesday was my birthday, and since my husband Steve had a work commitment in D.C., I decided to tag along and enjoy some adventuring. I’d researched ahead of time and located a cat cafe, Crumbs & Whiskers, within walking distance of our Georgetown hotel. Further research revealed that a pop-up kitten lounge had opened nearby on M Street. Since the latter would only be open through June, I decided kittens would be my birthday treat and booked a time when Steve was available.

What a delight it was!


Apparently spring/early summer is when shelters are inundated with kittens. The kitten lounge was designed to ease the burden:

During this time, many kittens are euthanized or turned away from shelters, because kitten care is more expensive and time consuming than adult cat care. Our approach in helping with this issue is simple – we are creating a space to house more kittens and providing rescues with more resources to care for kittens. (www.crumbsandwhiskers.com)


The kitten lounge frees up space in shelters and allows these wee felines to socialize with each other and with adoring humans in a safe, carefully monitored environment. The goal is, of course, to find a forever home for each kitten. You and I can help simply by paying a moderate fee to CUDDLE KITTENS for 10, 30, or a luxurious 70 minutes.

I was wound up with excitement! As a result the kittens seemed a bit wary, but once I’d calmed down they began to wander closer. Just so you know, patrons are not allowed to pick cats up and carry them around. However, one can lounge on any of the fluffy cushions and wait for the kittens to come near or coax them with a toy. Employees are always looking for ways to enhance the experience and thus might settle a kitten or two on your lap. There are so many options, and they’re all AMAZING.

As soon as our half hour was up I knew my trip to DC would not be complete without a visit to the permanent cafe with adult cats, and thus we booked for Friday.


Crumbs & Whiskers Cat Cafe opened in 2015 and is partnered with Homeward Trails Animal Rescue. I learned from Wikipedia that the cafe was funded through a Kickstarter campaign with a $15,000 goal. More than double that amount was donated before the campaign ended!


We enjoyed 70 minutes at the cat cafe. That length of time made it possible to interact with each cat, as well as to hear stories from the staff about their adventures and quirky personalities. It was a Zen experience for me, and I practically floated out of there when our time was up.

Read about founder Kanchan Singh and the story behind Crumbs & Whiskers. ALSO, check out the shop, and the celebrity guest photos/videos.

Are you wanting to know more about Cat Cafes? Here’s an explanation from a CAT CAFE REVIEWER.

Peruse this List of 125 Cat Cafes in North America. In addition, here are 11 Cat Cafes Around The U.S. That Should Be On Everyone’s Radar In 2019.

*Check Amazon for books/clothing/misc related to the THE TAO OF MEOW.

**All photos in this post were taken by me during our visits. See my Instagram for more pics!

Stay tuned for details on my D.C. tea and bookstore adventures…

Tea and Comfort with D.E. Stevenson

No doubt I’ve said this before, but lately the world is too much with me. More than ever I crave the escape of fiction, and today I’m recommending one of my very favorite “escape artists” — Dorothy Emily Stevenson.

I wrote about D.E. Stevenson a few years ago when I  recommended Miss Buncle’s Book. Little did I know at the time that I would get to enjoy TWO more books about those characters before moving on to Stevenson’s standalone novels. Since devouring the Buncle trilogy, I’ve happily consumed twelve additional Stevenson novels–some of them more than once–and I think there are 25+ more waiting to be read. It makes me feel quite spoiled for choice. Such luxury!

I’m very fond of my editions from Sourcebooks Landmark, which you can see in the featured image above. Furrowed Middlebrow, an imprint of Dean Street Press, also has released two Stevenson books with an introduction by bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith. Perhaps if I can’t convince you to give Stevenson a try, he will:

[Stevenson’s novels] are in a category of their own: clearly-written straightforward tales that take the reader through a clear plot and reach a recognisable and unambiguous ending. The appeal that they have for the contemporary reader lies in the fact that there is no artifice in these books. They are not about dysfunctional people. They are not about psychopathology. There is no gore or sadism in them. The characters speak in sentences and do not resort to constant confrontational exchanges. In other words, these books are far from modern.

Quite a few D.E. Stevenson books are available at Audible.com, and I can vouch that they are cozy entertainment for long drives. If you’d like to know a little (or a lot) more about Stevenson and her books, you’ll find plenty of information at this lovingly curated website.

To complete my bloggish offering of comfort, how about some tea and a sweet treat? D.E. Stevenson was born in Scotland and lived there her entire life (as far as I can tell), and thus I thought a Scottish treat might be just the thing. What could be more Scottish than shortbread? I searched for recipes online until I found this interesting variation: Jam-filled shortbread cookies. They were so easy to make and quite delicious–I had all the ingredients on hand already, including strawberry and black current jam. The cookie cutters were procured from JoAnn, and for tea I chose a Scottish afternoon blend from Brodies Fine Teas, a Fair Trade option available at Amazon. It makes a very strong cup, perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, but I wouldn’t steep it for more than 3 minutes.

Listening Valley, a gift from dear friend Glenda, was my most recent read from Stevenson. Not my very favorite of her novels, but a pleasure to read nonetheless. Now that I think of it, it reminded me vaguely of L.M. Montgomery’s stories of Emily Starr — when you learn what “listening valley” means to the heroine, perhaps (like me) you’ll be reminded of “the Flash”?

Let us close with some final thoughts from Alexander McCall Smith:

These are gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainty and conflict. Some books can be prescribed for anxiety–these are in that category. And it is an honourable and important one.

Yes, indeed!

What are your comfort reads? Do share in the comments!