The Lyme Maze Game

Daedalus escapes the maze


Universal Workshop



George Somers was born at Lyme in 1554, son of a wine importer who was in partnership with Sir Walter Raleigh. Somers, like other Elizabethan captains from the southwest such as Sir Francis Drake, was essentially a state-encouraged pirate, preying on the galleons of Spain that were returning from the Americas laden with gold. He got rich enough to buy himself an estate at Weymouth and another, Berne Manor, at Whitchurch Canonicorum (four miles northeast of Lyme). In 1604 he was Lyme's mayor and Member of Parliament, and in 1605 was knighted by king James I. He was admiral of a fleet of eight ships, and in 1609, on June 2, he set sail in one of them, the Sea Venture, from Plymouth. The Virginia Company had hired him to take provisions to Jamestown, where two years earlier the first English settlement in America had been established and where it was starving. It was the Sea Venture's maiden voyage, her timbers were not fully seasoned, and she began to leak. On July 26, in the midst of the Atlantic, a hurricane drove the ship aground on an unknown and uninhabited island, and Sir George claimed it for England. It was Bermuda, actually discovered a century earlier by Juan Bermóndez of Spain. Crew and passengers had to spend ten months there, and lived so well that some didn't want to leave. But they built two pinnaces from the ship's wreckage and the island's cedarwood, and sailed on. One pinnace, with fourteen men, was never seen again; the other made the remaining seven hundred miles to Virginia. It had been assumed that Somers and his crew were lost, their reappearance seemed miraculous. Sailing back later in 1610, Somers paused again at Bermuda, and died. There his heart was buried; his body was pickled in a cask of rum (presumably to preserve it, though possibly to hide it from the superstitious crew), brought back to Lyme harbour, and transported up to Whitchurch Canonicorum for burial at the church of Saint Candida and the Holy Cross.
     By October of that same year, 1610, one of the many Lyme men in the crew, Sylvester Jourdain, had rushed into print with an account called A Discovery of the Barmudas, or, The Island of Devils. Shakespeare, either from this book, or from his patron the Earl of Southampton, who was charter-holder of the Virginia colony, will have known the tale, and The Tempest, with its opening scene of shipwreck on what seems (but is not) a desert island, had its first performance at court on November 5, 1611.
     Now Lyme Regis is “twinned” with St. George, Bermuda. The arrangement started when their respective town criers, Richard Fox and Major Bob Burns, met at the world town-crying championship at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1978. Lyme worthies get invited to entertainment in the bars and golf courses of that extended sandbank. (St. George, on St. George's Island near the airport, is not the chief town of Bermuda; I don't know whether it's the spot where Somers landed, or whether larger Hamilton has its own twin.) Many English towns seem to be twinned with small places in France that you haven't heard of — Axminster with Douvres-la-Délivrande (near Caen in Normandy) — but Lyme does have this historical connection with its twin.
     And Lyme is to be “twinned” also with Barfleur — negotiations opened in 2010 and the process was to be completed in 2012. Barfleur, on the Cotentin peninsula east of Cherbourg. is another historic little seaport: from it the Normans sailed to conquer England in 1066, and in 1194 Richard Coeur de Lion embarked for England after his years of captivity.
     But how can there be three “twins”? More convenient, surely, is the American usage: “sister cities.” If Lyme were one day to take a fourth twin, such as Old Lyme in Connecticut, then we'd have a quadruplet married to his sister, a ménage not achieved even by the Ptolemies.
     The 1609 embarkation of Somers was commemorated in 2009 with Lyme's typical parade down Broad Street and along Marine Parade and a ceremony on Victoria Pier. Perhaps this will be an annual event.
     What is Bermuda? It is the visible bit of a submarine hump called the Bermuda Rise. It is over one of the planet's “hot spots,” places deep under the crust (perhaps between the mantle and the core) where extra heat causes magma to rise. As the plates of the crust move slowly over them, some of these hot spots cause lines of volcanoes, such as the Hawaiian islands (active volcanoes above where the spot is now, extinct eroded ones back along its trail). The Bermuda Hot Spot sent up no volcanoes, but has had a different huge effect (according to geologists Roy Van Arsdale and Randel Cox, “The Mississippi's Curious Origins,” in Scientific American, January 2007). Its trail relative to the crust started around Kansas. At that time the Appalachian mountains formed a continuous band with the Ouachita (pronounced like WAshiTA) Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas. So the rivers of what is now the central U.S.A. flowed away north and west (oppositely to now), there being at that time no Rocky Mountains. In the Cretaceous age (from about 150 to 65 million years ago) the hot spot passed southeastward under this mountain band, causing it to swell to greater heights, while (like all mountains) eroding as it rose; after which this part, having lost much of its rock and then cooled, sank to below sea level, forming a large bay open to the Gulf of Mexico. So the rivers reversed and flowed into this bay, filling it with sediment (it is now a plain termed the Mississippi Embayment, reaching up to Missouri). The hot spot's course turned somewhat leftward, passing under South Carolina and reaching where Bermuda is now. Among its delayed effects were the 1812 and 1886 earthquakes centred on New Madrid, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina — the former being the largest ever recorded in the contiguous U.S., and otherwise surprising since most earthquakes happen not in mid-continental plains but at the rugged edges of crustal plates.