Walk - The Imperial Hotel - Exmouth Seafront walk
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Exmouth has been a popular tourist resort since the eighteenth century, when its Assembly rooms and seafront houses with stables and views attracted some illustrious members of fashionable Georgian society, including Lady Byron and Lady Nelson (who is buried in the churchyard at Littleham). In 1861, the arrival of the railway, linking the town 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. In 1903 the line was extended eastwards to Budleigh Salterton, where it joined the main London and South Western Railway Line.
- Leaving the hotel via the car park entrance, cross over Alexandra Terrace and walk into Manor Gardens. Take the paths across the well-kept Manor Gardens to Imperial Road.
- Leaving the park, turn right and follow Imperial Road to where it ends at a roundabout.
Most of the flat land around here has been reclaimed over the centuries, and was once part of the estuary.
- At the roundabout head, take the 2nd exit and go past the Rugby club following Royal Avenue.
There are tremendous views from Royal Parade across the Exe Estuary, which is an important place for wildlife. The vast mudflats are home to many invertebrate species such as clams, worms and snails, which feed on the wealth of microscopic algae and bacteria living in the mud. Each cubic metre of estuary mud here is said to have the same number of calories as 14 Mars bars!
The invertebrates are themselves a valuable food source for the thousands of wading birds which flock here in the winter. Bird species feeding and roosting on the mudflats include avocets, with their blue legs and curved bills, as well as large flocks of dunlins, which can be seen flying in formation to protect themselves from predators such as peregrine falcons.
Another important food source for the estuary's birds are its beds of eel grass, Britain's only flowering plant capable of growing in saltwater. 1% of the world's population of dark bellied Brent geese feeds on the eel grass and the wetland areas around the Exe Estuary through the winter, as do large flocks of wigeons.
- At the end of Royal Parade continue along the edge of the estuary, passing through a car park to Camperdown Terrace.
- When you reach the road, turn right, then take the first left into Shelley Reach which takes you to the Marina. Keeping the Marina on your right hand side, walk through to the seafront.
- At the seafront turn left and follow the Esplanade. Keep on past the clock tower and the roundabout. The Esplanade changes into Queens Drive but still follows the seafront.
The Diamond Jubilee Memorial Clock Tower was built in 1897 for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. When it was first erected it was wound by hand by a Council employee, but the original mechanism has since been replaced, and can now be seen working in the Exmouth Museum.
Inland of the road is the Maer Local Nature Reserve, dunes that are a ‘secret haven’ for wildlife and wildflowers, which we pass through on our return journey.
- At the junction by the lifeboat station keep on the seafront. As the road ends, look for the South West Coast Path climbing in a zig-zag manner. At the top of the slope keep going right along the path.
A lifeboat station existed in Exmouth in 1801. In 1859 the RNLI established a new lifeboat house for the lifeboat Victoria. The entire cost was met by Lady Rolle of Bicton. In January 1894, Silver Medals were awarded to John Bradford, Uriah Bradford and George Prowse, for gallantly launching a small boat, at considerable risk, to rescue the crew of six from the schooner John Gronsund of Svendborg, which had in heavy seas and a strong south easterly gale been driven on the Pole Sands.
- Follow the path towards Orcombe Point. The path does split. Either carry on along the Coast Path to the right, or take the higher path to the left: they join up again a little way ahead. The lower path has an optional detour down a rough path to an astonishing sandstone plateau forming the beach at Rodney Point when the tide is out.
The beach at Rodney Point is a part of the Exmouth Sandstone Formation, laid down during the Triassic period, about 250-200 million years ago, when Devon and Dorset were south of the equator in a hot, dry desert. The vivid colour of this striking platform of red rock is due to the presence of iron oxides, which tell geologists that there was no life in the desert at the time.
The platform some distance above the beach is a marine abrasion platform, or a raised beach, formed by wave action on the rocks after the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. Sea levels were 8 –10 metres higher then, before the land mass of Great Britain rose in the sea as the weight of the ice sheets on it diminished when the ice melted.
- At Orcombe Point enjoy the view before returning along the Coast Path back to the top of zig zag path down to the seafront. If you want a more challenging walk, continue along the Coast Path for another 3½ miles to Budleigh Salterton and catch a bus back to Exmouth.
The Geoneedle is constructed of the various rock types found along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage coastline and represents the sequence of rocks deposited along it. Celebrating 95 miles of internationally important rocks displaying 185 million years of the Earth's history, the Jurassic Coast is a geological walk through time, spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The rocks used in the Geoneedle include sandstone and the several different kinds of limestone that make this part of England a famous source of building stone, used over many centuries for the construction of some of England's most famous buildings, including St Paul's Cathedral in London, as well as parts of Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle.
- Here, the Coast Path zig-zags down the hill to the seafront, but our route continues along the footpath passes between bushes along the cliff top for the next 600 metres (660 yards), with occasional seats and viewpoints towards the sea.
- It emerges onto Foxholes Hill where you turn left and go down to the roundabout (café and toilets here). Cross straight over at the roundabout and take the path running through the grassy area behind the dunes.
The steep slope to your right would have originally been the sea cliff and the green to your left a coastal lagoon behind the beach and sand dunes, frequently flooded before sea defences and drainage were put in. As you walk through the Maer Local Nature Reserve, look out for rare flowers that have adapted to survive in the dry and harsh sandy soils, and listen out for skylarks singing above.
- When you reach the Maer car park on the far side of the dunes, cross over Queen’s Drive and continue along the seafront to the hotel.