Our journey began with a four-day hike from Lyme Regis to Exmouth, spanning an incredible 32 miles along the breathtaking Jurassic Coast in southern England. We were surrounded by an enchanting forest with the English Channel on our left and towering cliffs on our right. As we admired the fossilized remnants of ancient marine life and birds, a fellow hiker caught up to us and struck up a conversation.
He inquired about our destination, and we shared that we were headed toward Beer, a town on our route that also served as our end-of-day objective. Curious, we asked where he was headed.
“Minehead,” he proudly proclaimed.
“Minehead?!” we responded in surprise.
We realized that Minehead was the end of the revered 630-mile-long South West Coast Path, of which our 32-mile section was just a small portion. This hiker meant business.
“I have 30 days to complete the path, averaging roughly 20 miles each day,” he shared, having commenced his journey from the other terminus at Poole Harbor.
Suddenly, our planned four days and 32 miles along the East Devon Coast didn’t seem so daunting.
Then again, hiking is all relative, and our trek seemed just right for our group of four: my wife, Susan, and my sister and her husband, Lauren and Bob Finkle.
“I just love being up at the top of the cliffs, looking out to the sea,” Lauren said. Bob added that he enjoyed looking along the coast and seeing the stratifications in the steep cliffs.
Highlights for travelers along the trail:
Lyme Regis holds a significant place in history as the hometown of Mary Anning (1799-1847), who played a vital role in establishing the field of paleontology. Anning played a part in uncovering the world’s first complete plesiosaur (a long-necked marine reptile) and one of the first complete ichthyosaurs (a dolphin-like reptile). Additionally, she discovered ample fossils of ammonites and belemnites (squid-like sea creatures).
As per the Lyme Regis Museum, fossils were once presumed to be animals that had been omitted from Noah’s Ark or creatures still inhabiting distant parts of the world. However, revolutionary paleontologists such as Mary Anning challenged this belief by discovering, studying, and documenting their finds.
The museum organizes fossil-hunting excursions, complete with guides who are experts at identifying appropriate rocks and using hammers to uncover fossils. During our tour, guided by these experts, we discovered various ammonites and belemnites.
Susan couldn’t help but continually contemplate how these fossils lay beneath us throughout the rest of our hike. “The earth is incredibly ancient, and we’re merely here for a brief moment of time,” she reflected.
EXPLORING THE CLIFFS
Since we are mere short-term inhabitants of this planet, it is strongly recommended that tourists traverse a portion of the South West Coast Path. Our trek consisted of rocky beaches below, undercliffs, and authentic cliffs. The undercliffs were fashioned by what Britons refer to as “landslips,” and Americans call “landslides.” In places, the landslips were enormous, earning the distinction of being large enough to foster forests.
Our journey towards Beer was primarily through undercliffs and forests.
On day two, we walked our longest stretch: 10 miles towards Sidmouth. Many towns dotting the coastline end with the word “mouth,” as they mark the spots where rivers seamlessly flow into the sea, and over the years, carve into the terrain, creating the very stratifications and ravines we had been scaling up and down. In Sidmouth, it is the River Sid, whereas in Exmouth, it is the River Exe that flows into the sea.
We unanimously agreed that the most enjoyable part of the hike was strolling along the clifftops. It was enchanting and centering; pausing for a moment to take in the view left us a bit breathless from climbing and sheer awe. The coastline and cliffs stretched for miles beyond where we stood at that moment and, ultimately, vanished into the mist, clouds, and sea.
Upon reaching the summit of one of the cliffs, Lauren described the feeling of ecstasy as a “hiker’s high.”
The shoreline was a constant presence on our left, while vast fields and pastures extended to our right. Sometimes we even strolled through or beside herds of grazing cows or took in the views of golden-yellow rapeseed fields.
Day three encompassed a seven-mile journey towards Budleigh Salterton, featuring some of the most extensive and breathtaking cliffside segments of our expedition.
Rain is a natural part of any hike in Britain, and it was no exception during our late-April excursion. However, the rainfall we encountered was confined to the final day of our journey, which was fortunate.
Unfortunately, our Day Four journey to Exmouth was plagued by relentless rainfall that lasted throughout the day. Once you become drenched, there is no recovery, and all there is to do is trudge forward, with a wet upper lip, and appreciate the foggy, moist, and slippery ascent and descent of the cliffs.
One helpful piece of advice for attire: Dress in layers that you can remove as you warm up.
We persisted until reaching and crossing the Exe River, then proceeded into town towards our bed and breakfast lodge to dry off and enjoy a steaming cup of tea.
Susan and I were satisfied with our four-day hike along the Jurassic Coast, while Lauren and Bob were completely captivated with the experience and plan to return to complete the entire path.
A practical tip about guides:
On our initial hike in the United Kingdom, the 102-mile Cotswold Way in 2005, Susan and I carried everything we required in our backpacks. We vowed never to do it again and have since employed hiking companies such as Contours Hiking. These companies transport your luggage and secure accommodations in mostly bed-and-breakfast-type establishments.
Paying for a guided hiking tour in the U.K. is a valuable investment. As I age, my back is not as sturdy as it used to be, so having a guide is helpful. Additionally, reserving rooms in popular coastal towns and inland villages can be difficult as tour companies tend to occupy a significant portion of available accommodations. Other tour companies that offer similar services include Backroads, Inntravel, and Macs Adventures. The majority of Contours’ customers are from the U.K., while 20% come from the U.S.