Friday, 17 April 2009

South West Coast Path Day 49 Sidmouth - Seaton

Sidmouth Front

Don’t be fooled by the length of this section, which is only eleven miles. This is actually pretty tough going due to the rollercoaster nature of the cliff-line along this stretch.

Sidmouth Church
Having completed the last stretch on Easter Saturday, I was pleased to see that the weather was to hold out for another day on Easter Monday and so headed down to Devon once again, although for the slightly shorter journey to Seaton. The bus service to Sidmouth runs on Sundays and Bank Holidays although there are only four return journeys. No matter; I got to Seaton at the civilised time of 10am and faced with a lack of change in my pocket decided not to bother the pay and display car parks, which I felt sure would do plenty of business that day. I instead headed out towards Beer and parked for free on the Beer Old Road high above the town. This gave me the opportunity to complete the last three quarters of a mile of the walk before setting off, which I felt sure would probably help later. I also had time to stock up on lunch and grab a coffee before boarding the bus.
Sidmouth Lifeboat Station

The bus left from Marine Place and I was treated to an upper deck view of Seaton seafront before heading out of town and towards Sidmouth. This would be a section that I wouldn’t actually walk probably until next time, but it was good to get a sneak preview. As it happens I thought the town was a little disappointing compared with its near neighbours at Lyme Regis and Sidmouth. I’m sure that this comparison gets made a lot, but it did mean that the place was mercifully free of tourists.

Sidmouth Cliffs
The bus ride to Sidmouth was a lot less eventful than the previous experience I had going to Exmouth and I was grateful for that. When I arrived at Sidmouth the weather looked as if it might bubble up and be rather grey. I really hoped that it wouldn’t, having made this trek down here. I needn’t have worried; by the time I had cleared the magnificent seafront and made my way up the first climb of Salcombe Hill, the clouds had cleared and the day felt as if it was to become a warm one!
View Back to Sidmouth

I had known that the first activity of the day would be to climb this hill, since it had dominated the onward skyline from Peak Hill on my last visit. I took it steady and enjoyed the bluebells in the wood at the top of the climb, knowing that I would have to keep energy in reserve for further climbs later in the day.
Pasty Stop

The view from Salcombe Hill across Sidmouth was astonishing and I was really pleased that I had again made the effort to come down here rather than stay closer to home. There were quite a few people up here enjoying the view and as most of them didn’t seem as breathless as me I assumed there was probably another way to the top that didn’t involve such a steep climb. After pausing briefly I pushed on along the clifftop path, which was pleasingly flat. However, my joy at being so high was short lived since I soon came to the head of the next steep-sided valley, Salcombe Mouth. It wasn’t the descent that occupied my mind, it was the sight of the hill ahead which was approximately the same height as where I stood, but with a huge gap between us!
Down We Go Again

Before continuing I decided to polish off the pasty that I had bought for lunch. It was far from authentic (now some way from Cornwall!), but was still very tasty. Feeling fortified I headed down the very steep steps and paused for those poor souls coming in the opposite direction. I found that this section of walk on the whole was less busy than the stretch from Exmouth and this was probably due to the extra climbing involved. Nonetheless there were quite a lot of people about and you could tell the seriousness of the walker from their sociability. Seasoned walkers tended to smile, nod or speak while the day trippers carried on with their boring conversations, pretending that the red sweaty fat bloke coming towards them wasn’t worthy of speaking to or simply looking the other way.
Beach Sculptures

At the bottom of the hill I was slightly relieved that I wouldn’t have to actually go down to beach level since that saved a few more metres of descent. I was also relieved that I wasn’t heading the same way as a large group of ramblers who passed me on the way up. As a lone walker there is nothing worse than getting caught up in a crowd of people that you don’t know who seem hell-bent on getting in your way as they are oblivious to their surroundings. I sometimes wonder whether groups of ramblers actually get anything from the countryside that they are in? If it’s a social life you want, why not just meet in the pub? I find this is great after a day’s walking, but while I’m out I want to experience my surroundings, not listen to blathering from others.

Cuckoo Flower
The climb up Dunscombe Cliff was as hard work as Salcombe Hill and I was pleased to see another bench seat at the top, which I made full use of while taking a water stop and admiring the view. It is very difficult to complain about the frequency of climbs on any walk when the views are so breathtaking. At the top of Dunscombe Cliff I noticed how much closer the Isle of Portland had suddenly got. It’s distinctive shape wasn’t just a faint sliver on the horizon anymore, but much more noticeable. A little further on from my vantage point and on another welcome clifftop path I also noticed that the underlying bedrock had changed. No longer was it the red sandstone that had been a feature of the coast since Exmouth, but limestone. The cliff shape had changed too, for the cliffs were no longer vertical but characterised by landslips caused by solifluction. I welcomed the avoidance of another valley at Lincombe as the path skirted around the head of this rather short valley.
Gorse Show

On the other side of the valley I paused for awhile to watch a kestrel hovering close by at a very low altitude, obviously having spotted something rather than general reconnaissance. It moved away after some walkers came from the opposite direction and disturbed it. As I turned the corner I could see that I would be in for another steep climb for I had now reached the valley of Weston Mouth. By now it had got quite warm and I admitted defeat with the fleece and tied it round my middle. The way down this time wasn’t quite as steep although this time it went right down to the beach itself. There were a few people hanging around on the beach and as I looked back along towards Sidmouth I saw that I could have had a completely level route that way. However, the shingle would probably have been worse to walk on than the hills I had tackled (and far less interesting).

There were a few intriguing sights on the beach; the first were two very lonely looking beach huts that looked completely out of place. Why only two? I found that a bit of a mystery. There was also a small chalet that looked well preserved although still shut up for the winter months. On the way down to the beach I had crossed a babbling stream, which completely disappeared into the shingle before it reached the sea, emerging as a very different watercourse on the other side of the low shingle bank. As it reached the sea it was more of a seepage than a river; it was most odd. I later found that Weston Mouth beach is known locally as a nudist beach. No-one was brave enough to take in the sun’s rays without clothing today – a wise choice.
Branscombe Cliff

After lingering on the beach for a few minutes I summoned up the energy to climb once again up to Weston Cliff. This seemed steeper than the last climb, although this may have had more to do with my energy levels than reality. I again paused at the top, being in no special hurry to reach the car. Weston Cliff was a very enjoyable stretch of walking. On the landward side of the path was a wild flower meadow that was full of cowslips in particular. The path was level for quite some distance too, which helped restore me a bit after three strenuous climbs within such a short time frame.

Chalky Pillars
The flowers in the meadows were quite superb but even more eye catching was the gorse display along this stretch of clifftop. Some of the gorse bushes were so laden with flowers that it was difficult to see any bush at all. I can’t really remember such a flush of flowers in years gone by; perhaps the cold weather earlier in the year might take some responsibility? As I proceeded along the path I passed an old Romany Caravan, which had a beautiful location high above the sea. I also passed a whole bunch of vehicles parked in the field in some rather random places. I thought they might belong to a shooting party, but heard no shots or saw any of the occupants.
Beer Cove

Shortly after this I cut inland a little and headed through some woods overlooking Branscombe village and could see the handsome church through the trees. I suspect that this view is denied to the summer walker as the trees were quite densely packed, although devoid of leaves. This was a pleasant stretch, although I had to be reminded that I was actually on a coastal walk since there was no view of the sea for the first time today. Eventually I descended into Branscombe Mouth, which was rather more developed than the last two combes I had visited. This had its own café and car park and several hundred people were milling about enjoying an early season day at the seaside. I thought about buying an ice cream but there were too many people about so I pushed on. Branscombe beach is of course recently famous for the beaching of the MSC Napoli, a container ship that ran into trouble during stormy seas a couple of years ago. The story of the event can be found at but for awhile at least this beach attracted large numbers of visitors out of season hoping to get their hands on some treasure. Now the only reminders are a few notices warning of the pollution risk, and a container in the car park.

Beer Terrace
I was relieved to see that I didn’t have to continue to the top of the cliffs this time, but instead followed a rather interesting undercliff path through the landslips that now offer a completely different kind of habitat for seabirds and small animals. It wasn’t an especially easy route, for the path kept changing directing and was quite undulating. It was fun to look up at the cliffs though rather than down from above.
Beer Coast

Any notion that this low level route had enabled me to get away with not climbing to the top was soon dashed when I discovered that I had just delayed the inevitable just shy of Beer Head. I dragged myself up the hill, noticing that I was now entering a chalk area, leaving the limestone behind. The view from Beer Head was the last opportunity for me to see Sidmouth, now receded into the distance. Now the view would be only ahead, towards Seaton, Lyme Regis and beyond.

Seaton Beach Huts
I soon reached Beer, a nice little village full of character and more importantly an ice cream shop that was not full of people! I grabbed the opportunity and sat on the viewing area high above the beach. From here it was only a short climb up and over the cliffs to reach the car, which you might remember I had parked on the edge of Seaton. As I descended towards the car I overheard a conversation from a couple of local walkers about a hapless Polish tourist who had fallen over the cliffs here only the day before ( I made sure I kept well back from the edge when I took my last picture of the day; a view of Seaton. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor chap all the way home…


  1. Ah, brings it all back to me! You are spot on with your observation about ramblers :)

  2. Can't wait for the next time I can get down there. Next time I shall pick a weekday when hopefully there is no-one about!