Walk - Devon Cliffs - Orcombe Point
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the South Beach Café in Devon Cliffs, with your back to the beach, turn left onto the South West Coast Path as it heads towards Exmouth and follow it through the holiday park.
- Go through the gate out of the park, up the hill, to carry on along the Coast path through the High Land of Orcombe, ignoring the footpath to your right, until you come to Orcombe Point.
- Here the path splits. Carry on along the Coast Path to the left, or take the higher path to the right: they join up again a little way ahead. The lower path has an optional detour down a rough path to an astonishing sandstone plateau. This forms the beach at Rodney Point when the tide is out.
The Geoneedle at Orcombe Point was commissioned from public artist, sculptor and designer Michael Fairfax to commemorate the opening of the World Heritage Site. It was unveiled by HRH the Prince of Wales in 2002. It is constructed of the various rock types found along the World Heritage coastline and represents the sequence of rocks deposited along it. These are:
Permian sandstone, a red rock laid down in desert conditions;
White lias and Blue lias, types of limestone which are layered between clay and shale respectively;
Ham hill, a shelly, coarse-grained limestone;
Forest marble, a hard, oolitic limestone (one where the rock has formed in small round grains);
Portland stone, a white-grey limestone formed in shallow, sub-tropical seas;
Purbeck marble, a fossiliferous limestone formed from the densely-packed shells of the freshwater snail Viviparus;
and Beer stone, a creamy-white, fine-textured limestone.
The son of an Anglo-Irish poet who co-founded the Arvon Foundation and a Russian Jew who fled from Nazi Germany, Michael Fairfax is a sculptor who makes the most of a site and the materials around it 'to create a visual coherence with the environment'. In the last 25 years he has worked with numerous arts organisations, county councils, borough councils and district councils, designing many original and inspiring works of art in a wide assortment of venues.
The beach at Rodney Point is a striking platform of red rock that is a part of the Exmouth Sandstone Formation. This was formed during the Triassic period, about 200-250 million years ago, at a time when Devon and Dorset were south of the equator and a hot, dry desert. The vivid colour of the rock is due to the presence of iron oxides, which formed in the absence of organic material.
The platform, some distance above the beach, is a marine abrasion platform, or a raised beach. It was formed by wave action on the rocks after the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. Sea levels then were 8-10 metres higher than they are now.
Orcombe Point is the first port of call on the journey along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The Dorset and East Devon coastline was England's first natural World Heritage Site. The site celebrates 95 miles of internationally important rocks displaying 185 million years of the Earth's history. World Heritage sites are designated 'places of outstanding universal value' by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), and the Jurassic Coast is a geological walk through time, spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods as illustrated by the Geoneedle.
- Where the two paths meet above the start of the seafront, there is again a choice of route: along the high path above the cliff or along Queen's Drive.
From the seafront detour ahead into the sand dunes - ideal for a picnic! The sandy soil here is the perfect habitat for many insects, including some rare solitary bees (harmless to humans) which nest in tiny tunnels in the ground. Among the birds feeding on the abundance of insects are skylarks: listen out for them singing loudly overhead.
Some unusual plants, too, thrive here in the harsh conditions, including the silver-leaved sea holly (actually a member of the carrot family) and the hare's foot clover, whose long pink flowers really do resemble a furry paw!
- From Queen's Drive turn right after the car park and carry on across the roundabout to take Maer Lane, ahead.
If you are on the higher path turn left on Foxhole's Hill, by the car park, and then turn right onto Maer Lane at the roundabout. Carry on to the junction.
- At the junction fork right and follow Gore Lane gently uphill, bearing sharp left with it after the Bristol Schools Camp and carrying on ahead, past the footpath to the coast, to return to Devon Cliffs.
The Bristol Schools Camp is an outdoor centre owned by the National Trust which provides accommodation under canvas for the use of schools and other youth groups, primarily from the Bristol area. It was first used for this in 1928, by the Church Lads Brigade.