74. Seaton to Sidmouth

June 2009

This is a bit of a milestone, as it is the last walk wholly within Devon, and it is a very good one. I began the day in Dorset and so drove west via the A35 and then the A3052 into Lyme Regis and onto Beer. It took a while, as much of the roads are single carriageway and Lyme Regis is always a bit of a challenge to get through (in the summer, at least)! I parked at the car park behind the Seaton Electric Tramway. This tramway runs along part of the route of the old Seaton Branchline using old electric trams. Sadly it doesn’t join with the railway anymore, as it would make a good way to get to Seaton if it did.

Seaton is a pleasant town just to the west of the River Axe and is fairly flat at the east, but becomes hilly as you get further west. The geology here is interesting too. Think of White Cliffs and you probably think of Dover, Beachy Head or perhaps the Severn Sisters, all in the south east. But Devon has a small stretch of chalk cliffs too, around Beer head, which is just west of Seaton. So looking east I can see the red cliffs that are typical of South Devon giving way to the chalk headland of Beer head.

The beach at Seaton is shingle and largely deserted despite the fact it is a nice day.

Seaton

Behind the beach are some pleasant gardens backed by a clock tower. I don’t know Seaton that well, but keen to start the walk I didn’t spend long in the town. The coast path initially follows the promenade, but when this ends there is a choice of routes. A low tide route along the beach and a high tide route along the cliff tops. I’ve done both routes, as I’ve walked this section of the coast more than once. But today I stuck to the higher route. In fact, the route I followed no longer exists in it’s entirety. The route then followed the Old Beer Road, the yellow road right along the coast. But during the wet winter of 2012 a cliff fall took the road (and hence the coast path) with it. The route at high tide now follows the B3172 further inland. The road is now two-dead end roads.

However the route I followed soon gains height, giving fine views back over Sidmouth, though the weather looks rather gloomy back over Dorset.

The beach at Seaton

The path headed inland through a park and to the B3172 where I could then fork left along the Old Beer Road. Sadly now, you have to keep to the B-road a bit further now Old Beer Road is closed. Don’t be tempted to try to follow the old route, sturdy metal gates have been put up to stop access. Ahead I had a lovely view of the impressive chalk cliffs at Beer.

The beach at Seaton

Just as the road turns away from the coast I can pick up the coast path along the top of the cliffs.

Cliffs west of Seaton

This is the point where the beach alternative re-joins the main route. There is then a climb up to the top of the cliffs, but this gives a good view down to Seaton. The view reminds me a bit of that to Budleigh Salterton on the previous walk.

View to Seaton from East Ebb

Ahead I soon have a view of the lovely little cove of Beer. I love this place. It is a pebble beach, but it is backed by high chalk cliffs and with the high cliffs on either side and being south facing, it is very sheltered so even on a windy day it can be very pleasant on the beach. The beach also has a small fishing fleet which are launched from the beach and at the back of the beach are beach huts.

Beer from East Ebb

The path soon descends a sort of zig-zag path down to the beach. It is a pretty spot.

Beer, Devon

The town itself is also rather pretty, with an interesting mix of buildings on the main street and something that might not be so obvious from the photo, but a stream runs down the east side of the road.

Beer, Devon

Although the coast path doesn’t go down to the beach I did, as I like it here. There didn’t seem to be many takers for the brightly coloured deck chairs that had been put on the beach yet, but it added a nice touch of colour.

Looking east, Seaton is now hidden behind the chalk cliffs, but I think the headland at the end is Devonshire Head, which marks the end of Devon with Dorset beyond.

Beer, Devon

Much as I enjoyed Beer (and indeed enjoy a Beer) I wanted to carry on, so left the beach and picked up the coast path. This heads up the path from the beach and along roads in front of houses As the road ends, the path continues ahead into yet another caravan park. Thankfully the caravans do not go right to the sea edge and at the cliff top I get a good view back to Beer.

Beer, Devon

The cliffs continue to climb until I reach the highest point, the amusingly named Beer Head. Not to be confused with something you might find in a pub, this is a high chalk cliff. It is very windy but worth the climb for the view. Ahead I can see the chalk cliffs, much covered with grass and the red cliffs again beyond – the chalk does not last for long.

View from Beer Head

The cliffs have sort of slumped ahead, creating an interesting geology with lumps of white chalk sticking up and trees in between.

View from Beer Head

I suspect this is an old landslip area, and unusually the path goes down into it, so in an area between the sea and the cliff tops. The cliffs are extremely high and not quite as white as the cliffs in Kent, an indicating perhaps that they are not eroding that quickly.

Hooken Cliffs

The path drops almost (but not quite) to sea level with a pleasant shingle beach below the cliffs.

Branscombe Mouth

Hooken Cliffs

Ahead I can see the cliffs become red again and out at sea are some cranes. I think these are involved in recovering the remains of the MSC Napoli which ran aground here now more than 2 years ago, but I could be wrong.

Branscombe Mouth

Ahead the path soon descends through yet another caravan park although at least in this one the caravans are a bit more spaced out and on different tiers below the cliffs. Emerging from the caravan park it is a short walk over a field to the beach car park at Branscombe Mouth.

Branscombe Mouth

It is a very pretty spot, but I’m afraid my eyes were more drawn to the cliffs ahead – very steep! Before that though I headed down onto the beach which again has a row of beach huts behind, but these are all the same colour (brown).

The beach at Branscombe Mouth

Although the beach looked shingle, there is a bit of sand near the shoreline. The main building behind the beach is thatched and houses a cafe, but I bought lunch with me, so have it on the beach.

I was in need of the energy, as I could see the path ahead was steep. So I added an ice cream to my lunch. An indeed it is steep, heading up to the top of Branscombe Down. It is one of several deep valleys on this walk.

East of Branscombe

Once at the top though the path levels out (a bit) and the views inland are also pleasant, with the cliffs seemingly the highest point, as the land drops away inland too. This is the little village of Branscombe.

Branscombe

The path on the top of the cliffs briefly becomes a sunken track through woodland, the trees forming a small tunnel, it was lovely. Emerging from the trees it is a welcome sight to see the cliffs ahead are not only tall (giving stunning views) but fairly flat.

East of Branscombe

Once again they seem to be tiered with what I assume is an old landslip below the cliffs, but this time the coast path sticks to the cliff top. It is a lovely part of the path with the sound of the sea below on the shingle and the lovely views all around. After about a mile though it is time to descend into another steep valley, this one Weston Mouth. It is surprising these small streams can cut such a deep valley, but I guess the cliffs are soft around here.

Weston Mouth east of Sidmouth

I can now clearly see the familiar cliffs east of Sidmouth so I know that it is not that much further to go, although the town itself is still out of sight.

At the bottom of the cliffs I head down onto the beach, for a brief rest and a drink, as I know it will be a hard climb back up. The little stream flows out onto the beach, but soon the water goes through the gaps in the pebbles, meaning the stream appears to end before it reaches the sea.

The beach at Weston Mouth

As with the previous beach it is shingle at high tide, but nearer the water line there is some sand.

The beach at Weston Mouth

After a nice rest I take the rather rickety wooden stairs off the beach and back onto the coast path. It’s a steep and tiring climb back up to the cliff tops and once again the reward is a great view.

Higher Dunscombe Cliff

However there is another valley more or less straight ahead. This time, rather than descend into it and back up the other side, the coast path goes around the back because it is a smaller valley. I’m relieved! Once around this I get my first view of Sidmouth ahead.

View from Higher Dunscombe Cliff

What you can also begin to see though is there is another steep valley ahead. This one is Salcombe Mouth and it’s a long valley, heading more than half a mile inland to the village of Salcombe Regis. It is however not quite as steep as previous valleys although of course it does mean a descent back to sea level followed by a climb back up.

View from Higher Dunscombe Cliff

Once again, once at the bottom I stopped on the beach, Salcombe Mouth, for a breather.

The beach at Salcombe Mouth

The cliffs are now back to the red I associate with East Devon and I was tempted to try walking along the beach here. I think it is possible, but I’m not entirely sure and this time there was no sand at the shoreline. The thought of having to walk along all the shingle only to have to turn back meant I decided to stick to the coast path.

So after a rest, it was back up more steps to the top of the next hill. It is beautiful though and very unspoilt with just a few fields and trees and the view to the cliffs back where I have come.

The coast near Salcombe Mouth

I now have the final descent to Sidmouth. That makes it sound like I’m arriving by plane but the cliffs are high enough that it almost looks like an aerial view of Sidmouth I have ahead.

Approaching Sidmouth

 

The view inland is good too and Sidmouth is quite a large town, with the houses spreading more than a mile inland.

Sidmouth

The coast path does head briefly inland near the eastern edge of Sidmouth but then there is the final set of steps down to the river Sid that gives the town it’s name. It’s quite a shallow river, but the bridge to cross it is still very much welcome.

The River Sid, Sidmouth

Looking back along the beach I can see that the rocks do reach the sea in places and whilst it might be possible to step around i think I took the right decision to stick to the coast path.

Sidmouth

Soon I’m on the promenade and it’s now an easy stroll to reach the point where I left the promenade before.

Sidmouth

After the peace and quiet of the coast path the busting promenade makes quite a contrast.

Sidmouth

Pleased to reach Sidmouth I stopped for a little while on the beach before heading inland to the triangle from where the buses depart. Well I say Triangle, but take a look at this photo, the sign behind the people on the left bench. Yes, they have called it “Three Cornered Plot”. What a ridiculous name, I’m glad to see the bus company still calls it “Sidmouth Triangle”.

"Three Cornered Plot", Sidmouth

I took the bus back to Seaton and arrived just to see one of the bright pink trams at the station.

Seaton Tramway

This is a highly scenic walk, with stunning and varied coastline from the chalk cliffs at Beer to the red cliffs at Seaton and numerous beautiful valleys in between. It is one of my favourite stretches of the South West Coast Path with the added joy of plenty of beaches to stop at for a rest on the way. It is a tough walk though so I’m glad I didn’t try to walk any further as I was exhausted at the end!

Here are the details of the public transport needed for this walk.

To get back to the start there are two bus routes you can use.

Stagecoach 52A : Exeter – Heavitree – Clyst St Mary – Newton Poppleford – Sidmouth – Sidford – Seaton. Hourly Monday – Saturday and around 5 times per day on Sundays. It takes 35 minutes.

Axe Valley Mini Travel 899 : Sidmouth – Sidford – Branscombe – Beer – Seaton. Around 7 times a day Monday – Friday and 3 times on a Saturday. No service on Sunday. Takes around 40 minutes.

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

If you are interested in the geology of this coast, Ian West has a lot of information:-

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