South West Coast Path: Undercliffs and Lyme Regis

In which: indecision rules my rucksack saves my head ● I complete the Undercliffs Nature Reserve ● the delightful Cobb beckons ● an ice-cream tempts ● the land continues in motion

Date: 2 October 2020
Time of walk: 1130 to 1605
Today’s walking: 14.8 km
Progress along SWCP: 6.9 km
Estimated ascent: 500 metres

In this holiday in which I had no fixed plan for where to walk when, today’s weather forecast added to my uncertainty, and I arrived at Lyme Regis in the car still not quite decided whether to walk east to Charmouth where I’d started from yesterday, but I decided there was enough time for a short walk into the Undercliffs first, return to the car to eat lunch, then walk on to Charmouth and back. After a couple of hundred metres, I changed my mind, returned to the car to collect my lunch, and set off for a longer walk westwards into the Undercliffs.

As I walked through the semi-urban fringe, I paused for a few seconds to fiddle with my rucksack, and as I started walking again, a substantial branch (several kilos) fell onto the ground immediately in front of me – I’m not quite sure whether without the rucksack, it would have fallen behind me or on me, but it was a close thing.

I pressed on across the open cliff tops, and then entered the woodland of the Undercliffs. Signs warned of the arduous nature of the walk, but though it wasn’t an easy forest stroll, it was not untypical of many sections of the coastal path, just surrounded by vegetation rather than tending to be more open.

The rocks of the Undercliffs gradually get older as one heads west, about 185 million years old at the Lyme Regis end, increasing to 210 million years old at the western, Seaton end.

I passed along the landslide below the Pinhay Cliffs where there is a gap in the vegetation with a bench giving a good view out to sea. Someone’s key was sitting on the bench, hopefully, perhaps naively, awaiting the return of its owner.

On past undercliffs below the Whitlands cliffs, this being formed by huge landslides in 1765 and 1840. The slumping of the ground seawards has left hollows either side of the path and the whole experience is rather odd – it feels so settled and permanent, but reflects regular upheaval and change on a scale we don’t usually experience on the tiny timescales of humans.

I was aiming for the parish boundary as my turn-around point. Just short of it I found a little bench with an excellent and rare view of the sea, which would also be easy to identify for when I travelled from the other direction. Being a completer, though, I pressed on a short while further to make sure I’d crossed the parish boundary, before returning to the bench for a drink.

Views of the sea and the coast were rare, it mostly being hidden by the dense vegetation. This is the view from the little bench near my turn-around point, to be my destination later in the holiday when walking from the other direction. From here I headed gradually back eastwards to Lyme Regis…
Cliffs from the undercliffs
The view out to sea from the bench at Pinhay Cliffs
As I approached the car park on the western edge of Lyme Regis, I turned right and descended steeply through woodland to emerge on to the sea front.
The busy beach, with the cliffs of my route running above
The Cobb at Lyme Regis. The walk along the upper level, where I’m standing for this photo, was interesting, being significantly angled down behind me into the sea, and with no railings or other protection on either side, no railings on the steps up and down. Definitely wouldn’t get past H&S if opened nowadays (but then neither would the coast path). There was reasonable grip in good footwear on a fairly dry surface, but I don’t think I’d have been up here if it had been wet.
From the end of the old cobb, the modern extension, pointing almost directly at Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast.
I pressed on along the pleasant sea front, briefly tempted by an ice cream but there were a good few people about and after several hours on my own I was in my typical coast-path “I don’t want to deal with crowds” frame of mind.
The section of coast from Lyme to Charmouth (the white spot towards the right) is gradually sliding into the sea, as hinted at by the various ledges of changing land levels, but the eastern end of the town, which has suffered from landslides over the decades, is now partially protected by the solid concrete sea-wall, which makes a good promenade.
Some impressive banding in the sedimentary rocks. Good for fossils – which is what the people on the beach are looking for (as well as giving some scale to the picture).
The walk along the sea wall was reversed for a little while, then I turned up a long flight of steps to a car park which by now I planned to visit later in the holiday for the start of the walk to Charmouth. Today, I turned down the hill back into Lyme Regis, before heading off through some delightful little streets on my way back to the car, including this scene with the River Lim (right) and the leat to the mill (left) passing through Lyme.


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