Walk - Babbacombe & Oddicombe

2.2 miles (3.6 km)

Walls Hill Road carpark, Babbacombe -TQ1 3LZ Walls Hill Road carpark, Babbacombe

Moderate -

A short but fairly strenuous walk on one of Britain's highest cliff-top promenades, but you can avoid the long and steep downhill section by riding down on the famous funicular railway, built in 1926 and still carrying a quarter of a million passengers a year! This is a very important area geologically and it is rich in wildlife, with 35 nationally scarce species to be found in a grassland habitat found nowhere else in the world. Children will be fascinated by the cliff railway, and by the different kinds of rock and the way they have been overturned.

Checked by SWCPA Volunteer Tino Savvas - June 2019

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Aveland House

Situated in Babbacombe close to the South West Coast Path. All en-suite rooms,Free Wi Fi. See our website www.avelandhouse.co.uk for more details

Coastguard Cottage

Small, cosy cottage accommodatioon with all rooms en-suite and with wifi. Close to many amenities. A substantial breakfast is provided.

Vane Tower Penthouse

Panoramic views of sea, shore & moor from this luxury 2 bed self-catering apartments in one of Torquay's most iconic buildings. Very close to the coast path. Free wifi.

Garway Lodge Guest House

Enjoy a 4 Star Award-Winning guest house bed & breakfast. Situated in Torquay. Early Breakfasts are available upon request.

The Headland Hotel & Spa

Sitting on the headland with stunning views, set in 2 acres of grounds within minutes of the Path. Facilities include Spa, restaurant, gallery lounge and sun terrace overlooking the bay.

Palace Hotel

Set in beautiful grounds on Paignton's Esplanade just a stone's throw from the seafront and the SW Coast Path. Treat yourself to lunch or a cream team on the sun lounge or pamper yourself in the health suite.

The Clifton at Paignton

Steve and Freda look forward to welcoming you to the Clifton, which is ideally located, just off the sea front. Around the corner from shops and stations. Within easy reach of Dartmoor.

The Commodore

Beautiful, clean seafront 'Room Only' accommodation, with shared kitchen and living/dining room (Subject to COVID19 restrictions)

Brunswick House,Teignmouth

Ideally located in a quiet position close to the seafront and town centre, Brunswick House B&B offers single,double, twin & triple accommodation. An ideal base to explore the South West Coast Path.

The Thornhill

A warm welcome awaits you in our elegant Georgian building, situated on the seafront, comprising 10 comfortable well-appointed bedrooms, each furnished with flat-screen TV.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From the Walls Hill Road car park, behind the newly refurbished Route 16 pub, walk along Babbacombe Downs Road to the Downs.

At 90 metres above sea level, this is one of Britain's highest cliff-top promenades, and it gives spectacular views in both directions. Looking east on a clear day you can see the Dorset coast beyond East Devon, some 30 miles away, its white limestone cliffs glimmering in the sun in sharp contrast to the rich red of the older sandstone cliffs closer to hand in Tor Bay. 

  1. Walk to the end of the Downs, just past the statue of Lady Mount Temple and follow the road down to Oddicombe Beach (or take the cliff railway).

Babbacombe Cliffs are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), for their rock formations. From Oddicombe Beach you can see how 'faulting' caused by earth movements has resulted in a section of red rock dropping to a lower level than the white limestone beside it, at the same time steeply tilting the red rock. This rock is a 'breccia', a kind of sandstone formed in a desert environment when flash flooding caused torrents of water to sweep stones and rocks through dry valleys to an open plain. Over time these fragments of younger limestone became embedded in the layers of red sand, and the whole was compressed to form a red sandstone studded with angular pieces of limestone, known as breccia.

Elsewhere in the cliffs, earth movements during what is known as the Variscan mountain-building period turned some of the rocks upside down, and near the cliff railway, the dark mudstones and shales at the bottom are actually younger than the limestones at the top of the cliff!

On the hillside beyond the cliff railway and above the beach, a substantial portion of the cliffs broke away originally in February 2010 (since which more has broken away). The unfortunate owners of a house at the top saw their house disappear in the resultant landslide.

The idea of a cliff railway here was first suggested as long ago as 1890 by publisher and MP Sir George Newnes (see the Hollerday Hill Walk in North Devon), although he failed to gain permission to proceed, and it was not until 1923 that the project was revived, when the Torquay Tramway Company announced its intention to build a lift to and from Oddicombe Beach. The engineer consulted by Torquay Corporation consulted was George Marks, who had worked with Newnes on a number of funicular railways in the 1890s, including installations at Bristol Clifton, Bridgnorth, Aberystwyth and Lynmouth, Newnes's adopted hometown, where today the cliff railway is the only one in Britain to be powered entirely by water. Work started at Oddicombe in December 1924, and the railway was completed in 1926, at a construction cost of £15,648.

Take a look at the walls of the building at the base of the cliff railway. The blocks are of the red breccia, laid down in the Permian period and if you look carefully, it is possible to see oval marks in the limestone fragments, evidence of tiny corals in the warm shallow seas where the limestone was laid down before it was broken up and swept into the sandstone.

  1. Turn right and follow the sea along the Coast Path beside the shoreline as it travels towards Babbacombe Beach.

The dark rock in the steep cliffs to your right as you cross the bridge is shale, a soft sedimentary rock formed in brittle layers from consolidated mud and clay. If you look carefully it is possible to see 'goniatites' in it: curled shell fossils that are the ancestors of the famous Jurassic age ammonites. Shale is impermeable, meaning that water cannot pass through; while the limestone above it is permeable. This results in a spring line, where the surface water has passed through the limestone but cannot go through the rock below it. If you drop down the steps to the left by the woods, before the bridge, you will see a series of small waterfalls tumbling down the cliff as this water falls to the shoreline.

On the site of the car park behind Babbacombe Quay, there was once a house where one of Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting lived. The tragic story of the murder of Elizabeth Whitehead's daughter, Emma Keyse, made Babbacombe nationally famous, when Elizabeth's manservant, John 'Babbacombe' Lee was charged with her murder. Condemned to death by hanging, three times the trapdoor failed to open when the lever was thrown, and in accordance with the law of the time, Lee's sentence was changed to one of life imprisonment. The evidence against Lee was circumstantial and very flimsy, and throughout his life, he continued to plead his innocence. In 1971 the folk group Fairport Convention released a folk/rock opera, 'Babbacombe Lee', telling the tale.

  1. Continue along the Coast Path as it climbs up into the woodland behind the Cary Arms, emerging on the open grassland of Walls Hill.

Walls Hill is also an SSSI, for its rocks and flora. Several rare plant species are found here, including the white rock rose, which loves limestone, and the rich variety of vegetation encourages butterflies like the beautifully ornamented marbled white. The grassland has benefited from a three-year project led by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, an independent charity founded to protect Torbay's key wildlife and heritage areas (see the Maidencombe Walk). The Trust's strategy of removing scrub and other invasive species is protecting one of the UK's most fragile and precious habitats, 22 hectares of squill-spurge fescue grasslands, found nowhere else on earth

Archaeologists have found evidence of human activity here dating back to prehistoric times when a Celtic hillfort took advantage of the defensive properties of the cliffs and the panoramic views of the bay to protect its Iron Age inhabitants against hostile tribes.

  1. Stay with the Coast Path to the far end of Walls Hill, where you have good views down over Anstey's Cove.

Note the high limestone cliffs on your left, with Long Quarry Point at the bottom of them. The limestone was much quarried all around the coastline here and was used in the construction of many of the local buildings. The stone would have been taken away by boat.

The fissures in the cliffs to your right were caused in the rock by earth movements and subsequently enlarged by chemical weathering, when rainwater dissolved the rock, being slightly acidic. Here blocks of limestone have become detached and fallen into the sea, leading to Redgate Beach, below, being closed because of the danger of rockfalls.

  1. Turn back towards Babbacombe and follow the path along the edge of Walls Hill but bearing left past the cricket pavilion to return to the car park at the start of the walk.

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