The Undercliff, From Axmouth to Lyme Regis

If you are a keen walker, you must try the Undercliff between Axmouth and Lyme Regis. The Undercliff Walk is about 7.5m (12km) from one end to the other, and you really don’t have any choice but to do the whole thing, as there are no opt-out routes inland once you get onto the coastal path. This is clearly marked at either end, and it says to allow 3.5 to 4 hours to do it, which seems fair. It is also marked as a challenging route, with lots of signs highlighting the dangers of uneven surfaces, uneven steps, falling rocks and all sorts of dangers! It is certainly not an easy walk, and does have many steps and (very!) slippery slopes. It is a good energetic yomp, and the rooty, rocky sections will slow you down, so don’t bother trying to beat any records, just enjoy the route.

It is a very interesting walk, as the terrain is quite unlike most of the local landscape. It is not a cliff-top walk with sweeping panoramas like the sections west of Lyme – it follows the contours of land slips along the edge of the coast, often in thick, twisty woodland, which with the monumental creeper-like ivies and clematis and the thick carpets of mosses and ferns giving it quite a jungly feel at times. There are many fallen trees, often crusted in various fungi, ferns and lichens. Other sections are scrubby, and there is a large, open woodland of Holm Oak, which we don’t tend to see around here. The whole area is a National Nature Reserve, and part of the East Devon AONB.

In the summer, when it’s warm and still, all the pockets and dips, sheltered from the sea breezes, are full of butterflies and bees, and it’s beautiful in the spring, with bluebells, wild garlic & wild daffodils.

The Undercliff is one of the largest active coastal landslide systems in Western Europe, and has a pretty cataclysmic event in its history.
Jagged cliffs seem to be held together purely by ivy
On Christmas Day in 1839, 15 acres (6 hectares) of land slipped from the cliff to form a chasm 180 feet (60 metres) deep and ½ mile (800 metres) long. On the seaward side of the chasm a whole area slid in one unbroken piece, and left isolated, quickly became known as Goat Island. At the time, the spectacle drew thousands of tourists, including Queen Victoria, and there is a great display all about it in Lyme Regis Museum. The Bindon Landslide is also well illustrated and explained at Seaton Jurassic. Goat Island is now very important for wildflowers, as it hasn’t seen cultivation or fertiliser since the day it was isolated, making it fantastic for native species.

About halfway along, the path crosses the Peek Estate at Rousdon. The land was bought by the eccentric but generously beneficent Henry Peek, who spent a vast fortune on a mansion house, incredible kitchen gardens, workers accommodation and entertainments, including a vast menagerie of exotic animals and a 100ft bowling alley for his workers. He also set up model schools, and in a revolutionary move, started a school garden and provided the first ever school meals for his often pitifully impoverished pupils. The estate is now a mix of holiday lets and private homes, and is private property, sadly.

Coming into Lyme Regis you can see the Cobb, Lyme Regis and Charmouth in the distance, and the path pops out in the Holmbush car park. There is a cafe there, or you could walk into town for a celebratory coffee at Aroma, and use your Jurassic Coast Card for their breakfast or cream tea special offer!

The varied terrain, Lord-of-the-Rings landscapes and atmospheric scenery made it a good energetic morning and an easy way to manage a long, linear walk, and with buses from Lyme Regis back to Axmouth, it can be done with only one car. Refreshments and parking are available for Jurassic Coast Card holders at Axe Cliff Golf Club, if you let them know you’ll be back for a drink or snack after your walk. Don’t forget, if you need any walking clothing or accessories, it is just a quick trip into Seaton to 4 Seasons, where you can claim 10% off all purchases over £30!

29th January 2018