Sunday 17 July 2016
Sidmouth to Seaton
Axmouth Caravan and Camping Site
For the first time in a while my tent (and the ground) was bone dry. This made for easy packing up and I was able to eat my leftover sandwiches and cake for breakfast and set off well before 9am.
Weston Combe was my first serious descent and ascent. I stopped here to look at the Weston Plats, a small plateau of land tucked into the cliffs, created where Upper Greenstone rocks meet Mercia Mudstone. This sheltered, sunny patch of land had been cultivated into profitable market gardens up until the 1960s; Dunscombe potatoes were highly sought after. This cottage industry declined from the 1930s when cheap imports became available. The cliff is totally overgrown now but there are still relics of machinery and the odd linhay (a shed for storing tools and harvested crops) visible.
It was very hot as I climbed the 162m up the other side of Weston Combe. There was no wind, even at the top, to ease the closeness and the sweating. There were a few shacks embedded in the cliff side in places, looking like linhays that had been converted into simple holiday homes.
The view across Lyme Bay was lovely as I made my way along Coxe’s Cliff to Berry Camp Fort, an Iron Age settlement, and then down to Branscombe Mouth.
Branscombe village looked nice, tucked in a valley surrounded by woods. Branscombe Mouth was quite busy with holidaymakers. There were lots of people on little pebble beach and in the (thatched cottage) cafe. I crossed the stream and carried on up the cliff the other side.
The Hooken Landslide of 1790 left a great chasm (Under Hooken) between the main cliff and a smaller one made up of a few rock pinnacles. The chalk and sandstone rocks now visible are from the Cretaceous Period (45-100 million years old). The chasm is filled with greenery and the path follows the edge, so you walk under the great, white, chalky cliffs (not red). It really is quite spectacular.
I could hear a peregrine falcon calling loudly on the cliffs above me. I kept looking and eventually I saw one swoop past a couple of times quite slowly. It must have been the parent encouraging its offspring because then I saw another one appear from the cliffs somewhere and the calling stopped.
From Beer Head I had commanding views all around Lyme Bay, from Berry Head near Brixham to Portland Bill. Stunning.
I had wanted an ice cream in Beer as my childhood memory of the place was of the biggest whippy ice cream I have ever eaten (it recall it was as big as my head!). There wasn’t an ice cream shack anymore, instead there were 3 cafes on the beach, as well as boats, tractors, beach huts and lots of people. I settled on a bacon and egg sandwich and a cup of tea to keep me going.
Beer seemed really well-kept and vibrant. There was live music outside the pub, a small heritage centre, lots of flowers everywhere. A charming, and busy, place tucked into the cliff where you can’t see it.
Beer is a proud community, with stories of its heritage plastered on boards about the place. I liked the fact that in the last 40 years, 25 people from Beer have sailed or rowed in small boats across the Atlantic Ocean. That must be a record number from such a small community.
I discovered that Beer luggers, a type of old fishing boat, are still raced in the bay and that Honiton Lace originated in Beer. Undeed, a lady from Beer made the lace for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress and lace-making was taught to girls in Beer primary school until the 1970s.
Eventually I left Beer and climbed over the cliff to Seaton. Due to a landslide the cliff path was closed; however, the tide was out enough for me to walk along the beach from Seaton Hole.
At the Seaton Hole geological fault line, the white, chalky, Cretaceous cliffs visibly met with red, sandstone, Triassic cliffs. It was quite a sight.
Seaton looked a bit old and tired as I walked along its promenade. I had decided not to carry on any further as the next stop was Lyme Regis, over 7 miles away. That was too far in the heat. At the far end of Seaton I crossed the River Axe and then walked along it to Axmouth. The campsite was right next to the river, and a pub with good wifi. Unbelievably, I also had 3G phone reception; I can only conclude that I must be nearing Dorset.
I went to sleep listening to the oyster catchers in the estuary. Bliss.