East Devon walk: Branscombe and the Jurassic Coast
PUBLISHED: 11:08 12 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:08 12 April 2016
Starting in Branscombe, one of Devon's most picturesque and flower-rich villages (and one of England's longest), this 'walk through time' explores the countryside and cliffs along a section of the remarkable Jurassic Coast. The geology of this 95-mile stretch of coastline reflects 185 million years of the Earth's rocky history
Terrain: A ‘figure-of-eight’ walk with field, woodland and coast paths. Sometimes rough or muddy underfoot. Brief section of lane in village
Directions to start: Branscombe is in East Devon, signed off the A3052 east of Sidmouth
Start point: Branscombe Village Hall. Post code: EX12 3DB. Grid ref: SY197887
Parking: Car park behind village hall with ‘honesty’ wishing well
Public transport: Buses serve Branscombe, details from www.travelinesw.com
Map: OS Explorer 115, Exmouth & Sidmouth and OS Explorer 116, Lyme Regis & Bridport
Distance: 4¼ miles/6.8km Toilets: Behind village hall and at Branscombe Mouth
Dog friendliness: Good
Refreshments: Fountain Head Inn, Street, Branscombe, EX12 3BG (01297 680359); Masons Arms, Branscombe, EX12 3DJ (01297 680300); Old Bakery Tea Rooms, Branscombe, EX12 3DB (01297 680333); Sea Shanty Beach Café, Branscombe Mouth, EX12 3DP (01297 680577). Opening times vary seasonally
1. From the village hall car park turn right along the lane, passing the thatched forge (right) and tea gardens (left). Follow the lane uphill to the church where a footpath sign directs you through the gates into the churchyard. Follow the surfaced path to the church and as you reach the building a path goes left off the surfaced path, away from the church, passing between the graves and yew trees. Follow this for less than 100 metres to a stile leading out of the churchyard.
About 30metres from the stile, cross the footbridge and follow the path uphill through the field, heading towards the tree line with the field boundary on your right. At the trees another stile leads into the woods. Cross this and ascend the steps beyond, winding up through the trees to another stile. Beyond this turn left, still going slightly uphill under trees, fence to the left.
2. Ascend to a broad crossing path, the South West Coast Path. Go left – although not immediately visible, the sea is to your right. At a kissing gate, where a sign indicates the National Trust land of West Cliff, continue ahead, ignoring the stile on the left after the kissing gate. In about 150 metres the path emerges from trees. Continue in the same direction across the top of the field with lovely views left across the valley and village. The path re-enters trees and goes through another kissing gate, still on the coast path. When you reach a right fork keep ahead unless you wish to go right to the viewpoint – in which case be cautious, it is a precipitous drop. The coast path starts to descend; ignore any turns off and keep ahead. You emerge from the trees to an impressive view across Branscombe Mouth.
The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are spectacular. It was in this bay that MS Napoli was beached in 2007 and Branscombe made the national news. Much damage was caused to wildlife and people flocked here from all over the country, magnetised by the prospect of “pickings for all”. An eclectic cargo, from dog food to BMW motorbikes, walked off the beach. Keep descending on the coast path. Wooden-edged steps make it slightly easier and these drop to a crossing path, turn right and immediately left to another kissing gate – you are basically heading in the same direction all the way through here. Continue down the field towards a substantial house, sea still to your right. At the bottom of the field go through a gateway into the next field and head diagonally down the field, towards the sea and the thatched Sea Shanty Beach Café. Outside it is the salvaged anchor from MS Napoli.
3. From the Sea Shanty cross the footbridge over the river, or wade through the ford, then pass through a kissing gate on the right with a fingerpost pointing towards Beer village, two miles away. This area is East Cliff. Follow the path for Beer heading up the right-hand side of the field towards a gate, sea still to the right. he path climbs to meet a concrete track leading into the beautifully-located and quite sensitively laid-out Sea Shanty Caravan Park. Walk ahead on the main track through the site until, just over 100metres from the entrance, a narrow footpath goes right. Take this, following a section of the coast path that traverses the remarkable habitat of the Hooken Undercliff.
This area was formed one night in 1790 when about ten acres of cliff slumped towards the sea. The land dropped about 60metres leaving prominent chalk pinnacles and the tangled remains of what had been clifftop fields and hedges. The seaward pressure of the slip caused a reef to rise just off the coast, raising the previous day’s lobster pots with it. Later, during the 19th century, the Undercliff was used to cultivate potatoes. Enjoy tree-framed glimpses of the sea with magnificent cliffs towering above – all part of the Jurassic Coast and the haunt of peregrines. The undulating path through the Undercliff continues for almost a mile. Towards its end, glance back at the cliffs beneath, which you’ve walked for a good view of an elevated cave and its petrified guardian. The path starts to ascend and becomes stepped, heading left up the cliff – don’t go right as that way lies a sudden drop. Continue uphill, until you eventually emerge from the Undercliff area at a kissing gate and three-way fingerpost.
4. Here turn left, away from Beer, walking back across the top of the Hooken Cliffs towards Branscombe Mouth. Go through another gate, beyond which is an old lookout with adjacent cottage. Keep straight ahead past it, sea to the left. Beyond the lookout, at the end of the field, keep going in the same direction, re-entering the National Trust land of East Cliff. Follow the clear path and a wooden post shows that a bridleway diverges to the right, but the footpath you need is straight on, dropping down into the valley towards the Sea Shanty. There are big views across Branscombe village from here.
At a fingerpost with diminutive fingers sporting the coast path acorn symbol, head down the steps, knees firmly in gear. Cross a stile and keep descending. Re-cross the concrete track to the caravan park, retracing your steps to the Sea Shanty. Walk past its entrance towards the back of the building and turn right, looking for the footpath signed for Branscombe Village, less than one mile away. This is where you are heading.
5. Follow this clear path, crossing a footbridge after about 250metres and continuing towards Branscombe Village, as shown on the fingerpost just after the bridge.
About 700metres from the footbridge you reach barns where the path emerges near another fingerpost. Here go left, shown as ‘public footpath link to coast path’ heading for the National Trust’s Manor Mill. At the mill buildings walk up the slope between them and go through the second small gate on the right, adjacent to these buildings.
6. Walk through the field, stream to your left, passing through a double gate over a footbridge. At the end of the next small field pass through another gate and cross another bridge. This well-trodden path leads through a series of small fields and across rivulets until you find yourself walking through an orchard leading to the Old Bakery Tea Gardens.
This is just across the lane from your start point. Whether or not tea awaits depends on the time of year, but Branscombe’s real ale inns are a good alternative with which to finish the walk. w
Next month we go off the beaten track to Kennerleigh
What to look out for:
- Seasonal floral displays/open garden
- Features of the Jurassic Coast and Hooken Undercliff
- MS Napoli’s anchor
- Peregrine falcons above the cliffs
- Superb views
- Occasional dolphins
Like this? Check out 10 Beautiful Coastal Walks In Devon: And What To Look Out For Along The Way