Wednesday, 2 March 2011

South Devon coast-walking

This is more like it! Spring is in the air. If you don't know how to tell that in the UK, here's a tip: the rain gets warmer and the wind blusters around you when you go out, trying playfully to tease your coat from your shoulders. It's a little like the old fable about the sun and the wind, competing to persuade a man to take his coat off as a test of which was the superior weather: the wind huffs and puffs, blows and blusters and all the man does is clutch his coat around himself. The sun shines bright and hot, and foom!: off comes the coat. Being Britain, of course, the wind then gets in on the act again and the coat goes back on. Then the sun tries again, and off comes the coat - and then the rain gets in on the act and you start all over again...

Still, Spring seems to be springing - the birds are singing more consistently, and it's easier and easier to find flowers out there: the first Celandines I'd noticed last week suddenly followed by Early (I think) Dog-violet, Primrose, and a few Red Dead-nettles. The glossy shield-shapes of Cuckoopint leaves are prominent in the base of the hedgerows, and a flush of green is climbing up from them, as Cleavers, nettles and Red Campion get themselves going for the year. All in all, it's pretty heartening.

We walked from Sidmouth to Branscombe, following the beach between Seaton Mouth and Branscombe, returning along the South West coast-path on a blustery, showery, invigorating day. The climb out of Sidmouth led to superb views west along the coast, with the town sprawled white in the valley, the old red sandstone cliffs rising abruptly to the west, levelling off to the flat land around Otterton and then drifting into an increasingly blue distance. The lines of showers were clear to see, marching down the flanks of Dartmoor and through the South Hams.

Sidmouth and the western cliffs

We continued on to Seaton Mouth, choosing to skirt the land and follow the shingle beach east. We distracted ourselves for a while looking at a plethora of fossils in some of the more recent landslip - all shells and tracks, patterns and marks, but fascinating to muse on, especially when you start to think about the layers with and without fossils, and the periods of time that elapse between.

The long trudge along the shingle was brightened by Rock Pipits flustering from the tideline, Peregrines gliding effortlessly overhead and the occasional presence of clumps of Coltsfoot, shining yellow on the pinky-red sandstone.


The western fringe of the Jurassic Coast, looking east towards the Isle of Portland

The foot of the cliff is also marked along this section by lines and streaks of salmon-pink stone, which occasionally twist and contort into shattered-mirror fragments, hinting at some cataclysmic event millions upon millions of years in the past. Of course, I could be utterly wrong about that. For periods the pink stripes are mirrored by a soft blue-grey clayey material which must have been somewhat softer than the surrounding sands or muds, as it appears in blotches and dots either side of the main stripe: rather as if a painter had walked several miles along the beach with a pot of grey paint, occasionally shaking the excess off their brush or carelessly dripping onto the rocks either side.


Branscombe Mouth from the top of the slope to the west. It's a steep old climb, but on a day like this, the view is well worth it.

We eventually reached Branscombe, scarfed a welcome ice-cream, and headed back along the mud-slicked coast-path, trudging up a series of punishing hillsides, then coasting along the level tops, before plunging back to the valley floors. The brisk northerly wind made it a very good idea to keep moving at a steady pace, admiring the view which was now shower-free, and clear all the way to north Dartmoor, nearly 40 miles to the west.

Looking west towards Seaton in the distance

Couldn't resist messing with the exposure

A gratuitous picture of spring-like stuff for you

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