Having lived in Exmouth pretty much all my life, bar a four year stint in Aberystwyth while at university, I’ve taken the area and its surroundings for granted. As such, earlier this week I decided it was time for change and I began making plans to start walking along the Jurassic Coast.
If you’ve not heard of the Jurassic Coast before, allow me to explain. The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site that covers 95 miles of stunning coastline along the south coast of the United Kingdom and starting from Orcombe Point in Exmouth, East Devon to Old Harry Rocks on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset the route passes through 15 coastal towns.
Unable to walk the whole stretch in one go, I’ve broken up the route into natural sections, i.e. town to town, and plan to finish the route over the course of the summer and, inspired by The Land Beyond and wanting to make the most of the warm weather, yesterday I set out to walk along the first section of the route from Exmouth to the neighbouring town of Budleigh Salterton.
After a bright sunny morning the skies turned against me as I planned to set off from home but, reassured by the weather forecast that it was only a light shower, I was determined to go ahead. Armed with a waterproof, water and my questionable choice of music, I began my walk down to the seafront and to the start of the Jurassic Coast.
Rather than taking a direct route to the “start line”, I ventured for a more scenic one and to join the coast at the Exe Estuary cycle path, walk around the docks and then along the seafront to Orcombe Point. This added an extra mile or two to my journey but it meant I could make the most of the day and provided much nicer views than following a main road through Exmouth.
Being a popular holiday location, it was no surprise that the beach was busy. Having arrived nearly an hour after I had set off, the sun was back and families were making the most of the good weather. Children played, built sandcastles and the bravest dared the cold waters of the sea, all while parents watched from their territory of sand laden with foldable chairs, tents and towels.
In the past local attractions on the seafront would be equally as busy, but Exmouth has been going through a period of regeneration in an attempt to draw more tourists into the town. While funding has been spent on good short term actions like Visit Exmouth and the hiring of the “Exmouth Eye”, there are also long term plans that involve demolishing old attractions in place for modern grander structures. The problem is though that while building work commences there aren’t many alternatives.
Rather than try to battle the hoards of people walking along the seafront, I decided to save time by cutting across The Maer and taking the lesser used path to the cliff tops at Orcombe Point. Although somewhat overgrown, the path provides ample opportunities to take in the views over the seafront or out to sea and across to Dawlish.
Finally, nearly two hours after leaving, I reached the start of the Jurassic Coast at Orcombe Point. From here the next marker on the route is Sandy Bay, a large caravan holiday park situated on the cliffs between Exmouth and Budleigh, and visitors can either follow the cliff path or, if the tide is out, walk along the beach. With the beach being busy and the tide in, I followed the cliff path.
When walking along the cliffs from Orcombe Point to Sandy Bay, you are greeted by the Geoneedle, which commemorates the opening of the East Devon and Dorset coast line as an UNESCO World Heritage site. The 5 metre high sculpture is embedded with eight different stones, each representing a stone found along the Jurassic Coast: Permian sandstone, White lias, Blue lias, Ham hill, Forest marble, Portland, Purbect marble and Beer stone.
The sculpture is an interesting piece of public artwork that encompasses the history and structure of the Jurassic Coast and from it, you can either walk through permissive paths (farmer’s fields) or walk along beside the cliff face. Not wanting to bother the cows, I chose the latter.
Throughout the Jurassic Coast you are surrounded by wildflowers that grow on the cliff edge, these are a much welcome natural barrier between you and the drop below. Most common is gorse which adds a flair of colour to the otherwise green countryside.
Efforts have been made in places to provide some form of protection and safety, but due to constant erosion and sporadic landslides, a lot of the path is unfenced. Walkers are advised to use common sense and not walk close to the cliff edge or even walk at all after heavy rainfall.
This is most noticeable when arriving into Sandy Bay. After walking through a restaurant seating area, past caravans and through a play area, I was second guessing myself when approaching a narrowing path with the cliff on your right and a fence on your left! Surely I should be on the other side of the fence?! Thankfully, however, after rounding the corner you are back into open fields with plenty of space to put between you and the cliff. At this point, you are now at the start of the second, longer, leg of the route to Budleigh Salterton.
After navigating a swing gate you are led down old steps and across a small stream on a questionable wooden bridge, before climbing back up the other side. The scene is completely different to the first half of the walk as the route slowly changes from open clifftops to small sheltered wooded areas.
Upon reaching the top of the steps you are back in the open and surrounded by fields. You now have the option to detour from the set trail and follow a public footpath away from the cliffs. However, since I was following the coast, I decided to stick to the main route, with a mental note to comeback and explore the area fully at a later date.
This main route happens to be a climb along a narrow footpath between bushes of wildflowers. Although this might sound appealing, due to the warm weather and the time of year, you have to share the path with flies, bees, and other small unknown winged creatures. Not one for insects, it didn’t take me long to reach the top. Here you are rewarded for your efforts with a view back to Sandy Bay and this also marks the last summit of the walk to Budleigh as the rest of the route is all downhill!
Stopping at a bench to take in the views and have a drink, I was passed by another walker. After a quick exchange of pleasantries they were off down the hill and out of sight. It was only when I was starting to walk downhill that I passed them again and realised they were looking for a bench of their own to do the same.
Working your way downhill, following yet another narrow footpath, you eventually reach a point where the path runs adjacent to East Devon Golf Club. The golf course is situated on the cliff top above Budleigh Salterton and the Jurassic Coast runs behind the course and beside one of the holes.
With the course behind you, you see the first signs of urbanisation since Sandy Bay. Although well sheltered by the bushes and trees, you can make out the tops of homes and half concealed back doors can be found backing onto this section of the path. Rounding the corner, you escape the cover of trees and enter an open field.
After crossing the field and rejoining the path on the other side, it’s clear that you’re now entering Budleigh. Turning the corner, you have the option to walk down into the town itself, but it’s more rewarding to turn right and carry on hugging the coastline. After a few more twists and turns, you are welcomed with the first view of Budleigh’s coastline.
Walking down to the shore I soaked my feet in the fresh water and began to relax after completing the first section of the Jurassic Coast.