73. Sidmouth to Exmouth

September 2010

The walk from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton is one I am very familiar with as it was one of my favourite and most regular walks when I lived in Exeter, as it was an easy train journey down to Exmouth and a very varied walk along the coast, with some beautiful scenery. Quiet Budleigh Salterton was a nice place to end and there was a regular bus back to Exmouth. I also walked the path between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth a few times, but this part is less familiar.

However this walk I took much later and made a longer route from Sidmouth to Exmouth, with Budleigh Salterton being roughly halfway. I think the walk works a little better this way round too, as the walk from Sidmouth to Budleigh Salterton is harder than between Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth so you get the harder part done first.

For this walk I was travelling from a village in east Dorset rather than my home, still a long drive, but I had a good reason for driving such a distance for the day. My car at the time, a crappy Fiat Punto, had given me no end of trouble during the time I had owned it. My work colleagues had become so used to the frequent problems I had with it that they claimed that Fiat stood for Fix It Again Tomorrow – I was beginning to think they might have a point – it was one of those cars where rarely a month went by without it developing some sort of new problem. Over the course of the past year, it had already had a replacement gearbox, clutch and some re-wiring work, as well as more basic repairs (tyres, exhaust) none of which was cheap and no car I had owned before or since has given anything like so many problems. It had just failed it’s MOT (but the old one was still valid for another week), with numerous faults (as usual) but the major one this time being a failure of the emissions test. The various sensors, exhaust and catalytic converter had already been replaced by the previous owner, when it had the same problem around 3 years previously. The cost of replacing these again was high and I had decided that to repair this, after all the previous problems I’d had, was probably a waste of money. The garage suggest some sort of fuel additive as a last ditch attempt to see if this improved the emissions. For a few pounds, it seemed worth a try. I added it to the fuel but then it doesn’t do much good sitting in the tank, it needs to run through the engine and hence it seemed a good opportunity to go for a long drive, hence this walk. It was a lovely walk, but it didn’t make any difference to my car, which failed it’s MOT again for the same reasons a few days later – and ended up going for scrap.

I headed for Sidmouth as it was a shorter distance and on arriving in Sidmouth I saw signs for a Park and Walk and decided to follow this. It is basically a park and ride without the ride part, based at the council offices, I think it is only available at the weekend. But it was only a short walk and with the imminent cost of a new car I was keen to avoid additional expense of parking charges.

It was a beautiful day, clear warm and sunny, with a cloudless sky. I soon reached the beach at Sidmouth, which is a shingle beach backed by rather elegant houses. The red cliffs I would be walking over were ahead.

Sidmouth

Sidmouth is a nice little town best known for it’s annual Folk Festival. This walk also marked perhaps the most spectacular part of the South West Coast Path – the East Devon coast, along with much of the Dorset coast, is now a World Heritage site known as the Jurassic coast and it is very spectacular and very varied.

The view looking east was just as spectacular with the red cliffs stretching into the distance. The red cliffs are a feature of South Devon and I believe a result of the high iron content. They are also soft and prone to erosion, hence the stone groynes and islands built to try to protect the town. The cliffs also confirm another fact – Sidmouth is at the bottom of a valley and hence in every direction out of town it is a steep hill. This was not going to be an easy walk!

Sidmouth

Still it started easily enough, with a flat walk along the promenade, which stretches for about half a mile. Although the beach is mostly shingle, low tide reveals a line of sand. As the road that had been beside the promenade heads a little inland, the coast path continues on a now narrower path below the cliffs and under a cafe, to reach a little seating area which offers a fine view west along the beach.

Sidmouth

Steps up to the right lead to a cafe I think, but the coast path now headed up a zig-zag path to the cliffs, where there is then a steep climb ahead, Jacobs Ladder. The path though is an easy path over the grassy cliffs tops, with regular benches to rest if you are so inclined. The height gains gives a lovely view along the cliffs, with the rocky stacks of Little Picket Rock and Big Picket Rock now easy to pick out.

Sidmouth

I’ve already mentioned the coastal defences at the town but it is clear the town is fighting a battle against coastal erosion, as I’m soon following the route of the old road, which had been lost to erosion and a new road built a little inland. As this ends the path then continues ahead into the wooded cliff top. At the top I reach Peak Hill which gives a good view of the rock stacks at the base of the next cliff ahead. In the distance too I can see all the round to Torbay and Berry Head. Possibly even Start Point, it is difficult to be sure.

The coast east of Sidmouth

The red colouring of the sea shows how much erosion there is here. The views inland were pleasant too with the rolling fields and I think Woodbury common beyond. Having climbed to the top of the cliff the path soon began to descend, through a brief section of gorse and heather to more woodland near the next cliff top, the appropriately named High Peak.

Just before the path headed into the wood I could look back to the lovely view back to Sidmouth.

Sidmouth

The path now headed through an area of coniferous woodland, which was a pleasant section and easy underfoot. I remember walking this in winter once when it was very boggy. Emerging from the woodland the path continues to descend down to Ladram Bay. I love this pretty bay but it’s a shame about all the caravans on the cliff top (something I’ll be saying again later). Their bright white colour makes them stick out so much.

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Before I reach Ladram Bay itself the coast path passes Sandy Cove but I don’t think there is access to it from the coast path (it might be possible to walk around from Ladram Bay at low tide though).

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The coast path then wends it’s way past a rocky beach next to Sandy Cove and then along the front of the caravan park. Ahead is Ladram Bay now. The beach is pretty enough from the cliff top, but I think to really appreciate it’s beauty you need to get down to the beach, which is what I did.

Ladram Bay

It is a steeply sloped shingle beach but the erosion has created a number of rock stacks, mostly at either end of the beach. There are also rock pools where the base of the cliffs are all that remain and at the far end of the beach some sand too.

Ladram Bay

I stopped for lunch on the beach and by the time I had finished some kayakers were being given instructions before they headed out to sea.

I headed back to the path off the beach and back onto the coast path. The worst of the hills are now done and the path ahead was more gently undulating than hilly. However I had soon gained enough height for a lovely view back to Ladram Bay and the rock stacks around it.

The coast between Budleigh Salterton and Ladram Bay

It was a fairly easy walk along the edge of fields past Chiselbury Bay where again the beach was largely rocky, presumably the base of the eroded cliffs.

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It was again a fairly easy walk along the field edges to Brandy Point. No surprises for how this gets it’s name – smuggling. There is also an observation hut on the cliffs here, a relic from World War II. Here there was a gunnery research base for aircraft mounted guns and this hut was used to observe the tests. Little else of it now remains though.

Once again there was a good view, particularly where I had come, with Sidmouth now quite distant in it’s valley between red cliffs.

Poolness Beach

Ahead I could only see a short distance to Black Head, a rather unfortunate name for the next cliff. The path soon gained height though and offered better views ahead, with Budleigh Salterton now clearly visible ahead. It looks very close.

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However the view can be a little deceptive – between me and Budleigh Salterton is the River Otter, which must be crossed and the first bridge over it is about half a mile inland of the coast. As I neared Budleigh, the river became rather more obvious.

The River Otter, Budleigh Salterton

It doesn’t look that wide but it is quite deep and although the shingle bank on the other side is tantalisingly close I don’t think it can be safely waded and I wasn’t about to try it. So I continued on the coast path which now ran alongside the Otter estuary, which is a nature reserve. This is one of the things I like about this walk, there has already been some spectacular cliffs and hills, a couple of areas of woodland and now there is a river estuary.

It was a pleasant walk on the fairly flat path to the first bridge over the river. It is a public road, but ends just east of the river and becomes a track leading to a couple of farms.

The River Otter, Budleigh Salterton

The bridge is nothing special and I think quite modern. The marshes and salt flats are an important area for the birds to use.

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Soon I was back at the coast and the pebble beach of Budleigh Salterton.

Budleigh Salterton

It is rather hard work to walk along the pebbles, so the coast path follows the promenade along the back of the beach, which begins at the large car park beside the estuary. The promenade is lined with characterful beach huts initially.

Budleigh Salterton

Soon the path reaches the edge of the built up area of the town and there some interesting buildings here.

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The tarmac promenade soon begins to climb out of this small town and gives a good view over the town.

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Soon the tarmac path ends and the path climbs now more steeply to the top of another large hill, West Down. This is one of my favourite parts, as the path goes through an area of gorse, heather and pine trees. At the top there is a good view of the coast ahead and further on I can clearly see the Exe estuary.

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The path soon begins to descend again down to the huge Devon Cliffs Holiday Park, where the coast is covered with caravans as far as the eye can see. I suspect the population of this place must number in the thousands during the summer. The view east is better though.

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Budleigh Salterton

The headland ahead, Straight Point, is used as a military firing range so sadly out of bounds, so the coast path follows the path past the edge of the caravan site and soon descends down to the car park of Sandy Bay, probably the main reason that the large caravan park exists, as this is a good sandy beach.

Sandy Bay, Exmouth

I headed down onto the beach which is pleasant uncrowded given the size of the caravan park behind. I know this walk well and know that when the tide is out, it is possible to walk all the way along the beach to Exmouth and I decided to do this option today, as the tide had gone out quite far.

Sandy Bay is rather lovely and from the beach you can’t see the caravans either.

Sandy Bay, Exmouth

It was an easy walk east on the hard sand with the red cliffs making for a beautiful backdrop.

Sandy Bay, Exmouth

Soon I came to Orcombe Point, where you can see diagonal lines of harder rock in the cliffs – it is certainly an interesting geology.

I remembered from my time living in the area that this was the area that is first blocked off by the tide when it comes in. But I knew that there were stairs up back onto the coast path. I wouldn’t be needing them today though, which turned out to be just as well. In the intervening years since I was last here the sea has claimed the steps, which now end part way down the cliffs and was blocked off at the top – a shame.

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Rounding the corner the sand seems to become more golden and less red as I now reach the edge of Exmouth. I like Exmouth it is a pleasant seaside town with a good beach and not overly developed or tacky.

Exmouth, Devon

I continued on the beach for a while but soon decided to return to the coast path, now a promenade alongside the road. Further along at low tide, as it was, the channel of the Exe partly separates this part of the beach from the open sea beyond, with a sand bank forming between the river and sea.

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The coast of Dawlish can be seen on the other side now. Heading further west I could see the boats at the mouth of the Exe and some of the grand Victorian buildings on the sea front.

Exmouth, Devon

The gardens behind the beach are well kept too with palm trees along parts of the promenade making it feel a bit like Torquay. Nearing the end of the beach I came to the clock tower, where I’d usually leave the coast for the station. After a while the sandy beach ends and it becomes shingle as it approaches a harbour area, now largely converted to leisure uses. I rounded this and soon got a fine view of the Exe estuary which looked to be mostly sand at this low tide.

The Exe Estuary

It is amazing to think this all fills up with water in a few short hours!

The Exe Estuary

From here I headed back into Exmouth town centre, for the bus back to Sidmouth. This arrived on time and was a clearly rather elderly double decker bus. I headed up to the top to enjoy the good views on the way back. We made our way east first to Budleigh Salterton. Here the bus, like the coastal walker has to head inland to get over the river Otter and passes through Otterton. East of here there is a steep hill into Sidmouth. We headed up this, the bus slowing to little more than walking pace and I started to hear a beeping noise coming from downstairs. This continued for around 30 seconds when the driver then pulled the bus partly off the road onto the grass verge, switched off the engine and came upstairs to tell us that the bus was overheating and he’d had to stop. He opened up the engine flap at the back and contacted someone at Stagecoach to decide what to do. He was told to “let it cool off and carry on”. So after about a 15 minute wait he started it up again and immediately the beeping noise (alarm) resumed. This time he carried on and once we began to descend the hill and pick up speed the alarm stopped as presumably the engine had begun to cool now it did not have to work so hard. We made it to Sidmouth around 20 minutes late in the end. I was surprised to see the bus load up passengers and return to Exmouth, I thought it would have been taken out of service.

After the slightly more eventful bus journey than usual I walked back to the park and walk and headed back.

This is one of my favourite walks on the coast path with some lovely little towns and some really spectacular cliffs, the area around Ladram Bay being a particular favourite. The coast path is also excellent, sticking right to the coast other than the brief diversion inland to get around the river Otter. I was pleased to see that little had changed and it was just as good a walk as I remembered.

Here are the details of the public transport needed to get back from this walk:-

Stagecoach Devon route 157 : ExmouthLittlehamBudleigh Salterton – East Budleigh – Otterton – Coalton Raleigh – Newton Poppleford – Sidmouth. Hourly Monday – Saturday. 4 per day on Summer Sundays. No service on Winter Sundays.

If doing this walk on a Winter Sunday you will need to travel via Exeter to get back to Sidmouth. From Exmouth service 57 runs twice per hour back to Exeter, taking a little under 45 minutes. From here bus routes 52A and 52B between them run between once and twice per hour to Sidmouth, taking around 40 minutes. An Explorer ticket is valid on both buses and costs £7.50 currently and is likely to be cheaper than two singles (it is available to buy on the bus). Both buses serve Exeter Bus station, so change here.

Here is the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

I often find myself commenting about the amazing geology on parts of the coast, but not really knowing what I’m talking about. Fortunately I have found someone that does know what they are talking about, Dr Ian West of the University of Southampton. He has an amazingly detailed website where he explains, with many photos, the geology of the coast between Torbay and Hampshire. He manages to get to perhaps the remotest corners of the coast and photograph them. So if you want to know more, see his website, these two pages covering this part of the coast:-

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One Response to 73. Sidmouth to Exmouth

  1. Lovely write-up of a beautiful walk. Ladram Bay is wonderful, just a shame about the caravans.

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