Monday, 13 April 2009

South West Coast Path Day 48 Exmouth - Sidmouth

Exmouth Gardens
Don’t worry, you haven’t suddenly missed 39 days of the instalment of my attempt to complete the South West Coast Path. However, three years after officially starting (unofficially I have already walked several sections) and not managing to do any more of this walk, I have decided to change tactics and not wait for the opportunity to spend several days in the area before cracking on with it. Why the change of heart? Well, this is largely been borne of frustration. I felt that with two weeks minus family I might just get the opportunity to spend 2-3 days down there this Easter. The weather has definitely been against me, with heavy rain and miserable weather patterns dominating and with only small breaks available in the South West. Call me a fair weather walker, but I find no joy in making a 200 mile plus journey to be faced with looking at rain clouds, fog or being blown inside out. I can do all those things on the South Downs! Instead, when looking at the weather forecast on Easter Saturday and after a couple of days stuck at home painting, I discovered that the weather west of the New Forest was to be great while Sussex was likely to be facing drizzle all day. I needed no second bidding!

Exmouth Clock
An early start was required if I was to get down to my chosen destination of Exmouth. I chose this as it is approximately 2 ½ hours drive from home and about as much as I’d want to do for a day trip. As I travelled down I soon discovered that the weather forecaster couldn’t have been more accurate. I came across the line of cloud as I reached Ringwood and from here on the weather was absolutely fabulous. I felt well and truly vindicated.

Exmouth Beach
I parked the car in Sidmouth and took a rather scary bus ride to Exmouth. This wasn’t very quick due to all the stops en route and I flinched a few times as our single decker bus (full size) just about managed to avoid all the parked cars in some very narrow village streets. When I arrived at Exmouth I alighted in the main town square and headed down through some very pretty gardens to the seafront. The promenade just beyond was absolutely packed and it was easy to see why. The air was crystal clear and had some warmth to it, perhaps for the first time this year. I enjoyed the view up the Exe and all the way down the opposite coast to Dawlish Warren and down as far as Torbay. After a few minutes I turned and headed on my way, initially along the very man made coast of the promenade, which was rather longer than I expected. I felt distinctly overdressed when I saw how many of the beachgoers had their swimming gear or T shirts and shorts on. I knew though that shortly I would possibly be facing stiff breezes when I got up onto the clifftops. However when I did climb up onto the cliffs at Rodney Point I discovered that they weren’t much cooler than down below.

Exmouth Lifeboat Station
Rodney Point marks the start of the now famous Jurassic Coast, which was designated as a World Heritage site in 2001. The official website detailing what this means and all sorts of other information can be found at . For geologists this section of coast is probably one of the most interesting in Europe, if not the World. From this point to Bournemouth (and beyond) the rocks get progressively younger and most are fossiliferous. At Rodney Point the rocks are actually Triassic in age and date from approximately 250 million years ago. The cliffs are a distinctive red colour and were formed when this area was part of an extensive desert at a time when this part of England was a lot further south than it is today. At Orcombe Point, just along from Rodney Point a monument called the Geoneedles had been erected to celebrate World Heritage status and give a visual representation of the types of rock formation to be found along the Jurassic Coast.

Colourful Beach Huts
From here on the sea would be at my right, and the first part of the clifftop walk was high above a beautiful sandy beach. This extended all the way to Straight Point, where the beauty of the area was rather marred by a couple of recent manmade additions. The first, occupying the entire peninsular of Straight Point was a military range, which actually didn’t intrude too much although prevented me from actually following the coast at this point. The second was rather uglier, the largest caravan site I have ever seen, which completely dominated the hillside landwards of the military area. While I am sure that this would be a lovely place for a holiday, the appearance of so many white caravans rather took my breath away and not for the right reasons.

What could not be denied though was the panorama that greeted me as I crossed the car park of the site. At the cliff edge was the most astonishing view I have seen in a long time.

Wave Cut Platform
One of the reasons I love coastal walking so much is the views that you get of the coast from high cliffs. This cliff wasn’t that high, but faced exactly the right direction for almost the entire western part of the Jurassic Coast could be seen from this point and on the horizon I could even see the Isle of Portland, some 40+ miles away. The view both inspired and scared me, for it made me realise how much coastline I had to explore. The first port of call would be Budleigh Salterton, which was a rather more modest 2 miles away and now was in clear view ahead of me.

Start of Jurassic Coast
First though I had to climb up and over West Down Beacon, the first serious climb of the day. Before I summoned up the energy to climb I sat on the edge of the cliff and admired the view while eating my lunch. When the climb did come it wasn’t actually too bad, principally because the path to the top was a rather kind zigzag, which rather took the sting out of the slope. As I climbed I became very aware of the perfume of the gorse which enclosed the path. It was in full bloom and the sweet, slightly sickly smell reminiscent of coconuts filled the air. The perfume was obviously sending the local insect population slightly made, because I soon noticed hundreds of hoverflies and bumbles bees busying themselves around the flowers too.

Heading Into Budleigh Salterton
When I got to the top I turned to enjoy the view back towards Torbay and Exmouth one last time and then continued down towards the small seaside town of Budleigh Salterton. This stretch of path was simply stunning, with the onward view acting as a backdrop for a clifftop garden of gorse, hawthorns and Scots pines. It was with a slightly heavy heart that I arrived at Budleigh Salterton. It was without doubt a beautiful little place, but as soon as I reached the promenade I could see that it was completely overrun with people, all out to enjoy the sunshine for perhaps the first time this year. Although bemoaning the numbers I could not deny the obvious advantage this brought when I availed myself of a locally made ice cream from a café on the seafront. It was absolutely delicious and certainly worth every calorie! Budleigh Salterton did strike me as a nice place to stay one day and I’m sure that a summer evening when all the daytrippers had gone home would be particularly enjoyable. More information about the town can be found at

Budleigh Salterton Houses
As I left the town there would be a change of pace. Ahead of me was the River Otter, a small but significant obstacle that I would have to cross. In order to do this I had to head inland a short distance along a raised walkway that was built by prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars. This walk is suitable for the mobility impaired, for it was properly surfaced and at various intervals had some interpretive boards telling visitors all about the natural history of the estuary. It was well visited, with several wheelchair bound people making full use of the facility. I often think that disabled people get a raw deal from the countryside, so it was good to see such a walk being enjoyed.

Otter Mouth
On the other side of the river the character of the walk changed as I was back to walking along field edges. Only glimpses of the river could be had though the edge of Scots Pines and my hope for losing the crowds on this section were not realised. A theme of the day was the number of people out enjoying the countryside. It got a little tiring trying to decide whether the walkers coming towards me would say hello, avoid my gaze or be absorbed in their conversations. From the snatches of conversations that I heard I was also quite surprised at how boring they were, with subject that usually involved work or finance. No-one appeared to be enjoying their surroundings!

Ruined Lookout
As I reached the mouth of the Otter, the path turned left and resumed its clifftop way forward. The section to Ladram Bay was rather different to what had gone before since the landward side of the path was completely dominated by pasture and my main focus of interest once again shifted to the cliffs themselves and the seagulls that were constantly wheeling around above me, with their distinctive cries. In fact I soon realised that there were several species including black headed gulls, the two species of black backed gull as well as the more familiar herring gull. The pastures were full of lambing sheep although I soon came upon a large field full of pigs and piglets, which made for an entertaining change. Just past the pigs I passed what I took to be a ruined agricultural building, but soon discovered that this was actually a look out post for the RAF during World War II and had an information board telling how the post at Brandy Head worked and what it was used for. It was a rather surprising ruin.

Ladram Bay
A mile later and I reached another dreaded caravan site, this time at Ladram Bay. I should have realised when I passed a number of oddly dressed walkers that there was something afoot. This site was less intrusive than the last and had clearly been sited to take advantage of the secluded beach below. This was dominated by a number of sandstone sea stacks that were covered in nesting sea birds, safely out of the way of the nearby holidaymakers. Looming large ahead of me between the caravan site and my final destination of Sidmouth was the wooded cliff of High Peak. Rather higher than the last cliff I ascended it was also rather less friendly to climb as the path went straight up the side. About a third of the way up I did enter some woodland which offered some very welcome shade as I climbed. I was slightly relieved when the path missed the summit and continued around the back of the peak for I felt sure that it would be all downhill from here. I was sadly wrong on this score for I soon reached a viewpoint that confirmed more climbing ahead of me to get over Peak Hill.

Overlooking Sidmouth
The view from this viewpoint was particularly special, looking out over Sidmouth below and the cliffs the other side that would form the basis of the next day’s walking. A little beyond here and there was a landward view looking across a vast area of the East Devon countryside and even as far away as Dartmoor in the far distance. Luckily I had packed my binoculars so took advantage of the view and looked around the whole vista ahead of me.

The last climb proved to be quite hard going, although short and I took another long rest at the top and got some welcome drink inside me. From here though it was surprising how quickly I reached the edge of Sidmouth. The approach was via the old clifftop road, which had succumbed to cliff erosion and was no longer safe for vehicles. It did make for an interesting part of the descent, but better was to follow as I passed Peak House, an enormous pile that must surely have the best view of any house in Sidmouth. On my side of the road was a lovely park lined with seats for people to sit and enjoy the view of the sea and the huge cliff on the other side of the town.

Sidmouth Fort
At the bottom of the hill the path descended all the way to sea level and down underneath a small fort that had presumably been used to defend the town in years gone by. The path itself ran along the foot of a small cliff, which had been deeply etched with graffiti and was absolutely crawling with day-trippers most of whom it seemed were consuming ice creams. At the end of this undercliff walk the Esplanade proper came into view and I was surprised to see that on the landward side of the promenade was a large cricket pitch, which dominated this end of the seafront. At the end of the cricket pitch I was to turn inland and retrieve my car thus ending my day out.

Sidmouth Charabanc
This was a most enjoyable section of walk and it has whet my appetite to make a go of the rest of the Jurassic Coast. Although quite a long way from home I at least reassured myself that this section was the furthest of all and that any subsequent day trips I make will be a little nearer each time.

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