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Published: June 29th 2016
Budleigh Salterton beach
The beach is known for its multi-coloured pebbles (pinks, whites, grey, black, brown) rather than basic grey
It’s the morning of our last day in East Devon and I’ve been awake since 4:30. At this time of year, pretty much mid-summer, it’s light from about 4:00 am until after 10:00 pm at night. My mobile ringing with a call from Australia didn’t help either (note to self: turn off phone overnight). We’ve been staying in the town/village of Budleigh Salterton which is on the southern coastline of Devon not that far from Exeter and at the western end of the Jurassic Coast. Over the years we’ve considered trying an assisted through-walk along the Jurassic Coast but Terry’s recent leg surgery and our lack of real fitness put a stop to that idea. Our accommodation is part of a barn that has been converted and an adjacent thatched cottage. The thatched cottage is our bedroom and bathroom and it’s joined to the main barn by a glass-roofed sunroom/passageway. The kitchen and dining area is on the floor of the barn and the main sitting room is on a mezzanine floor. The owners live in the main farmhouse in front of the holiday accommodation.
We’re trying to do as much walking as possible on this trip and
so our first day here was just that. We walked into town and from there we walked up the River Otter to the village of Otterton. Like many coastal towns Budleigh Salterton seems to have a largish retired, but affluent, population. The houses that we’ve seen seem quite large, newly renovated and often surrounded by well-maintained gardens. This part of the coastline seems much more relaxed than that of East Sussex – no piers with tacky amusement arcades and no obvious hotels along the front. The Otterton walk had been recommended by our hosts as well as friends in Melbourne. Otterton is a small village of cob and thatch houses, a popular pub and an even more popular café in the old mill. Originally it was a port but over the centuries the river has silted up and is impassable to anything larger than a canoe. There is quite a lot of birdlife on the river and the signposts along the river suggest that otters still live there; however, otters aren’t the reason for the name of the river; it comes from the Saxon word for “water”. Mind you, the chances of seeing an otter must be negligible as most
people walking along the river are accompanied by dogs – mostly happy, wet dogs that spend their time sniffing and presumably swimming. Our biggest decision that day was “Will lunch be cream tea at the Otterton Mill or a beer and something at the Kings Arm pub” – we opted for the pub. After lunch we continued our walk through the village and along country roads and lanes to join the South West Coast Path along the cliff tops. The views of the red-pink cliffs are lovely and over the last week the sea has been calm as a mill-pond. That day also happened to be “Brexit” referendum day and a couple of the people that we had longer chats with mentioned the subject. One man voted to “Remain” for his grandchildren while another made a comment that suggested he was a “Leaver”.
Our second day was similar to Day 1 but this time we walked in the opposite direction into Exmouth. After becoming geographically challenged on the local golf course we eventually found the coastal path and made our way to Exmouth. As its name implies, Exmouth is a town at the mouth of the River
Exe and at one stage I thought that we would never get there. The coast path is punctuated by a huge and unsightly “caravan” (permanent rather than mobile structures) park on the headland that seems to go on forever. I don’t have any objections to caravan parks but the ones that dot the landscape here dominate it and the surrounds are denuded of any vegetation. The mouth of the River Exe seems to be mainly mud flats, or the tide was out for miles, but this combined with the breezy conditions provided a great location for the local kite surfers.
Day 3 here was a Saturday and we were silly enough to decide to go for a drive to explore some of the other nearby coastal towns and villages. First stop was the Otterton Mill for morning tea followed by a drive into Sidmouth along the narrowest lanes and roads that our GPS could find. Sidmouth is larger than Budleigh Salterton with an obvious seafront lined with a few genteel-looking hotels, people lazing in deck chairs enjoying the sun and kids playing amongst the shingle on the beach. Here the kids get into trouble for throwing stones rather than
sand. It was great weather and people were out sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. The town has quite a vibrant shopping precinct and had a nice feel to it – for some strange reason it reminded me of the mall (circa 1985) in Boulder, Colorado.
When I was booking accommodation for this trip I nearly booked a cottage in the village of Branscombe, the next village east from Sidmouth. So, off to Branscombe we went, once again via the narrowest and windiest lanes that our GPS could find. It’s a pretty little village that straggles along the valley, with the beach a short walk away. From Branscombe we went to Beer, also via narrow, windy lanes -unfortunately parking was at a premium and so we were unable to stop. The day will probably go down in my memory as the day of the GPS debacle. We didn’t drive over any cliffs but the route-finding algorithm of the GPS leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand we did see some very pretty scenery.
Yesterday we went further afield to Dartmoor. After a quick look at the walks book in this cottage I chose a walk
called Fingle River and Castle Drogo circuit. We managed to find Fingle Bridge without too many problems and as its name suggests the walk started at a picturesque bridge straddling the River Teign. We followed the river for a few kilometres upstream before starting to climb the hill to Castle Drogo. I loved the section of walk along the river as everything is so green and there are quite a few wildflowers around also. Castle Drogo itself was a bit of a non-event, mainly because it is under renovation to fix the leaking roof. The castle is the last great house built in the UK and was built by a tea tycoon (Julius Drewe) at the turn of the 20th
Century. Drewe was a millionaire by the time he was 32 so he sold up the business and retired. He built Castle Drogo with a flat roof which was sealed using an asphalt membrane that expanded and contracted with temperature changes and so cracked, resulting in the roof leak problem. His son ended up paying the National Trust to take over the castle and so now the leaking roof problem is their problem. Currently the display rooms have been cleared
of furnishings etc and art installations are in place to add some interest. The walk back was through forest and down the hill to the car park and pub adjacent to the bridge and river. On leaving Fingle Bridge we felt as if we hadn’t seen the moors so we came home the long way across the top of Dartmoor itself. More narrow, windy roads – this time with grass growing in them – and we finally found ourselves on the main drag across the moor. The road across the moor is unfenced and so we had to be aware of grazing sheep, cattle and Dartmoor ponies. Many of the mares had foals which was nice to see. I chatted briefly with a local photographer who told me that many of the horses are sold off as horse meat to the continent each year.
Today we went a little further afield, travelling east to Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury. I’d seen some pretty amazing photos of Chesil Beach waves in storm conditions so wanted to see what it looked like normally. It’s pretty impressive; it’s a shingle beach 29 km long, 200 m wide and 15 m high.
There were quite a few fishermen out fishing for mackerel from the beach. At the western end, where we were, there is a lagoon behind the beach called The Fleet and this is home to many varieties of waterbirds. The village of Abbotsbury is what we imagine as a quintessential English village – narrow streets lined with stone houses with thatched roofs but sadly lacking in roses around the doors. We also visited “The Swannery” at Abbotsbury. Not the sort of place that we would normally visit but quite interesting. The Swannery is located on The Fleet Lagoon and was originally established by Benedictine Monks in the 1040s. When Henry VIII dissolved all of the monasteries he sold the swannery to the Strangways family and it has been in their ownership since. There are 150 pairs of swans that nest there permanently but up to 600 swans can call it home over the winter. The owners collect feathers from the moulting swans and some are still converted into quills used by Lloyds to record shipping accidents in the “Doom Book” while others are hand sewn to create the plumes that adorn the helmets of the “Gentlemen at Arms” (the Queen’s
bodyguard). We had hoped to return to Beer for a bit of a walk but heavy rain put a stop to that. So, our final visit was to the Beer Quarry Caves. Visiting a quarry doesn’t sound all that exciting but the tour was really interesting. The quarry was first worked in Roman Times through to the early 20th
Century but a new quarry over the road has been used up until recently. The quarry is underground and has the appearance of a series of huge, inter-connected caverns. These were created by removing huge slabs of limestone that were subsequently used in various buildings including St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and London Bridge. Previously the caves were used to hide smuggled goods and after the war were used to grow mushrooms and rhubarb.
Tomorrow we leave Budleigh Salterton to travel to Ilfracombe in North Devon visiting Exeter on the way.
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