Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Walking the Jurassic Coast

Having a long weekend is a good excuse for a stretch of the legs.  Luck was with us- aside from a little rain in the forecast, we had brilliant early spring weather.  

We chose a section of the Jurassic Coast on the South West Coast Path.  Our walk started in Exmouth and finished at the train station almost 70 miles away in Weymouth.  Ambitious, yes, but a good distance over 4 days.  

Accommodation, as always, was scarce, so our first day would be quite a long one, as the first spot on the trail where we could lay our heads in something other than sand and mud would end up being near 20 miles along.  

Exmouth was a pretty little town- I would go back and explore anytime.  It's very sleepy Victorian seaside village surrounded by red sand beaches along the ocean and the Exe river estuary.  They have a lovely marina and a beautiful new rescue lifeboat and a boardwalk that I'm sure is just a treat in summer. 

Soon, we were on the beach and walking along the red sandstone cliffs.  These were once brutally hot and dry desert sands.

Worn smooth by time and tide, they made for an impressive sculpture park.

Three miles in and we hit our first caravan park.  These would become a feature of our walk- huge, sprawling chinzy real estate on former farmland.  This set off many a debate.  Affordable seaside getaway cottage or eyesore?  I understood their appeal- who wouldn't want to have a place near the sea?- but I couldn't get over how awful they looked.  Although, they seem to be much tidier than the trailer parks that I knew from home.

We didn't let that ruin us- it was really some gorgeous seaside walking.  The cliffs are important seabird nesting areas, and many of the beaches are completely cut off unless you are very brave or very stupid.

We did pass a woman walking her dog on the trail with the cat in tow.  I don't think I've seen someone out walking their cat before.

We hit Budleigh Salterton, our first village on the trail.  We soon realized the benefits of coastal walking in this area- no need to pack a lunch as we sat down on a seaside bench and shared a crab sandwich purchased seaside.  You couldn't walk more than a few hours without encountering an ice cream stand either.

Northern Wheatear

As we went around the river Otter, the skies opened up.  I spied a flash of blue as a kingfisher flew by, but kept trucking down the trail.

We rounded a bend and it became clear that the last 7 miles of our day were going to be tough.

One thing I love about hiking in the UK is that any place where you might want to sit and admire the view, someone has thought to put a bench there.  It's quite good.

We rolled through the town of Sidmouth, which was bustling.  Someone really likes Goldens....

The other thing that was nice about this seaside trail is that every town we came to had public toilets on the boardwalk.  This was a lovely thing for me- these vast expanses of cliffs had very little cover.  While I couldn't quite make it in between public toilets, it was nice to not have to scramble in the thistles and brambles every time I needed to wee.

From here, the trail did get steep and rough.  We had three big climbs and descents to tackle over a series of steep cliffs, and they were not easy.  

Still, this was my favorite part of the hike.  It was getting late enough in the day where everyone else had gone home, the trail was remote enough to be quiet and peaceful, the sun was out, and I was getting loopy with exhaustion.

The Coast Path is really well marked, but I had sworn we only had 2 miles to go to Branscombe many miles back.

Down the muddy downs to Branscombe, finally!  It's an adorable little village, tucked into an isolated valley near the sea, with the Nation Trust running an iron forge and maintaining a bunch of the thatched-roofed cottages there.  Cows grazed the steep hillsides.  It was so perfect.

We would our way through the narrow charming streets to our pub accommodation for the night.  The best thing about staying at pubs is you don't have to go far at all for dinner.  Although I do quite like a post-dinner walk, I was quite alright with walking from pub to bed after 20 miles.  Plus, our room was an adorable thatched-roof outbuilding.

We were the only walkers in town it seemed, and everyone else in the pub were dressed quite posh.  We arrived post-shower in our clean hiking clothes and flip-flops, famished and so tired that we turned down desert in favor of getting to bed by 9:30.

Perhaps doing a massively hilly long walk as your first day out was a bit mad.  It felt really good to be out walking again after a lazy winter.

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