11 October 2014

England: South West Coast Path, Devon

Blazing sun and striding out, sweaty skin and street performers … a sweet sweet day!

A six-mile walk might not sound like much but, when it’s up and down the spectacular coastal cliffs you can see in this photo, you might understand why I finished the day with slightly sore feet, especially as our destination, Sidmouth, had a music festival happening all that week so we also pounded the pavements there, checking out all the weird and wonderful sights of the street entertainers and their onlookers.

We parked the car and began our walk in Budleigh Salterton. It’s a pretty seaside town, sitting alongside a two-mile pebble beach, within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it’s one of the access points to the 95-mile-long coastline that is the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site – think fossils. 

If they weren’t reasons enough to visit, Budleigh Salterton also sits on the mouth of the River Otter, where the reed beds and marshy area around the river estuary have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as they provide an excellent habitat for migratory birds – twitchers take note! And – the reason we were there – you can also access the 630-mile-long South West Coast Path from Budleigh Salterton.   

We picked up the coastal path by the river estuary, crossed via a small bridge, then set off across the fields towards the coast. The path runs along the clifftops, at times close to the edge. The cliffs were rich red sandstone initially and then, as we continued, the fabric changed to a beige-coloured soil full of pebbles and chips of flint. It’s a long way down and the cliffs are subject to erosion, so you do need to be a little wary of straying too close, particularly as it’s tempting to take photos over the edge.

The countryside rolled up and down hill like a rollercoaster, so the walk was at times quite challenging but never difficult, especially as we stopped often to photograph butterflies, wild flowers and the panoramic views. The fields were a natural patchwork, golden with ripe barley and green with lush grass, and the views up and down the coastline were spectacular. Not far off the coast we could see one of the colourful Stuart Line Cruise boats taking passengers on a tour along the Jurassic Coast.  

Sidmouth looked very distant at first but we gradually got closer, passing the very unexpected sight of Ladrum Bay, a holiday camp full of caravans and tiny identical holiday homes. The pebble beach below was packed with holidaymakers, with many people kayaking and row-boating. From Ladrum Bay, it was quite a strenuous hike to the top of the aptly named Peak Hill, at 512 feet the highest point on our walk, and from there it was all downhill to Sidmouth.

With the music festival in full swing, the town was packed with sightseers and holidaymakers, musicians and performers. It was buzzing! We enjoyed a shady umbrella, cold drinks and a spot of lunch at a roadside café, then wandered hither and yon, watching the many free outdoor performances on the prom and in the streets beyond. The entertainment was varied and fun: a didgeridoo player, the Weymouth Accordian Club, a man playing a harp, a woman singing operettas, a kid juggling, Morris dancers, a guy on a tall unicycle juggling fire sticks. And the weird and wonderful characters in the crowd were almost as much fun to watch as the performers.

Sidmouth is another charming seaside town, with many of its buildings and much of its architectural heritage dating from the Regency period. The locals are obviously and justifiably proud of their town, and streets and shops were bedecked with glorious displays of flowers – a visual fiesta.

From Sidmouth we caught the local bus back to Budleigh Salterton. It meandered to and fro through all the little hamlets between the two main towns so took quite a while but it was nice to sit and relax, the scenery was pretty and the hamlets interesting: we passed through Hayes Barton, where a statue pays tribute to its most famous son, Sir Walter Raleigh. Our bus driver was very skilful at manoeuvring the double-decker through the narrow lanes and streets.

From the bus stop at Budleigh Salterton we had just a short walk back to the car but we detoured along the beach where someone had very creatively used the different coloured stones to create pictures. Families were enjoying evening barbecues here and there, crayfish pots were stacked ready for the next day’s fishing, and the multi-coloured beach huts helped to create a very picturesque scene. It was the perfect end to a wonderful walk. Now, I want to complete the challenge of walking a much longer section of the South West Coast Path.