Wednesday 26 June 2019: Exmouth to Beer, 21 miles.
I’d completed my first TGO Challenge a month before, and I reasoned, I’ll never be as fit as this again, so why not go for a really big day out.
It can be that 21 coastal miles can be straightforward enough, but along this length there is a Ben-Nevis-plus 4600ft of climbing, so it’s a challenging stretch.
I started at the slipway of the Starcross Ferry, where the Path ‘comes in’ by sea from the eponymous village on the other side of the Exe estuary.
The first few miles are along Exmouth’s prom before low climbs to the next seafront town along, Budleigh Salterton. I had a little break here as Barbara had met up with family friend June at the Longboat café.
It was all a bit grey so far but things started to improve as I climbed out of Sidmouth after crossing the estuary of the River Otter.
Entering Budleigh Salterton
Looking back across the mouth of the Otter
Ladram Bay is a dramatic little place, with its sandstone sea stacks. Walk-wise, things get a bit more serious from here on, with a couple of sharp ascents to around the 400ft mark, before descent to Sidmouth. This was my planned lunch stop, and with the sun out now the Fort café, just after the beach, was a great stop. I kept my trekking poles handy to help deter the hungry seagulls.
But although I was now over half way in distance, I still had most of the climbing to come.
Descending to Sidmouth
Broadly, there were three ups and downs to around 500ft in the six miles to Branscombe Mouth, its village lying just off route inland. There was then a tricky undercliff section below Hooken Cliffs to bring me into Beer.
Helpfully, the Anchor Inn is right on the path, for a celebratory pint. Barbara was on time too, and we dined on fish and chips in the churchyard, seemingly out of bounds to gulls.
Tuesday 18 July 2023: Beer to Seatown, 17 miles.
Not quite as full-on a day as last time, but it’s a Snowdon-plus 3700ft of climbing, so nothing to be sneezed at.
It’s barely half an hour on a metalled path to Seaton, where I thought I would grab myself a bacon roll, but it seemed far too early to stop.
Beware of the Undercliff
Welcome to the golf club
After crossing the River Axe, there’s a golf course to be crossed, thankfully in a straight line and with few golfers around. Signage on the golf club lane made it fairly obvious where us walkers lay on their priorities.
There’s another warning sign a little later on, on the way to the Lyme Undercliff. No means of escape, it cautioned, and 3½ to 4 hours walking. If true, that would have buggered up my schedule no end, but like so many of these signs it’s designed to deter less regular walkers who might indeed struggle somewhat. My 2001 SWCP Association guidebook reckoned three hours, and even at my age it was an over-estimate. (Walking this path in winter mud would, of course, be entirely another matter.)
There’s always a risk though that one can take a section like this too fast. Though the path is always clear, it twists and turns so that you’re hardly ever walking a dozen paces in a straight line, and there are frequent stepped ups and downs.
Not surprisingly it’s a National Nature Reserve, and has been described as “the closest thing you’ll get to a rainforest in the UK”. There’s barely a view above to the cliffs or below out to sea, so dense is the vegetation; ferns and orchids line the path, and the last faint whiffs of wild garlic wafted over from time to time.
There’s one area of relief, early on, chalk grassland called Goat Island. It was the result of a massive landslip in 1839 – smaller slips are still regular – of such fame that Queen Victoria herself visited.
Typical Undercliff walking
A rare view from the Undercliff
The Undercliff ends surprisingly abruptly and launches you into Lyme Regis, one of the most treasured coastal resorts in England. A café called Kiosk had deck chairs on the beach and was selling local crab sandwiches too. Perfect.
On the beach in Lyme Regis …
… and in the town
But I wasn’t even half way. After a good break I set off on the much more ho-hum section to Charmouth, far from the sea because of landslips. The Path has at least been relatively recently re-routed away from the main road above the latter town, and there was time for an ice cream on the beach.
Beckoning on was the day’s last cliff section, a couple of big ups-and-downs culminating in the highest cliff of the southern coast, Ingleborough-shaped Golden Cap (627ft). It’s a wonderful four-mile stretch, with views from Portland across to the South Hams.
Mostly the walk is on open clifftop – such a contrast to the Undercliff! – but dipping down to an enclosed meadow I found a crowd of cows and calves the other side of the gate. All my mooing and gesticulating would not force a move; maybe they would have made way for me, but equally any slip or butt I could have been under their feet forever. I checked the map, and there was an easy retreat to and detour via Westhay Farm, thank goodness.
Off of the Cap, I foolishly followed a couple whom I presumed were coastal walkers and found myself making another diversion as a result. No matter, I was soon in Seatown, a coastal hamlet with holiday park the size of a small town attached. I took the lane through it into Chideock, for the bus to Lyme, and another fish and chip supper with Barbara.
Looking ahead, from the descent of Golden Cap