My boots aren’t the only thing slipping and sliding after all the heavy rain. The geology of the cliffs on this part of the coast makes them particularly unstable and prone to landslips. We had already walked through Hooken Undercliff, the result of an 18th century landslide, on our way into Beer yesterday. Barely a mile further on from last night’s campsite we came upon a more recent landslip to the west of Seaton. The day before, a section of the Old Beer Road had dropped by a metre after the cliff in front of it slid down to the beach.
The road has been closed to vehicles indefinitely and the Coast Path is apparently being diverted. At the time we passed, however, the signs had not yet been put up and the only diversion we were aware of was to the pavement on the other side of the street. We shared it with a host of equally clueless and/or curious bystanders, all gazing with eager interest at the chasm in the Tarmac, until it occurred to me that where one bit of cliff had gone some more might follow. We hurried down to the safety of the town and it’s solid promenade – at sea level by design.
But the majority of today’s walk was based around another historic landslip: the Axemouth – Lyme Regis Undercliffs. Now an 800 acre National Nature Reserve, the Undercliffs were formed when around 8 million tons of soil and rock slid down the cliffs on Christmas Eve 1839. Originally farmland – the crop of wheat and turnips that had been planted before the slip were harvested in celebration the following summer! – the area is now dense woodland, and extremely muddy. A lady we met in Beer, who holidays in the area for several weeks each year, told us it normally took her two and a half hours to walk to Lyme from Seaton. After negotiating countless steps and picking our way over tree roots in the thick slippery mud it took us nearer four. But it could have been worse. We passed numerous trees that had fallen over the pathway, presumably victims of the recent wind and rain. The sawdust from their removal was still fresh on the path; if we’d come past a few days ago we might have had some additional obstacles to our progress.
Keeping our balance in the mud while carrying large backpacks was exhausting – and not wholly successful. Surprisingly, given that I’m generally acknowledged to be the clumsy member of the party, it was Rob who slipped on the steps, possibly because he’d chosen a less than ideal moment to take off his sunglasses. As he put down his hand to break his fall the glasses he was holding were caught in the action and it looked at first as though they’d been critically injured. But fortunately, after a good wash and some minor repairs, both the sunglasses and Rob emerged from the accident perfectly functional, if a little more scratched than before.
It was a relief to reach Lyme Regis and the bliss of a metalled road. But the landslips weren’t finished with us yet. On leaving the town the Coast Path has been extensively diverted to avoid a whole series of them.
But having seen what’s happened at Seaton this week I was just as happy to be camped a mile or two inland, just to be on the safe side!