SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 9: Lyme Regis to Seaton
Thursday, May 9, 2013
It was a nice sunny morning as I set out from the seafront at Lyme Regis on the ninth stage of the South West Coast Path. From the RNLI lifeboat station at the landward end of The Cobb, the path heads west into a carpark above Monmouth Beach, turning left at the corner of a bowling green to climb a flight of steps past some chalets and head into trees. The path soon enters the National Trust's small Ware Cliffs property (picture 1), crossing the county border from Dorset into Devon.
Still climbing, the well-defined path soon goes through a gate into an area known as The Crow's Nest, passing a farmhouse before heading into trees again and entering the Axmouth - Lyme Regis Undercliff. The undercliff is an eight-kilometre long stretch of coast that has suffered many landslips during the last few centuries, including one with a number of eyewitnesses on Christmas Eve in 1839. The process continues in the present day, as heavy winter rain passes through the permeable upper layer of rock to the impermeable underlying clay. When enough water pools between the two layers, a large section of the waterlogged upper layer will slide seawards on the slippery clay.
I was perhaps somewhat lucky to have the opportunity to walk this section of the path, as fresh landslides a few months later caused the closure of this entire section of the Coast Path and reports suggest that the closure may be rather prolonged.
About 300 metres into the undercliff, a signpost indicates a short but steep diversion up to the impressive stack of Chimney Rock (picture 2). After returning to the Coast Path, the going soon became quite tough, as the broad path narrowed and began to twist and turn through an area where several sections of the path had recently been re-routed due to minor landslips. For the most part the views from this section of the path were curtailed by thick woodland (picture 3), with the exception of one good viewpoint above Pinhay Cliffs (picture 4).
For a couple of kilometres the path was quite challenging, with barely a straight or flat section. On some of the steeper sections, steps had been provided but had become quite treacherous due to the shifting ground.
When the track eventually widened, a number of long cracks were visible in the ground, running parallel to the path (picture 5) before a section of path where the trees on both sides were leaning towards each other (picture 6) -- the beginnings of the landslip that subsequently closed the path.
Another challenging section through woodland followed, with more evidence of active landslips, briefly emerging from the woods into scrub below Rousdon Cliffs (picture 7), then dipping back down into the woods for one last demanding stretch of walking, before finally climbing again up to Bindon Cliffs (picture 8).
Bindon Cliffs was the site of the 1839 landslip, where a massive section of the cliffs, a kilometre long, a hundred metres wide and fifty metres deep, tore free and slid towards the sea, exposing a new cliff face above the Coast Path (picture 9).
From the more open ground here, I could see ahead along the coast to Beer Head (picture 10) and it became apparent that the weather had changed during the three hours I had spent in the undercliff. The wind had picked up and waves were now crashing loudly at the foot of the cliffs.
The path picks it's way through the scrub, gradually climbing and running just below the top of the cliff for a while before eventually following a field-edge path inland from the clifftop and joining a narrow hedge-lined path that soon reaches the edge of the Axe Cliff Golf Course. The Coast Path descends across the golf course to pass by the club house (picture 11), where a sign advertises that walkers are welcome in the club's café. From the clubhouse, the Coast Path heads down the golf club's drive to meet the B3172 beside the River Axe, opposite the town of Seaton (picture 12).
A short distance downstream, two bridges cross the river, a modern road bridge and next to it the more interesting Axmouth Old Bridge. The Coast Path crosses the latter (picture 13), from which the view to the left covers the small marina and the narrow river mouth (picture 14).
Not far beyond the end of the bridge, the path turns left along the short Trevelyan Road to reach The Esplanade, which runs along the seafront by the shingle beach (picture 15). At the far end of The Esplanade some attractive old houses stand by a roundabout where several brightly painted old bicycles were on display among the shrubs (picture 16).
When I set out in the morning, I had been hoping to continue beyond Seaton, but the weather was continuing to deteriorate. The wind was now very strong and was driving the waves heavily onto the beach, sending spray over the sea wall (picture 17). An early halt to the walk seemed like a good idea, so with eleven mostly strenuous kilometres completed, I headed across the road for a quick look at the Seaton Seafront Garden and it's Victorian clock tower (picture 18).
It was still only early afternoon and my arrival was not well-timed for any of the local buses, so I walked up through the town to the terminus of the Seaton Tramway (picture 19). The tramway runs five kilometres inland, following the River Axe to the village of Colyford before bearing away from the river and continuing to the attractive old station in the town of Colyton (picture 20).
By the time I arrived back in Seaton a couple of hours later, the wind was just about blowing a gale and it was quite a battle to make my way back to the bus stop in front of the Seafront Gardens, where mercifully I was able to find some shelter from the elements while I waited for transport. Before long I was joined by a rather windswept gentleman who had been walking along the Coast Path in the opposite direction and we had a good chat about our adventures on the Coast Path while we waited for our respective buses.