Seaton to Lyme Regis through the Undercliff
Seaton to Lyme Regis: Path closed – alternative route
March 2014: The 5 miles (7.6km) of the South West Coast Path between Axmouth and near to the Devon/Dorset border at Lyme Regis is closed as a 'through route' due to damage to the path caused by an active landslip at Culverholme. You can however still explore the Undercliff National Nature Reserve as a there and back walk as far as the closed section at Culverholme.
For through walkers the options are either to catch the bus from Axmouth through to Lyme Regis (details of bus times can be found at Traveline SW), or to follow the alternative route described below.
The South West Coastal path runs through the the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs NNR from Axmouth Harbour to the Cobb Harbour at Lyme Regis. The walk is 7 to 8 miles long, 5 miles of which pass through the Undercliffs NNR.
The alternative route:
Distance 8.4miles - allow 2hrs 45mins to 3hrs 15mins
Grading after an initial climb - easy
As shown on the map below (diversion shown in blue) , in the main, the alternative walk is on very minor country lanes, with some bridleways and footpaths. There are some excellent countryside and latterly coastal views. The route passes through a private estate with a very pretty church and grand former manor house, and further along, passes very close to an impressive viaduct on the former Axminster to Lyme Regis railway line.
The route has been made into a pdf with directions from both Seaton and Lyme Regis along with a map of the route. Download the pdf here.
Background to the Undercliff and the land slip
The section of Coast Path that runs through the Undercliff National Nature Reserve crosses one of the largest and active coastal landslip systems in Western Europe and this has created a spectacular woodland wilderness. However this geology means that the whole area can become unstable after periods of heavy rain.
The area around Culverholm, part way through the reserve, has started to slide between Christmas and New Year which has resulted in the path becoming unsafe – see this feature from the Western Morning News that explains more.
As a result the Coast Path has been closed whilst we await for the ground to dry out, and we are able to see if the area stabilises and whether an alternative route avoiding this section can be constructed, but this is likely to be the summer at the earliest. News of any progress towards this will be posted here.
Once on the footpath, it is not possible to divert off the path to reach the road (A3502) which runs between Seaton and Lyme Regis, or the shore line which at times appears to be so close by. Walkers who decide not to complete the walk have a choice of either turning back or continuing to the end.
Access is restricted to the path in the nature reserve, it is not allowed to strike off the path into the woods as they are a protected nature reserve and the dense undergrowth hides a hazardous terrain.
Although part of the South West Coastal Path, the sea is rarely glimpsed as most of the walk is underneath and in dense tree cover.
Walkers should wear suitable footwear, such as hiking boots or rigid, gripping soled shoes. Smart trainers, sandals, flip flops or Wellington boots are not recommended. It is also advisable to wear long trousers, not shorts and to take a drink and possibly a snack.
The dense tree cover and steep slopes do keep the rain off the path, so it is rarely muddy unless there has been sustained heavy rain. Parts will become muddy at times due to the numerous trampling feet that pass along it.
The many stones and flints on the surface of the path become slippery with dew and moisture and can cause slips and falls. A walking stick or hiking pole is a useful piece of kit to have with you when descending the steep slippery slopes.
From the Seaton end, the path starts at the entrance to the very steep driveway of the Axe Cliff Golf Club. It passes through the golf course and up a 'green lane' until a sign post directs you right through fields towards the sea.
A short walk through rough pasture land leads to a signpost pointing downwards into the undercliff. From now on there will only be occasional glimpses of the sea.
The path twists and turns, climbs and descends through the undercliff. The National Trust Wardens have created steps in the slopes which make the going safer but no less strenuous. The bushes either side of the path give way to woodland and the path is soon under the tree cover in a green, wild undergrowth, constantly up and down slopes with treacherous slippery stones and tree roots underfoot.
Past the Rousden Estate, parts of the path have been turned into garden walks and the going is easier, however its soon back into the twisty climbs and descents.
As you come out of the Undercliff NNR, the path does become easier, parts of it are tarmac! and the path turns into a pleasant stroll through the Ware Nature Reserve down eventually to Monmouth Beach and the Cobb.
Walkers should allow 3-4 hours to walk from Seaton to Lyme Regis through the Undercliff. It can be done quicker. Runners who do not stop to take in the surroundings will do it in 1½ hours.
Do the walk in daylight. It is best to start early in the morning, 9.30am at the latest if you intend to get to Lyme or Seaton in time to have a well deserved lunch in one of the pubs.
You can then catch the x53 bus back to where you started from, Seaton or Lyme.
This walk can be done at any time of the year, in the winter you see more of the tumbled landscape and shore as the leaf cover has gone. In the spring the woods are full of wild garlic and many other wild flowers. In the summer and autumn, its a green jungle.
View Seaton to Lyme Regis Undercliffs walk in a larger map
- Distance: 7 miles.
- Time: 3½ to 4 hours.
- Height Range: Sea level to 80 metres.
- Path: strenuous and demanding.
- Hills: steep.
The Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliff.
This section of the East Devon and Dorset coast line has been prone to land slips for thousands of years.
Although land slips still occur due to the instability of the ground and cliffs, the largest and most spectacular landslip of recent times occurred on the coast line at Dowlands Cliffs between Axmouth and Lyme Regis in 1839.
The Undercliff was formerly open rough pasture at the top of the cliffs, grazed by sheep and rabbits. At Christmas time in 1839, a large tract of land below Bindon Manor and Dowlands Farm slipped down towards the sea, creating ravines and a rough, torn up landscape.
New islands were formed as the sea bed was forced upwards by the displacement of the cliffs above. Parts survived the slip relatively intact. Goat Island which was once part of a field at the top of the cliffs, is now a plateau much lower down. At the time of the slip it carried with it its crop of wheat, which was then harvested the following year and sold as souvenirs to the many sightseers who visited the area.
During the 20th century the landslip has become heavily overgrown as it is too dangerous for sheep to graze safely in and the numbers of rabbits has declined due to myxomatosis.
The cliff tops are 100m – 150m above sea level with the landslip sharply dipping down to 20m above sea level.
This forms a landscape which is sheltered from the worst of the weather and benefits from its own micro climate.
The Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliff National Nature Reserve is the largest self sown ash woodland in Britain.