We drive down the narrow winding lanes to Branscombe Mouth. It is the Sunday of the Queen’s Jubilee weekend. The sky is overcast but better than yesterday (when I arrived in the gloom of late afternoon and only got as far as putting on my boots before the rain started and I abandoned the walk).
Today I am hoping to make good progress and have lunch in Sidmouth with a final destination of Budleigh Salterton.
The official South West Coast Path climbs steeply out of Branscombe Mouth, with great views back down onto the shingle beach.
Ahead, below me, is a pebbled and deserted beach. Far ahead I can see Sidmouth. The soil here is a warm orange colour. As I progress, the cliffs change to a darker red-brown. And I can see where the waves are washing away the substance of the cliffs, causing a red discolouration of the sea below.
I remember the chalk of the cliffs in Kent and how this tuned the sea a milky colour. The bloody redness of these Devon coastal waters is both dramatic and unsettling.
By now, I am high above the sea. Looking down makes me feel dizzy. There are two people walking on the shore (you can see them in the photo below if you look carefully). From this height they are just two small dots, moving slowly.
I come to an area where ancient grassland meadows have been preserved. Alongside, new areas have been reclaimed from agriculture and wild flowers encouraged to grow. On this spring day in May, the fields are a mass of yellow – with the occasional huge daisies, sprinkled among the green and gold. Beautiful.
The path begins to descend. I walk down into a little valley. The way down is steep. As I get lower, I realise I am walking down the side of a narrow gully, with thick vegetation around me. I would enjoy it more if I wasn’t worrying about the climb back up again. What goes down, must come up.
Am I going to end up all the way down at sea level?
Ahead of me, on steep steps, is a young family. The two small boys are carrying scooters. They end up disappointed because the shingled beach is too rough for scooting.
This area is called Weston Mouth. Because of the beach’s relative remoteness, and the long climb down, there are few people here. Just a couple of families. And here come two young men, dressed for walking, who stride up the path I have just come down.
A small stream crosses the beach. It’s barely a stream really, just a trickle. But it is this water that has carved out the narrow valley from the cliffs above – and is responsible for this lovely little beach.
On the other side of the stream are wooden steps leading upwards. I know the climb up will be steep and long. So I put off the inevitable by sitting down on the pebbles and having a drink with a snack.
I puff and pant my way back up, out of the narrow, little valley.
Now I walk along the top of the cliffs again, through an area called Dunscombe Cliff on my map – but a signpost tells me this is Lincombe Cliff. (I notice the footpath signs here give the map grid references – handy for a walker in trouble and far from a named road.)
Before long, I am facing another descent into a broader valley, down to Salcombe Mouth.
Luckily I don’t have to go all the way down to sea level, but the climb up the other side is punishing.
Nearly at the top, and the path is blocked by a group of cows. I think they are cows. They have long, scary-looking horns. I hesitate. There is a walker in front of me who is edging round the side of the field, balancing precariously on steep slopes, to give them a wide berth.
I remember one of my fellow coastal walkers (The Helpful Mammal) told me that cows don’t like it when you give them a ‘predator stare’ – that is, when you look straight at them. So I walk boldly along the path, trying not to look at the cows at all, which is somewhat difficult as they are blocking the way. But they do move aside, somewhat reluctantly, and let me pass by.
At the top I have a great view back along the coast. I can see Salcombe Mouth below me, the bays of Weston Mouth and Branscombe, with Beer Head in the distance. And beyond that is the wide expanse of Lyme Bay with the shoreline of – hard to tell – is that Burton Cliffs and Golden Cap, on the other side of Lyme Regis? The lower area must be Abbotsbury and is that distant hump of land Portland?
It is hazy and I squint into the blue distance, wondering after a while if I am imagining land on the horizon. Later I check on the map and Portland would be 35 miles away, as the crow flies.
Good. I am getting tired and it is time for lunch.
Lyme Bay is enormous. It stretches from Portland Bill, past Lyme and Sidmouth and Exmouth and Torquay and Dartmouth – all the way to the westernmost promontory of Start Point. I guess you can’t see Portland Bill from Start Point – it would be 56 miles away and well below the horizon.
As I start walking down to Sidmouth, I cross meadows full of buttercups and spring flowers.
At the bottom of the hill, I cross the river Sid and head for the esplanade to meet my husband.
Sidmouth is fighting coastal erosion and the beach is protected by artificially formed rock reefs. On a plaque, I read how the dramatic red cliffs on either side were formed from desert sands, originating in the Triassic Period 240 million years ago. The pebbles on the beach were brought here along a mighty river that flowed from France and crossed this area, long before the English Channel was formed.
During lunch we watch TV in a crowded pub. They are showing scenes of the Queen’s Jubilee boat pageant on the Thames. It is raining in London and everyone looks wet- but happy. Here the sun is shining and people are in celebratory mood. Champagne is ordered. (I stick to cider.)
After lunch, I climb up out of Sidmouth, along a very nice open green space that leads up the hill.
Below are the coloured cliffs and, as you can see in the photo on the left, you can see how the colours of the cliffs change from limestone in the distance (Beer Head) to golden coloured (Weston Mouth) to red sandstone (Sidmouth).
You can also see how the sea is streaked with red, as it carries off deposits from the foot of the cliffs.
Up above the sea, I follow the South West Coast Path as it winds westwards, following the edge of fields, undulating gently across the high landscape and across a place called Windgate, where I meet a number of walkers.
Then I find myself walking along a wide track through an area of forest. The trees are young and the forest floor is covered in ferns. I see a sign that reads ‘Euroforest’. It’s a strange name for what must be privately owned woodland. Later I find out that Euroforest is a commercial timber company.
Anyway, the woods are lovely. At their far side, the path falls downwards and I am walking in the open again.
I see a bay ahead. Ladram Bay. My first impression is not promising – I notice the large and sprawling holiday camp.
But as I draw nearer, I am won over by the beauty of the place.
There are striking rock formations in the sea, the remnants of ancient cliffs which the sea has eroded into these pillar islands. Sea birds are resting on the numerous ledges. I take far too many photographs.
The beach (just round the corner) is formed from red sand and shingle. You can hire kayaks and there are people walking on the beach and playing with young children.
On the other side of Ladram Bay, as I walk up the hill, I walk past families out for a stroll, people flying kites and others walking dogs.
I check my map. I have about four miles to go to Budleigh Salterton. But I am very tired now – the ups and downs of this section of the coast have worn me out. So I decide to head inland to Otterton. There is a pub marked on the map and I text my husband to tell him of my change of plan.
I walk along a track and then head down a road, into the village.
My husband has some difficulty finding me, partly because the roads are not clearly signed, and partly because the predictive text on my iPhone told him I was in Otterly. Anyway, I don’t mind, because I have time to have a cider before he arrives.
Miles travelled = 10