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Up and Under - a walk around Beer

PUBLISHED: 12:41 29 March 2011 | UPDATED: 11:06 09 October 2012

This exhilarating but demanding coastal walk combines fascinating geology with superb views, writes Robert Hesketh

This exhilarating but demanding coastal walk combines fascinating geology with superb views, writes Robert Hesketh

Distance: 5km (3 miles) Time: 134 hours Exertion: Demanding


1 Face the sea. Turn right, signed Coast Path Branscombe Mouth. Enjoy the view to Beer beach, where the fishing boats are winched up on the shingle and beach huts nestle under the cliff. Across the bay are the red sandstone cliffs of Seaton and beyond them the Axmouth/Lyme Undercliffs, complementary to the Hooken Undercliffs we will explore shortly they were largely created by a huge landslip in 1839. The views stretch on along the Dorset coast to Portland Bill. Follow the Coast Path to Beer Head, Englands most westerly chalk headland with its distinctive rock pinnacles, before turning west.

2 When the Coast Path divides, turn left through a kissing gate signed Coast Path Branscombe Mouth. Follow this path steeply downhill via steps and then along below the cliffs for 1.5km (1mile), but please mind your footing. Keep to the path to avoid unexpected fissures.
In descending to the Undercliff path, we have moved through a cross section of geological time, where the relatively young white chalk overlies the more ancient golden lias below. he immediate and geologically very recent cause of the landslip which formed Hooken Undercliffs was heavy rain. One night in 1790, this caused the top layer of chalk and greensand to slide over the layer of clay which separated it from the lias below. Four hectares (nearly ten acres) of land slipped 60m down and moved 200m seaward. The result looked devastating at the time, but the landslip had created a new habitat with its own sheltered microclimate. However, Nature is resilient. The Undercliffs were soon colonised, and are now covered in dense vegetation, which supports a rich variety of birds and insects. Lime loving plants such as the wayfaring tree, spindle, milkwort and scabious that thrive in chalky soil are notable. As well as plants and trees there is much else to remark. Look up to spot an adit high up in the cliff face, part of Beer Quarry where stone has been cut since Roman times. Watch too for birds of prey wheeling above and screaming gulls nesting in the cliffs.

3 Reaching a mobile home park, continue ahead on a track Branscombe Mouth as far as the entrance gate. Turn sharp right, Public Footpath Hooken Cliffs Beer. Its a steep climb, relieved in parts by steps, but the view westwards along the Jurassic Coast from the bench at the top is magnificent. The path is nearly level from here along the top of the cliffs.

4 Just beyond a tower (the old Coastguard lookout), bear left Public Bridleway. Join the chalk track from the tower. Cross the cattle grid and continue to a tarmac lane. Follow it downhill to the car park.

Points of Interest...

Superb views of the Jurassic Coast

Unparallelled views of Hooken Undercliffs from below

Geology: the landslip which created the Undercliffs in 1790 revealed a cross section of geological time

A special micro climate: the Undercliffs shelter a rich variety of plants, insects and birds


Terrain: Coast Path, field paths and short lane section. One tough ascent and one steep descent relieved by steps

Child/dog friendly: Suitable for older children and dogs on leads

Start: Beers Cliff Top car park, SY 228 888

Maps: Ordnance Survey Landranger 192 or Explorer 116

Refreshments: Choice of pubs, cafes and restaurants in Beer

Public Transport: Bus X53 Exeter/Poole daily, 899 Sidmouth/Seaton Mon-Sat, 0871 200 2233, travelinesw.com

Photos by Robert Hesketh

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