The South West Coast Path – Part 12
I carried on walking the train tracks and left Dawlish behind me. Beyond the whimsical, pretty views I had from my train journeys of the past, was a warren of caravan parks and hard tarmac that bruised my feet before I got the the crossing point of the River Exe – Starcross. It wasn’t the prettiest spot, and I ducked under a grungy bridge past a burning mattress on the muddy ribbon of shoreline, climbed a ladder and walked the pontoon to catch the ferry to Exmouth.
Exmouth was quiet and I didn’t explore far as I was pretty tired. I puttered up a big hill out of town to my camp for the night – a wedding venue which was now accepting campers because of covid. I had my cider in a big beautiful barn and considered ordering a takeaway to my tent from town, but that felt too indulgent so I scarfed a cereal bar and some crackers instead and got my head down for the night. To my dismay another big caravan park was first on the list the next morning and I got completely lost on the site trying to find the coast path. I think it was because the site stretched right along the edge of the beautiful cakey red cliffs, and whatever coast path had been between the site and the sea had long since eroded into the waves below.
I asked a caretaker and he helpfully put me back on track. I was really enjoying the landscape in this area, and was genuinely gobsmacked to wander down into a place called Ladram Bay; somewhere I’d never heard of before, and see the stunning cliffs faces and majestic red rocks jutting up into the sky from the sea in front of me. What a treat to discover something so unusual yet still relatively close to home!
Next up on my perambulations was Sidmouth. Now I’m sure this is a lovely town; it has a distinctly historic and Regency feeling seafront, but it was choc-a-bloc and I would say the visitors here were the rudest I’d yet come across (so far). I considered trying to get some food and drink from a supermarket in town (I’d long since given up asking cafes to fill my water bottle for me – even if I ordered food they said no!) but I was halfway there when I pulled the plug on the idea. Everyone seemed in a rush and annoyed with everyone else in the busy streets. I was already tired and was edging towards teasy, so I wove through to the end of the seafront aiming to get the heck out of the chaos.
To my dismay I saw the cliff path fenced off and closed. It had apparently been shuttered in August 2019 for 6 months for work, and due to Covid it had just never been completed. The alternative detour was back into the metropolis and a long road walk (miles) to get back to a point on the trail that I was already right there looking at – 10 yards away across the small bridge and river that had been fenced off. I sat on the floor and decided I couldn’t hack it. So, unashamedly, I phoned for a taxi to take me along the road until I could get back on to the path, and then I hiked into Beer; a gorgeous seaside village that I hadn’t been to since I was a child.
A caravan site in Beer kindly let me pitch beside their reception on a scrap of grass for a fiver. Lovely stuff. Horrendous winds and rain were forecast, and in the early hours I was almost blown sideways into the tiny hedge I’d tried to hide behind. There was torrential rain until 11am the next morning so I stayed snug and semi-dry in my tent, sporadically going out to pee and get water. I fell over on one journey out and went splat onto my back in a big puddle – not ideal. Hey ho, I just took myself to the laundry and heaved (nearly) everything I was wearing straight into the dryer before toddling carefully back to the tent. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry – right? The storm eased after midday and I got going. I knew some shingle walking was on the cards which I usually hate because walking on the cascading pebbles stresses my back pain, but today I didn’t mind because I was so excited to adventure into the Jurassic Coast proper.
The best bit was still to come; not the cliffs themselves, but the Axmouth to Lyme Regis ‘Under Cliffs’ walk – an amazing 7 mile rainforest-like route with luscious deep vegetation and tumbly up and down pathways under canopy. It’s like no other part of the SWCP and reminded me so much of the Appalachian Trail. There are no easy exit points from this route if you needed them, but it’s absolutely worth it. The misty rain and no one else on the trail meant I could have been hiking through Jurassic Park! I popped out in Lyme Regis feeling absolutely brilliant. It turned out to be a lovely town – friendly and pretty with a really authentic vibe. I sat on a wall swinging my legs and aching feet to watch people playing an evening game of bowls, and then headed up the road to a campsite at the top of the village.
The next day I followed another road detour into Charmouth and past some sweet fossil shops, reminding me that Mary Anning was from this area. She was the famous palaeontologist born in Lyme Regis in 1799, who lived a tough life of hardship and poverty but who secured some incredible scientific firsts with her passion and hard work, including the first ever complete skeleton of a plesiosaur, a strange looking marine reptile that people didn’t believe was real at first because it was so unusual. I was genuinely walking in hallowed footsteps, and tried to keep my eyes peeled for fossils of my own! I had had a truly lovely few days, which I needed really, because two of the most challenging days of the whole trail for me were looming right up ahead… I just didn’t know it yet.
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