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.

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