Torquay to Weymouth

May 23 to 29 2014

Day 1 to The Blenheim, Dawlish EX7 9DJ

Quite a hard day. I didn't realise how far it was from Torquay station to Babbacombe, but it took three hours, and it is a suburb of Torquay. However the threatened rain never arrived.

I caught the train from Dawlish to Torquay and then walked through the harbour. There are not many clear Coast Path signs. Alongside the Imperial Hotel there was a path signed to "beach". I wasn't sure if it was the correct way or a dead end, but it proved right, though I never saw access to a beach. After Hope's Nose there was a sign to Bishop's Walk which the guidebook implied to ignore, but a couple told me it was correct, provided I didn't descend to Anstey's Cove which was a steep detour.

Eventually I reached Babbacombe. The path climbs more than half way up the side of the Cliff Railway before passing under it and heading back down. I decided to climb to the top, where there was a cafe.

The next section was classified as "strenuous", which I would not argue with, but I completed it for once half an hour quicker than the book said. That was in spite of losing my pole. Before starting it I had managed to extend it farther than it was meant to go, and though it held firm for 9 or 10 miles, eventually it just snapped. This was just before a particularly steep part, and I struggled a bit. Not just that, but some of the downhill stretches were damp because of recent heavy rain. Nevertheless I managed to reach Shaldon ferry in one piece.

At Teignmouth there was a diversion because the sea wall had been damaged and the path was closed at that point. The book described an alternative route which was a bit vague, just saying it ended up on the A379. The route I took certainly did, but it was probably about a mile before I reached where the original route joined it. Eventually I found the way down to the sea front at Dawlish, helped by a couple who were trying to retrace a walk they had done 50 years ago, but turned out to be longer than they had remembered.

Day 2 to Long Range Hotel, Budleigh Salterton EX9 6HS

A much easier day. I started by walking past the station to inspect the current state of the sea wall. The path was closed immediately afterwards, but I could see the place where the line had been almost severed. Then I crossed over the railway and up onto the main road. After about a mile, there was a footpath to the right which made a pleasant walk down to Dawlish Warren. There I was able to buy a new pole, and spent about an hour wandering around the Warren Point Nature Reserve. There is plenty allegedly there to see, though as usual I missed the interesting things, apart from what was probably a cormorant.

Then it was back on the official path, or mainly road on this stretch to the Starcross ferry. I had a half hour wait as it runs hourly at ten minutes past. By now it was quite overcast and the crossing was cool, but not too choppy. I planned to get a sandwich in Exmouth, but ended up having a proper meal at the Waterfront (?) cafe.

The stretch beyond Exmouth is not too bad, up to Sandy Bay, a massive caravan holiday place. At that point it started to rain and it got heavier as the afternoon wore on, and I don't remember much about the rest of the walk to Budleigh Salterton. I had booked into The Long Range Hotel, which I had difficulty finding being in a residential area, so I had to phone for directions, only to discover there was a sign to it very close by. This was the most expensive place I had stayed in since leaving Minehead, but was worth it, apart from the fact that it was a long way from eating places. And as most of them seemed to be full, I ended up just buying a sandwich to take back.

Day 3 to Lower Pinn Farm, Sidmouth EX10 0NN

A particularly pleasant day, as I was joined by Pauline, who broke her journey from Crockerton to Cornwall to walk this stretch. She is far more knowledgable about nature than me, and was able to point out things I was missing. While we were having lunch we had a long debate about whether we could see a seal bobbing about in the sea, which was unresolved, but not ruled out. The walk was comparatively easy, though there were some steep bits nearer Sidmouth. Very pleasant views not just along the coast but also inland. After finding the bus stop with some difficulty, I saw Pauline back on the bus to pick up her car in Budleigh Salterton, then explored Sidmouth and had a good meal at the Anchor Inn, before calling Mrs Tancock who kindly picked me up to take me to Lower Pinn Farm.

Day 4 to Sea Glimpses, Seaton EX12 2NF

It was raining during breakfast but soon cleared up, being dry but overcast all day. Mr Tancock drove me into Sidmouth. There is a long climb out of the town. At the top there is a spectacular view of Salcombe Mouth, tempered by the knowledge that you have to go almost down to sea level. Then there is another steep ascent, and this time we go right down to the beach at Weston Mouth. Before that there is Weston Plats which up to the middle of the 20th century was a very productive place for growing vegetables, but was eventually abandoned as it was so isolated. I was planning to explore it but the path was very muddy.

Once again another steep climb, but at the top there was a long comparatively flat stretch before the descent to Branscombe. There were plenty of visitors here, it being bank holiday. I bought a very pleasant lunch at the cafe. On the path up from Branscombe Mouth there are a number of mobile homes in an attractive location, though there must be a risk of rock falls from the cliffs above. It is here that the red cliffs suddenly give way to chalk and it is an unusual view from Beer Head back along the coast.

Once round the Head, most of the difficult walking is over. Beer again was quite busy including quite a lot of walkers. It was not far from there to Seaton Hole, but as it was high tide I couldn't go along the beach, and it is quite a diversion, though not as long as the guidebook suggested as there is a new path that cuts off a bit of a corner. Once in Seaton I found Burrow Road quite easily.

Day 5 to Broadlands, Chideock DT6 6HX

Quite a complicated day with a number of diversions. I was looking forward to the Lyme Regis Undercliff, which sounds a fascinating place. First there was Seaton golf course to cross. I was a bit worried about the book's instructions to walk along the fairway, but there were no golfers around, and the green staff were very friendly. Then after walking along the path that leads to the turn-off to the Undercliff, I came across a notice saying that due to a land slip it was impassable, and that if you wanted to go to Lyme Regis, the best way was to walk to Axmouth and take the bus!

I ruled out that option, and decided to head in the general direction and hope I would find a suitable path and not end up going round in circles. As it happened, the path I chose went pretty straight for about 2 miles through the Rousden estate before coming to a T junction. I was wondering which way to go when I noticed pinned to a post a recommended alternative route, a page and a half long. I took a few notes and set off. It went away from the coast and across the main road, but ended up a very pleasant and quiet route, which I could easily follow from my notes. So I found myself in Lyme Regis in time for lunch.

For the section to Charmouth the guidebook gave the proper route, which it assumed would still be closed after land slips, an official diversion and a recommended diversion. I chose to do the last of these. Whichever way one went, you had to start by walking along the main road out of town, and, once the footpath gave out, take a muddy path parallel to it. Eventually I was back on the main road, but shortly after this there was another golf course. This time one had to cross several fairways, but I managed to avoid being hit. Once again I was back on the main road, approaching where the A3052 joined the A35.

The route from there into Charmouth was pleasant though a bit complicated, not helped by some confusing signs. When I eventually reached the beach, I started to follow a sign saying "Coast path diversion" until I realised that it was the official diversion heading back to Lyme Regis. So I went back to the beach, bought a lolly and got the book out.

Having got tied up with all the diversions I had forgotten to study the final part of the day's walk, and imagined it was straightforward from now on. I'd forgotten Golden Cap was to come, the highest point on the south coast. The climb out of Charmouth is quite steep, and the geology is interesting, not to mention the prehistory. I didn't see any fossils, though I did see a few people looking for them. It is clear that land slips continually happen and there are plenty of instances where there has been a drop of a few feet and a small crevice between. On other occasions you see cracks and wonder how long before that bit falls away.

After the first climb, it levels out and undulates, sometimes descending rather further than one would wish, bearing in mind the climb ahead. Then the ascent proper begins, not as steep as in some places, just continuous. When I got to the top I could see it was raining in Lyme Regis, and in the other direction quite a storm was brewing, but it was fine where I was.

I was glad I was not travelling in the opposite direction, as the descent to Seatown is continuous, right down to the sea. The path into Chideock was rather muddy, but I found Broadlands OK at the second attempt.

Day 6 to Upalong, Abbotsbury DT3 4JT

A more straightforward day's walking but rain all morning, and very little sign of sun. Once again I left my walking pole behind and had to buy a new one at West Bay. There was quite a bit of ups and downs, the path out of West Bay being surprisingly steep. At this point the chalk cliffs change to red sandstone and are less pronounced, and disappear after Burton Beach, where Chesil Beach starts in earnest.

The official path at this point goes behind the beach, but I missed the signpost, and plodded along the beach, which is hard work among the pebbles. In fact this part of the beach is closed to the public from May to August for conservation reasons but I only discovered that at West Bexington. The path I should have taken rejoins the beach a mile or so before there, so some slog is unavoidable. Eventually a track emerges behind the beach which makes life a lot simpler. There is a car park below the road from Abbotsbury, and it is back to the shingle for about 200 yards when the path to Abbotsbury appears.

Day 7 to Weymouth

The signposts out of Abbotsbury were slightly confusing in that it was not always clear whether they were to the coast path, and if they were, in which direction. However I headed to the Swannery, and it was all clear after that. That was apart from one slight doubt when a signpost could have been pointing into a field or down a road. However there was no obvious exit from the field, and the guidebook explained that you then climbed onto the ridge, and that was clear down the road.

The day's walk was generally very flat, but the mud cumulatively was one of the worst since Minehead. Quite early on the route crossed two fields with a gate between them and cattle were using both fields. Consequently the area around the gate was a quagmire. I just about got through without the mud covering my boots, but shortly after that I met the farmer who was apologetic about the state of the ground, and explained that he has sometimes had to rescue people who got stuck. However it was otherwise very pleasant walking, and very isolated. There were no facilities at all until close to Weymouth.

For the first couple of miles or so it was tracks and field crossings away from any water. You then come to the Fleet, and thereafter you walk alongside it virtually the rest of the way. At Tidmoor Point the firing range was in use, so a detour was necessary. At that point you think you are nearly there, but the mud got distinctly worse. The path also got very narrow at times and the vegetation quite thick, so that progress was not easy. As the Ferrybridge Inn came in sight I saw two women walking on the shoreline, rather than trying to follow the path. I should have got the hint as almost at the very end there was a section with deep mud and no way round on dry land, and this time the mud did come over my boots. About 100 yards later I was on the main road, with no opportunity to shuffle through wet grass, which previously had been the easiest way to remove mud.

The rain had mainly held off so far that day, but it started to come down heavily for the 45 minute walk to the centre of Weymouth. Luckily I just had time to pick up my rucksack from the Gloucester House Hotel, who had kindly agreed to look after it, and catch the train home.

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