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The Secret Cobb Carvings

At sunset as the rays of the sun sink into the west the secret carvings of the Cobb at Lyme Regis can be found. The sun needs to be low to reveal the carvings because they are hidden at night and for most of the day except at dusk and at dawn. This ancient monument curves out into the sea and has existed as a harbour in one form or other since the dark ages. However, the first recorded mention is not until the reign of Henry III (1216-1272).

The carvings on the Cobb are crude and primitive, worn down, by the countless tread of feet and washed by the storms of many a winter’s gale. I was first shown some of the carvings by Major Charrington, a retired army officer who had moved to Lyme Regis after the Second World War. He had a boundless enthusiasm for skiing and sailing and knew well the nooks and crannies of this strange harbour.

The Gin ShopOn the high wall near the old gunpowder and shot locker —known locally as the “Gin Shop” and now converted into a pyramid shaped public seat— is a large, flat section of capping Portland limestone onto which are carved the numbers “1826”. The numbers can either be taken as a date or a compass bearing as further along the high wall, above the small beach in the elbow of the Cobb, is a second carving. The limestone is cratered with the remains of fossils but carefully hidden among the is a carved stone compass.

Whoever carved the compass forgot to adjust for the magnetic variation of the North Pole. When a small compass is placed next to this carving it appears that the stone compass is wrong in its alignment. Magnetic north is out of position. We now know that magnetic north moves and that degrees have to be added to take this variation into account on maps and charts. When we subtract the total number of degrees the stone carved compass is out of alignment it’s possible to obtain the date when the carving was accurate. At the end of the high wall on the lower tier of the Cobb further carvings are to be found some with numbers and some with letters.

During the eighteenth century Lyme Regis had a history of smuggling and several privateers were based at this ancient harbour. Gold coins have been found at the mouth of the River Lim and the cliffs and beaches of Lyme Regis are mentioned in old documents as hiding places for contraband. There is a written account of smuggling in a nineteenth century book called “Twas in Trafalgar’s Bay” by the historian and novelist, Walter Besant (1878). The book describes the landing of smuggled goods on the isolated beaches to the east of the Cobb, at Pinhay Bay. (The book has been republished in 2012 by Forgotten Books.)

People wonder if the carving and numbers were a code used by either pirates or smugglers as a reference point for the landing or hiding of smuggled contraband in the cliffs near Lyme Regis. Perhaps some of this hidden hoard is waiting to be found?

You will pass these secret Cobb carvings as you walk out along the Cobb to take a Lyme Regis mackerel fishing or a Lyme Regis deep sea fishing trip.

With acknowledgements to ncjpublications.

Published on 07/09/2012.

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