I fancied a break from the ‘burbs today and wanted my lungs to be full of sea air for the first time since the autumn, rather than circling urban areas as I have been doing on the LOOP. With my ambition of completing the South West Coast Path beginning to nag once again and the prospect of more reasonable weather out west, I got myself going for the necessary early start down to East Devon. Fortunately, for a winter’s day, the next section of coast path along the
The X53 bus makes for a nice easy public transport link to Seaton from Lyme Regis, so long as you check the timetable first! If you miss one it can be quite a while waiting for the next one, although to be fair, there are a lot worse places to wait than Lyme Regis. It pays to use the long stay car park at the eastern end of town as it is only £1 to park all day. The nearest bus stop is right by the car park.
After getting to Seaton I headed along the seafront towards Axbridge. Sadly, the seafront of Seaton has been rather spoiled by some fairly hideous 1960s buildings and the walk along the promenade is rather disappointing compared with other seaside towns in
I turned away from the seafront as I approached the River Axe and headed for the lowest bridge available to cross the river. I soon found that the road bridge crossed at an angle, cutting off an earlier bridge that crossed the river at right angles. This I assume had been by-passed because of the rather sharp corner this created on the other side, not to mention the narrowness of it. Although I initially took this to be a masonry bridge, I was surprised to find a plaque at the top of the arch proclaiming it to be the oldest concrete bridge in
Before leaving the river behind, I couldn’t help but notice the large pile of rubble on the other side that marks the remnants of Seaton station, once the terminus for a short branch line that led here from the main
Having crossed the river I began the steep climb up through the golf course to reach the top of the headland overlooking Seaton. Rather frustratingly I couldn’t get a decent view of the town from here as I had done with Sidmouth on the last section.
Once I had cleared the golf course I set off down a track for a short distance before having to turn onto a track heading down to the Undercliff. At the start was a warning sign telling me that I could not stray off the path and that there was basically only forward or back along the path between here and Lyme Regis. Undaunted I carried on and by now the rather grey morning showed signs of breaking out into sunshine after all.
A couple of fields later and I came to the top of a set of steps leading me down into the strange world of the Undercliff. The geology of the area gives rise to this strange feature, with chalk and greensand cliffs overlying softer clays. After heavy rain the join between these rocks becomes lubricated and the weight of the harder rock means that the clay cannot sustain it and the cliff slides down, creating a valley that is richly vegetated and almost completely cut off from the outside world.
At first the walk was quite open and there were good views back to Beer and the cliffs above. These were created during the most famous of the landslips, which took place during Victorian times, when a huge chunk of cliff gave way on Christmas Day in 1839, giving rise to a huge chasm and a feature now known as
Soon the path became more densely wooded and although initially I enjoyed the loneliness, after awhile I found it a little disconcerting. I knew I wasn’t lost of course, for there were no opportunities to take a wrong path, but neither could I pinpoint exactly where I was on the map either. At least during the winter months I had a sense of the outside world as I could see through the trees without foliage, but in the summer even this isn’t possible. Every so often I would get tantalising glimpses of the sea, but as it was very calm I couldn’t even hear the waves below me. This part of the walk reminded me of the feeling I had walking from Culbone Church to Foreland Point although the vegetation is a little different here as the underlying soil is not sandstone as it was on the Exmoor coast.
This section of coast wasn’t always so lonely. I soon came to a break in the trees and next to the path were the ruins of an old building. Little more than the foundations survived so it was difficult to envisage what it once looked like. However a little further on I found a chimney left as a remnant and now bereft of cottage. An interpretation board told me what I needed to know – that this was once a cottage and pumping station, no longer of course working and just a reminder of what was once here. As I continued on my way, another ruined cottage came into view a little further on (although this one had a bit more to it), and then remains of other pumping stations.
Although the cliffs above me showed themselves from time to time, it was quite clear that in most cases there wasn’t a lot of action going on. The scene at Pinhay Cliffs at the eastern end of the reserve was quite different. Here there was a large fresh looking cliff face, courtesy of a large landslip which had taken place only a few years ago. It was a reminder that geological processes are still very active in this area, and any of the previous few miles could change at any time if another event occurs. Because this area is still quite active, a break in the trees allowed a great view eastwards and I could see that by now I was approaching Lyme Regis, with the Cobb coming into view and Golden Cap (not looking very golden today) looming ahead of me.
A little further on and the signage warning walkers about not straying off the path started appearing for those travelling in the other direction and I knew that I was thankfully approaching the end. Although there weren’t any great climbs like I had experienced on the last two stretches of this walk, it was nevertheless quite taxing, on account of the mud, tree roots, steps and constant up and down nature of the walk that made it a lot harder than I expected. Somewhere around here I symbolically passed from Devon into
I had one last little detour to make before descending into Lyme Regis and that was to scale Chimney Rock, an outcrop that lives up to its name. The ‘birds eye’ view trumpeted by the signage below was quite disappointing though and not as good as the view I had had from Pinhay Cliffs a little further back.
From Chimney Rock it was a short trip down into Lyme Regis. I initially headed for
The Cobb is the dominant feature of the coast here, and allowed Lyme Regis to operate as a port even though the coast here isn’t really set up for harbours. The walled harbour has been a feature of Lyme Regis for many hundreds of years, although the present breakwater only dates from the 1830s. Only a few small craft were in evidence, with most of the attention being drawn to the aquarium that is now housed in the cottages at the end of the wall. By now my nostrils were filled with the smell of fish and chips and for a cold cheerless February day I was surprised at how many people were milling about. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like on a summer’s day.
The promenade at Lyme Regis has had some investment in recent years, befitting its popularity. There are still some outstanding projects though and I couldn’t help but notice the interesting artwork on the beachfront shelters, diverting attention from the fact that they need some refurbishment. The kids had done a wonderful job though and it’s refreshing to see that some effort had been made to keep up appearances even if the funding to carry out the refurbishment is not currently available. The buildings along the promenade add a lot of character, but I had mixed feelings about the fact that most of them seem to be holiday cottages. Great that the ambience and views can be shared by so many people who come to stay, but not so good for the wider community when they are empty for several weeks during the year.
Anyhow, for me it was job done today. It was an interesting walk, but I didn’t really get the lungfuls of sea air that I had craved. The microclimate of the Undercliff saw to that. It did give me the appetite to come back again soon though and tackle the next section to