A jaunt on the South West Coast Path

Recently we joined some friends at Exmouth for a couple of days walk along the South West Coast Path. They were doing the whole lot in short chunks, due to finish the whole path later this year. Leaving from Weymouth we exercised our  bus passes, firstly to Lyme Regis, then to Exeter and then to Lympstone and we walked the final bit into Exmouth. Our bus was about half an hour late leaving Weymouth but luckily made up the time by Lyme so we caught our bus for Exeter with a few minutes to spare, enough for a toilet visit, anyway. At Exeter bus station the bus for Exmouth was standing there waiting. We alighted at the Saddlers Arms (more work for the Apostrophe Protection Society here, perhaps though in researching this blog I find the pub is now marketing itself simply as Saddlers) and took a break in the pub so my partner could recover from a fall caused by sharp bus braking. After, we walked towards the Exe Estuary and joined the very pleasant and well appointed East Devon Way cycle and footpath. The East Devon Way footpath goes between Exmouth and Lyme Regis it follows an inland route for 38 miles and touches the South West Coast path at both ends.

On our way we saw a sign to the National Trust property A la Ronde a shortish distance off the path. We were not pressed for time and took the detour. The new tarmaced path passed close to the very impressive Lympstone Manor which I have now discovered is a “country house hotel”. It looks to be very smart and quite expensive, the cheapest rooms are over 10 times our overnight cost that night. A la Ronde was well worth the detour, even though the distance was rather more than the signpost on the Way path had advertised. It is a very unusual 18th century house built with 16 sides. There are 20 rooms inside, many of which are quite tiny. I was very taken by the unusual style, the clever use of space in its design and the unconventionally shaped windows. 

We rejoined the bridleway and walked into Exmouth where we had an overnight stop before joining our friends and starting the walk proper. We stayed that night at the Ash Hotel right on the waterfront.

Ash Hotel – quite adequate and reasonably priced for B&B

Our room was clean but I do wonder where it is possible to buy boxes of tissues that are just about empty; every B&B seems to have them. We walked around Exmouth that evening and found a pub for dinner that had rope with knot-tying instructions on each place setting; an excellent idea. I learnt how to tie a bowline. The sun was still out when we walked back to our hotel and we sat out for a while before retiring.

Next day after a good breakfast we met our friends on the SW Coast Path close by where the ferry lands after crossing the Exe. It was excellent walking weather – mostly sunny and dry – so dry, that for the later part of the day we watched as plumes of smoke arose inland from a very large heathland fire on Woodbury Common. We passed some quite gigantic caravan parks.

Devon Cliffs Holiday Park just outside Exmouth

Many of the hedges were crowded with what appeared to be spiders web type cocoons alive with caterpillars emerging and dispersing. The South West Coast Path goes along the front and by the side of the beach at Exmouth before climbing steeply and providing a great view back along the beach.

Exmouth beach looking westwards

We had a lunch stop in Budleigh Salterton then walked inland a bit to take a bridge over the River Otter. Shortly after there was a good view ahead and down to Coal Beach.

Coal Beach beneath eroding cliffs

The red cliffs continued into Ladram Bay with another large holiday park and intriguing rock outcrops in the sea. (The Holiday Park website has this aerial photo giving a good impression of the size of the Park https://www.ladrambay.co.uk/ )

Ladram Bay

After a short stop in Ladram it was about an hour into Sidmouth and the end of that day’s walk; just over 20km.

Approach to Sidmouth

We entered Sidmouth going down a path by the side of the road

Our Bed and Breakfast in Sidmouth

We had started walking around 09.30 and arrived at about 5 pm. After a less than satisfying shower, maybe due to low water pressure upstairs, we ventured back down into Sidmouth and ate at The Anchor; acceptable food and great Deuchars (pronounced Dewkers) IPA beer. Our B&B was, I thought, a tad expensive for what it offered. The fact that the landlord possibly attended the Basil Fawlty school of landlording provided a good deal of diverting banter but did not really compensate for the price.

Next day is described by the SW Coast Path website as “severe to strenuous”. So after a quick stop at Tesco for lunch material we were “on the path” by 09.30. Much of the day was best described as woodland rather than coast with masses of ramsons and bluebells. There were lots of ascents and descents with towering views down into combes. On leaving Sidmouth it was well worth stopping and looking back for views of yesterday’s walk.

Leaving Sidmouth

Leaving Sidmouth with view back to Ladram Bay

Weston and Branscombe

Weston Combe beach from the Sidmouth side

The major descent and climb at Weston Mouth went right down to beach level.

Weston Mouth at beach level in National Trust land

Then after a climb up and a reasonable level walk it was time to tackle Branscombe. At first the village was clearly visible in the valley as we maintained height in a woodland belvedere. Then the view across and down was quite spectacular with a brightly painted boat pulled up on the beach (scarcely visible in this picture).

From Branscombe Mouth to Beer Point there is a meandering undercliff walk with precious few views of either the sea or the cliffs. (To be fair there is an alternative footpath that goes across the top of the cliffs). Despite the lack of views I found this part quite appealing; the atmosphere was so distinct, the terrain varied and the occasional views were more precious because of their scarcity. The walk ends with a sharp and a little exposed climb just beyond Hookum Cliffs.

Hookum Cliffs from the undercliff footpath

From Beer point there is a pleasant, undemanding walk into Beer, where we rewarded ourselves with a drink and a piece of delicious orange and lemon sponge cake. From here there was a final up and down into Seaton.

Looking down into Seaton just before road closure detour

Unfortunately, a major cliff fall caused another detour. This time it was not simply a footpath but a road that had been affected and closed.

We met up with our walking buddies on the prom at Seaton, and soon found our hotel, the Eyre Court, under new management.

This hotel was very comfortable, quite spacious, served good and reasonable food with good beer. What is not to like? It had a big advantage that we had no need to wander after what the online guide describes as a “severe day” just over 16km. Needless to say we did not wander out at all that evening.

Next day, another great breakfast and another trip to Tesco for lunch stuff. This time we also took a look around the Victorian Electric tramway, which unfortunately did not start operation until 10am, too late for our walk schedule. The route took us along the coast and over the river Sid with pleasant views upstream and out to sea.

Looking inland from bridge over River Sid

The Sid estuary

After the bridge there is an inland climb and out into farmland where a sign announces that the next section is 3.5 to 4 hours long with no escape routes, no access to the coast and rough underfoot, or words to similar effect. This part of the route essentially went almost all the way to Lyme Regis, our destination for that day. It might sound rather dull, but once again I found it an interesting undercliff meander. The path was quite overgrown, with lots of twists and turns, and ups and downs and just a rare glimpse of sea or cliffs above. Nearer to Lyme, after about 4 hours, we joined a tarmaced section of path which became more open with views down into Lyme with glimpses of the Cobb (not very clear in this photo, but there – honest)

In Lyme Regis after a walk along the prom we found a coffee shop for our “rewards” one of which was entirely missing a short sharp shower that passed by while we were refreshing ourselves. The others were cake and some cream scones. Thence we walked up out of the town to locate our overnight B&B, the Nag’s Head (with a very correct apostrophe!). The Nag’s Head is a real pub with no pub grub in the evening, so we took a pleasant stroll down into town and along the front to the Cobb and dined in the bustling Cobb Arms. The food and beer were excellent and reasonably priced, which explained why it was so busy.

Breakfast at the Nag’s Head was excellent but this signalled a parting of the ways. Our friends stuck rigidly to their plans and took the Coast Path with its many diversions to West Bay, while we decided to take a walk around Lyme, miss out on the Path detours and catch a bus back to Weymouth. We could always come back and repeat the Path when more of it is open.

 

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