Monday 18 July 2016
Axmouth, Devon to Eype, Dorset
Eype House Caravan and Camping Park
This morning was misty and wet. I took my time getting up as I knew the mist would burn off and the pub didn’t start serving breakfast until 9am. Sure enough, by 8.30 the mist had cleared and the sun was out so I packed away dry.
A hot and sunny day was forecast so I had a good breakfast, accompanied by lots of water, in order to set me up, slathered myself in sun cream and wore my hat. At the top of the hill out of Axmouth there were warning signs that the 7 mile route to Lyme Regis was a hard 3.5-4 hour walk and there was no escape from the cliff path once on it. I pressed on.
What a great day for a walk through trees. I couldn’t have planned it better. The walk wasn’t really hard, no severe climbs, just undulating through the Axmouth-Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. There were no real views as I was shrouded by trees (lots of maple and ash) but it was nice in the shade and to think that I was walking through an area (the Undercliffs) created by many landslips.
One such landslip was the Great Landslip of Christmas Eve 1839. Rainwater had soaked into the permeable Cretaceous rocks and they came away from the slippery clay underneath them and slipped into the sea. A great chasm opened up behind the landslip block, creating Goat Island. This whole area had been farmed so, the following year, the villagers ceremonially harvested the turnips and wheat on Goat Island. The landslip became very famous; it was visited by Queen Victoria and had a piece of music composed to celebrate it. I walked through what is now wild grassland in wonder.
After only just over 2 hours of walking I reached Dorset and the town of Lyme Regis. I emerged from the trees by The Cobb, the harbour area made famous by Du Maurier’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. It was baking hot on the promenade and the beach was full. I was suspicious that one end of the beach was sand and the rest (as well as all the other beaches around here) was pebbles. I suspected the sand had been imported.
I stopped at a nice looking sandwich shop to get some lunch and ate it quickly as there was no shade anywhere.
I took the Church Cliff walk, essentially a concrete flood defence, around from the beach. At the end of it the coast path climbs up the cliff but I decided the tide was out far enough for me to get to Charmouth along the beach/rocks at the base of the cliff.
It was easier going than I expected and I passed several fossil hunters, getting stuck into the grey mud left behind by recent landslips.
I passed through Charmouth, stopping only to buy a 2nd bottle of isotonic drink from the cafe. It was very hot. This is a fossil hunter’s Mecca, with a museum and regular guided walks.
I was confused; my 2016 map indicated I could climb straight up the cliff in front of me but the signs suggested a diversion. It wasn’t clear and I knew this area had recently had major landslips so I sought advice and decided to take the diversion. Unfortunately this wasn’t clear either so I asked a local. I admit to being slightly distracted when the man I asked moved his bag and revealed a very small pair of running shorts that didn’t cover very much. I don’t think it was deliberate, just a terrible choice of clothing. He was taking so long to process my question that another man decided to answer instead and he eventually walked away. The 2nd man proceeded to tell me I couldn’t walk in the direction I wanted because the sea was behind him (it blatantly wasn’t). He made no sense and so I just thanked him and walked on. Bring back Devon and its belligerent ferrymen!
I found my own way out of Charmouth, fairly quickly. It was a long slog up Stonebarrow Hill, down to St Gabriel’s Mouth and then up 191m to the top of Golden Cap. The views were stunning.
I descended a mile into Seatown, where I was hoping to camp. I had been trying to call the campsite all day but no luck. Unfortunately it was one of those big holiday parks staffed by people who are banned from thinking for themselves or using common sense. The lady at reception could only do what the computer said. The computer said I could camp if I paid her £34. I declined. (The going rate for a hiker is £7-10.) I was informed I could come back next week and camp in the enormous, empty field but I didn’t wait to hear the price for that.
Fortunately it was only 3 miles to Eype (pronounced eep). Unfortunately it involved another big climb and descent of Thorncombe Beacon.
I arrived at the campsite just before 6pm. I found a pitch overlooking the sea and then walked down for that dip I’d been longing for all day. Absolute bliss.
I still managed to wash my clothes through and walk up the hill into the village to the Smuggler’s Bar in the local hotel, where I had a nice dinner. (No budgies in this smuggler!) Who needs Seatown anyway?