Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A Voyage to Goat Island

Goat Island was formed in the Bindon Landslip on the East Devon coast on December 24-25th. 1839. An irregular coastal strip of arable land, about three-quarters of a mile in length and about one field in breadth slumped and was projected forward into the sea leaving a deep chasm behind it. The area, now known as Goat Island can still be identified in the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. The chasm also remains, though choked with dense woodland and prolific undergrowth. Low level stewardship on Goat Island has helped to retain an area of chalk grassland and an especially fine habitat for butterflies and orchids.

We walked to Goat Island via Stepps Lane and the South West Coast Path – some of it is rough walking with steep and irregular steps to negotiate but not exceptionally strenuous. Much of the route is graced with fine sea views and the Undercliff area offers a uniquely wild experience. Goat Island itself is mostly grassland and scrub with views to the north of the chasm and to the south, a view of the foot of the Landslip and the open sea. Yesterday, May 31st. we had just about maximum visibility with a clear sight of Portland Bill to the east and Start Point to the south-west. It’s not the place for a barbecue or picnic and access is not widely publicised to minimise the impact of human presence on the much valued and unique diversity of plant and animal life for which Natural England is responsible. In the past access was virtually unrestricted and Landslip Cottage (as shown in postcard) served refreshments to the many visitors.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Harpford Common

These photos were taken on an Easter Sunday walk on Harpford Common, taking in the woodland on Core Hill and the heathland on Fire Beacon Hill. A day of brilliant sunshine and a chill breeze, contrasts of light and shadow were at their most intense on the floor of the woods where spring foliage will soon prevent the sunlight from reaching. On a day when the coastal towns and villages are likely to be teeming with visitors, lightly frequented and secluded locations like this can be a much better option. From the high heathland there are expansive views to the coast and to the Exe Valley and Dartmoor in the west. The woods are full of mature specimens that shelter the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. To get there, follow the Exeter road through Sidford and, avoiding any temptation to turn left into Waitrose, take the next on the right. After no more than a mile, there’s a small parking area where the tarmac gives way to a muddy track. Follow the track to reach the common or turn right into the woods.

Friday, 13 March 2009

A coastal walk to Pound’s Pool

One of the lowest tides of the year occurred yesterday at about 13.00 providing an opportunity to walk south and west along Beer Beach to visit Pound’s Pool. The chalk cliffs of Beer are the most westerly chalk cliffs along the south coast and shelter the beach from the worst of the prevailing southwesterlies. It’s a shingle and rock scramble but not excessively strenuous and takes little more than half an hour. It is important to check the tides with care because access through the natural arch (known as The Hall) is only safe for an hour or so, either side of exceptionally low tides.

Pound’s Pool is a wide mouthed cove with a shingle beach and looks directly out into the ocean without any sight of land. Visitors are infrequent and it remains unspoilt. It can be a productive source of fossilised sea urchins and there’s a feeling of remoteness without actually being so. Quantities of detritus (mostly in the form of motor vehicle parts) from the wreck of the MSC Napoli continue to extend along the tideline, two years after the event. Beer Head forms a natural conclusion to this exploration. It may be possible to continue to Hooken Beach and Branscombe but it looks as if it would involve some very taxing rock scrambling.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A Coastal Walk, January 10, 2009

Between Lyme Regis and Axmouth lies some 7 miles of Jurassic Coast that can only be accessed by trudging along the foreshore between the two points. The South West Coast Path links Lyme and Axmouth via the Undercliff but it offers only a handful of sea glimpses and there are no rights-of-way leading down to the beach. Last Saturday at 10.00am we headed west along Monmouth Beach with more than 4 hours of rock scrambling and shingle crunching ahead of us.

It’s a test of endurance but especially rewarding for the geology enthusiast or the natural historian. There are relics of long abandoned human activity along most of the route beginning with a short section of narrow gauge rail track that has survived on Monmouth Beach. It’s a reminder of the time in the late Nineteenth Century when limestone was quarried from the cliffs for building and Blue Lias was extracted for use in the Cement Works. Cable hauled wagons were employed to convey the stone along the beach to the harbour at the Cobb. According to maps from the 1890’s Monmouth Beach was a centre of industry with a Brick Works in addition to the quarry and Cement Works.

Travelling west, Pinhay Bay marks the junction of the White Lias and Blue Lias beds and the cliff face provides a clear view of the angled landform that enables the geological “Walk through Time”. This is the most westerly exposure of the Jurassic era; west of this point is Triassic. The foreshore is littered with the remains of cliff falls including sections of masonry from long abandoned buildings. Charton Bay has extensive Blue Lias pavements and there’s a majestic cliff at Culverhole Point followed by a mile of shingle before arrival at Axmouth.

For those with an interest in shipwrecks, there’s some rusted remains of a Brixham trawler that came ashore in 1978 and at low tide, remains of an Italian ship (Berra) can be seen. The Berra had a cargo of mahogany and the Peek family (of Peek Frean biscuit fame) helped themselves to the timber and used it to construct a grand staircase at Rousdon Mansion, their stately home that stood a short distance inland. The Peek family made a habit of looting shipwrecks having obtained a quantity of Sicilian marble in the 1890’s by this method.

This walk must be timed to take advantage of low tide. The terrain is rough and strong footwear is essential. In terms of duration, it took us four and a half hours with a half hour break for lunch and frequent stops to take in our surroundings.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Grizzly 2008

There is one day each year when the frequently somnolent town of Seaton can be guaranteed to come, explosively, to life. The second Sunday in March is the date reserved for Seaton based Axe Valley Runners (AVR) to host one of the most demanding multi-terrain races in the country known to one and all as the Grizzly. The course extends west along the East Devon coast through Beer and Branscombe and is designed to include the greatest possible number of near vertical climbs and swampy bogs. Two thousand runners plus family and friends descend on the town over the weekend and the atmosphere is transformed.

Grizzly 2008 was run on March 9th. on a cold day of sunny intervals and squally showers. Compared with some previous runs, the weather was quite benign. The most spectacular sight is the race start when all the runners have to begin with a quarter mile sprint along the pebble foreshore to give them a taste of the testing times ahead. To declare an interest, the younger of our two male descendants has been a member of AVR for about 5 years and made the trip from Paris, where he is a student, to compete in his second Grizzly. His cheerful disposition and well maintained level of fitness carried him through the ordeal with remarkably little in the way of lasting damage. Ten minutes was knocked off his previous time and he finished in just under 3 hours, 2 minutes. The elder and sedentary occupants of Hill House were mightily impressed with this and extend their heartiest congratulations, not just to James, but to all those who contributed to the organisation of such a wonderful event.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Axe Valley Illustrated, 1903

This little book from the series of Mate’s Illustrated Guides provides a fascinating snapshot of Seaton life a century ago. One of the most interesting features is the advertising for local shops and business. All the advertisers proudly display photographs of their premises in their late Victorian splendour and tempt the public with such delights as Gosney’s Neuralgic Mixture, Devonshire Marble Novelties, Axe Vale Hunt Cigarettes and Bread manufactured on scientific principles. Among the services on offer were Horses broken to saddle, a Daily Parcel from London and Every assistance given to Amateurs, Dark rooms at their disposal. Some of these shop premises can be identified today and a few of the traders’ names have survived.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Seaton Beach

A bright start to March today. A sunny morning on Seaton beach looking towards White Cliff and Beer Head. Unusually there's been sand on the beach for some weeks now. How long before the shingle returns?