A holiday in Exmouth, with its trademark colourful beach huts and two-mile stretch of sandy beach, is the perfect seaside resort for all the family: buckets and spades, fish ‘n’ chips and ice cream, rock pooling and paddling, what’s not to love?
But if, like me, you get bored with lounging on the beach, or simply want to explore the surrounding countryside a bit more, head to the end of the seafront and up the zigzag path to the Geoneedle at Orcombe Point, which marks the start of the Jurassic Coast. From here you can take a circular walk that takes in coast and countryside, with stunning views and a little history and geology thrown in for good measure.
Leading up to the five metre high Geoneedle, you can play ‘Jurassic Coast Hopscotch’, jumping on different types of stone that take you through millions of years of geological time from the Triassic (Red Sandstone) to the Cretaceous (Limestone). Don’t be shy, relive your childhood through this game, and learn about the rocks that make up the coastline at the same time.
A little further along the coast, look for a sign post pointing to a permissive path, which will lead you inland across a field to Gore Lane. ‘Permissive Path’ sounds very Victorian to me, and conjures up images of what behaviour might and might not be allowed on such a path, but it simply means that the landowner has allowed it to be used by the public without it being an official right of way.
After a walk through country lanes you come to the village of Littleham, with pretty thatched cottages and farmhouses, and find the Parish Church of St Margaret and St Andrew, which dates back to the 13th Century. Frances, the wife of Lord Nelson is buried here, in a graveyard full of lichen-covered stones and monuments.
The path from the churchyard leads across a field and joins with Route 2 of the National Cycle Network. This stretch is the old Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth Railway Line, opened in 1902 and closed in 1967. With the track lifted, and the tree-lined verges now lush with greenery, the old tar-stained sleepers now acting as path markers, are the only reminders of this once busy line. Picnic benches along the way offer the potential for a picnic stop, and look out for the deer that graze in the fields next to the coppice before you turn on to Castle Lane – we spotted this chap who didn’t seem to mind posing while I tried to work out a good combination of zoom and focus on my camera!
Gingerly through the golf course and you are back on the South West Coast Path, with stunning views all across Exmouth Bay and on to Dawlish beyond. Look out for recent landslips in the dramatic red Triassic stone cliffs that loom to vertiginous depths beneath you, and the wonderful wild flower meadows, full of foxgloves and green-winged orchids.
The final leg of the walk skirts the Sandy Bay, the largest holiday park in the UK, and a Royal Marine shooting range. This, together with an old World War II lookout shelter dented from bullets, further along the path, is a poignant reminder of the importance of this coastline not just for geologists and holiday makers.
South Beach Cafe serves delicious locally-sourced food, and is the ideal spot to relax and replenish, looking down over the beach below. On the way back to the Geoneedle, look out for the information stones with QR codes to learn more about the flora and fauna of the area. There is definitely more to Exmouth than fish and chips on the beach!
By Mary Costello (of Molly and the Princess blog)
All image credits to Mary