Day 347 East Devon: Cretaceous Cliffs from Branscombe to Beer

Sunday 17 July 2016

Sidmouth to Seaton

10 miles

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. 

looking back towards the Exe, Straight Point sticking out
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. 

Weston Plats; cliffs above and below
a linhay
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. 

shingle beaches and big cliffs
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. 

a great view of the beach at Weston Combe and back around the bay
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 anchor from the MSC Napoli that beached off Branscombe in 2007
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. 

walking Under Hooken
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. 

looking back at the Hooken landslide and chasm filled with greenery
From Beer Head I had commanding views all around Lyme Bay, from Berry Head near Brixham to Portland Bill. Stunning. 

from Beer Head the contrast between the white and the red cliffs was stark (Beer beach tucked in and Seaton amidst the red cliff)
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. 

the beach at Beer, looking back to Beer Head
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. 

pretty Beer, the stream by the road
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. 

a beer garden in Beer, and rows of well-kept houses
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. 

a caravan park embedded in the cliff between Branscombe and Beer
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. 

approaching Seaton
At the Seaton Hole geological fault line, the white, chalky, Cretaceous cliffs visibly met with red, sandstone, Triassic cliffs. It was quite a sight. 

the contrast between the chalk and the sandstone, the meeting point at Seaton Hole
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. 

the mouth of the River Axe
I went to sleep listening to the oyster catchers in the estuary. Bliss. 

sweaty work climbing up Weston Combe in the hot, still air

3 thoughts on “Day 347 East Devon: Cretaceous Cliffs from Branscombe to Beer

  1. Chris F July 26, 2016 / 10:45 am

    Long lazy days outside a pub interrupted by a lady in red shirt glowing as she marches up yet another hill……..on on Juice you are doing brilliantly. Very very proud of you. Well done.


  2. Zephyrine July 27, 2016 / 5:35 pm

    Are the “linhays” the shacks I remember on the cliffs, from 30 yrs ago, which I told you about?


    • Lucy July 27, 2016 / 5:41 pm

      Yes they must be. Good to hear from you – I hope you’re better now?


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