Walk - Devon Cliffs - West Down Beacon
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Facing the sea leave the South Beach Café turning left. Follow the South West Coast Path waynark signs around the edge of Devon Cliffs Holiday Park.
- Keep on the Coast Path towards Budleigh Salterton and follow the clifftop path uphill, leaving the holiday park behind and dropping down some steps into a wooded valley. From here the path climbs steeply uphill again, passing an area of scrub and heathland on the dramatically slumped red cliffs.
Take care near the edge here, as the cliffs are prone to landslides. Keep dogs and small children under close control.
Along here there is a tremendous view of the swathe of red cliffs curving around Littleham Cove.
East Devon is particularly noteworthy for its red sandstone formations, dating back to the Triassic period, some 240 million years ago. The red cliffs here are a sample of the stunning rock formations which have earned the 'Jurassic Coast' of East Devon and Dorset World Heritage status. During the Triassic period, just before the Jurassic period, the rocks formed in desert conditions. Att his time great rivers flowed through the arid landscape depositing thick beds of pebbles and sand. These dried and were compressed into the red cliffs to be seen all around this area.
It is an excellent place to view wildlife. Look out for migrating birds such as swallows, and migrating butterflies such as the clouded yellow and the painted lady, who fly in after a long Channel crossing. Kittiwakes return from long-distance patrols over the sea to nest in colonies on the cliffs between May and June. Watch out for two super-fast predators hunting here: gannets hovering over the water before diving into the water at high speed to pursue the fish they've spotted beneath the surface; and peregrine falcons, whose aerial dives can reach 200 mph as they hurtle down to snatch their prey mid-air.
Grey seals frequent the beach below and can sometimes be seen 'bottling', or resting in the water with their heads held above the surface.
- Passing a bench towards the top of the hill, fork left on the footpath towards Knowle and follow it through the golf course, staying on the waymarked path. Take care as you walk, being aware of golfers and golf balls.
- Carry straight on ahead along the footpath signed to Knowle, keeping to the right of the trees in the Knowle Hill Plantations to cross the Littleham Church path and carry on along the old track to the gate onto the road.
- Ignoring the road to the left and the lane to the right, keep straight ahead along Castle Lane.
- Just before the main road, take the cycleway to the left and follow it for about a mile, ignoring the paths on either side, until you come to the footpath through a kissing gate to the left.
This is part of the Budleigh-Exmouth Cycleway, which runs along the former railway line which linked Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth.
In 1861, the arrival of the railway, linking Exmouth with Exeter, brought with it a dramatic population explosion, and many of the buildings in Exmouth date from this time. In the first five days after the railway opened 10,000 people travelled on it, and by the 1880s there was a substantial volume of commuter traffic between here and Exeter.
Work started on the rail link to Budleigh Salterton in 1899, and it took four years for the labourers to build its many bridges and embankments and cut its path through Knowle Hill. They did this using picks and shovels, with the help of two 'steam navvies' - steam shovels - which they employed at either end of the cutting, eventually meeting in the middle. The line opened in 1903, turning northwards to join the main London and South Western Railway Line.
The Budleigh Salterton line never reached its full potential. By the 1950s it was scarcely used at all. In 1963 it fell foul of the infamous Beeching report, 'The Reshaping of British Railways' and the last train ran in 1967.
The rail traveller's loss is the walker's and cyclist's gain. Like many other former railway lines in the south west, it has been given a broad, flat tarmac surface and redeployed as a cyclepath and footpath. The Budleigh-Exmouth Cycleway was officially opened in 1998 by Lord Clinton, a relative of Mrs Williams-Drummond, daughter of Lady Gertrude Rolle who was the honorary driver of the first train from Tipton St John to Budleigh, in 1897.
The surrounding woods and hedges are home to wealth of wildlife, including foxes, badgers, dormice and bats, as well as adders, lizards, butterflies, dragonflies and rare wood crickets.
- Turn left through the kissing gate and follow the footpath through the fields and into the churchyard.
The original building of the Church of St Margaret and St Andrew dates back to the thirteenth century, and the chancel still survives from that time. Although fully restored in 1884, much of the current building is from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The north aisle, added in 1528, was dedicated to the Drake family, who lived at nearby Spratthayes. There are various memorials to the family within the church. In the chantry chapel there is a memorial to Frances, Viscountess Nelson, by the nineteenth-century Belfast-born Italian sculptor Turnerelli. Lady Nelson, widow of the admiral, died in London but she also had a house in Exmouth and was buried in this churchyard. Her tomb is the one enclosed by railings in the southern corner of the churchyard, to the left of the main lych gate and reached by a series of stepping stones in the grass.
- Coming out through the main lych gate on the far side of the churchyard, turn left on Littleham Road and then bear right onto West Down Lane, signed to Sandy Bay, and follow it back to Devon Cliffs Holiday Park.