Are you a fair-weather hiker? Do you prefer to walk the cliffs of the coastline when the days are long, the sun is high in the sky and the sea is relatively calm? If you’ve answered yes to those questions then Rachel Mead believes that this Eco Fusion Road Trip version of the South West 660 may be for you.
Text and images courtesy of Rachel Mead
Originally created as a way to maintain a steady stream of visitors to the West Country during off-peak seasons, the team behind the SW660 road trip have devised a car route which tracks along the coastlines of Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. In doing so they’ve formed relationships with various partners in the tourism industry all with the combined goal of maintaining the constant trickle of West Country fans to our beaches, towns and villages throughout the quieter months. The theory is good, and yet, the SW660 team have also realised that some folk (me!) will still want to access these counties in the spring and summer.
How have they overcome this? Quite simply, they’ve done stacks of research and worked out that the majority of the coastline can be travelled by bus, train, ferry or maybe the occasional e-taxi during those peak holiday times. It’s a win -win, I get to hike my preferred sections of the South West Coast Path during the better months of Spring and Summer, and I get to do so by travelling along the SW660 with a super low carbon footprint because I’m using public transport. This makes me one very happy adventurer.
A travel goal without a plan, is just a wish!
First things first, if you’re going to be relying on the bus and train networks, you’re going to need to be a little flexible on your timetable. After all, in the same way that you can get stuck in a traffic jam on the roads, the public transport network can be liable to a few delays here and there. The mindset needed for this eco-adventure is one of slower travel and flexibility! It’s definitely worth downloading the Traveline SW app for bus times, along with Trainline app which includes all the rail providers – but it is probably also handy to have a contingency plan in place if the bus should, on the rare occasion, fail to turn up on time.
The Dorset to Devon County hop
My SWCP/SW660 fusion was going to combine eco-friendly public transport travel with glorious stretches of hiking. My aim was to travel between Weymouth in Dorset to Exmouth in Devon eating in local cafes and restaurants along the way with an overnight stay at one of the St Austell Brewery pubs, The Masons Arms in Branscombe. I’d then catch a train home from Exeter. One big loop of sustainable travel during high peak season. Let’s go!
How did the fusion approach work for me?
After a 3-mile hike to my local train station I was all aboard the GWR service to Weymouth. The day had kick-started bright and early, the coffee shop was open, the train was on time and before I knew it I was strolling along the Weymouth promenade checking out the latest seafront sculpture trail, all before 9am! I had forty minutes to wait here before catching my first double decker bus to West Bay and I have to say, it’s a pretty good feeling walking along the beach as the sun is still rising and the rest of the world hasn’t really got going. Enjoy the beach to yourself.
A Bus woman’s holiday
As a kid, it was always cool to sit at the back of the bus but cast aside those habits of old, because when you travel by bus between Weymouth and West Bay, you’ll be wanting to whizz up the stairs and sit right at the front for the best views. You’re likely to be travelling alongside locals doing their weekly shop at this time of the morning so I’d advise getting to the bus stop a good few minutes before your departure time to ensure a prime viewing position.
Quite simply, the road between these two coastal towns is classically England of old. Think single lanes warmly hugged by country-style limestone thatched cottages, sweeping vistas of farmers’ fields all with the water-coloured backdrop of those celebrated rolling Dorset hills. You’ll pass through Abbotsbury on this route, which if you have the time in your schedule, is well-worth ringing the bus bell for, because a short walk across to St Catharine’s Chapel offers fabulous views across the Jurassic coastline.
West Bay, originally known as Bridport Harbour
Talk about door-to-door service, the bus drops you directly in front of the harbour in West Bay, and you can be out on the SWCP within a few minutes stroll. If you’re taking your time and you’re planning to stop a while in West Bay, there’s a wide selection of eateries and even an emporium with a treasure trove of antiquities and crafts to peruse.
For those Broadchurch fans amongst you, you’ll probably feel as though you’re walking around on the film set with so much of West Bay famously featuring throughout the successful programme which starred David Tennant and Olivia Coleman. And for the hikers amongst you who are aiming to complete the entire SWCP, you are at this point 553.7 miles away from Minehead. Time to get one foot in front of the other!
Hike 10 miles between West Bay to Lyme Regis
Do you remember when I said I was looking forward to hiking in the sun? The moment that I connected with the SWCP, Mother Nature obviously decided that she wanted to see that I had packed sufficiently, so out came the Gore-Tex jacket as she brought grey clouds coursing across the waves to meet the cliffs. There’s still a smile on my face though as I greet and wave to other fellow soggy hikers as we all embrace the salty sea air.
As you hike up West Cliff, the SWCP footpath joins with the Monarch’s Way and you’ll be tracking the footsteps of King Charles II as he escaped from his defeat against Oliver Cromwell in 1651. You’ll drop down into Seatown where there’s a coffee stop, the Anchor Inn pub, local amenities and even a beach side sauna for hikers who may have the time to relax awhile.
Time for some elevation!
Golden cap, the highest point along the coast path is now in your sights and with it comes a bit of a hand and knees scramble as you clamber up to be rewarded with views back along the coastline to where you have already travelled today. If you pause here for a while you’ll be surprised by the rumbling sound of the shingle as it washes in and out with each wave.
Charmouth will be the next notable stop along your journey. Due to landslides in April 2021, you’ll be diverted off the coastline and head through the town. This offers a good opportunity to refill any water bottles and grab snacks or lunch depending on your pace. For me, the rain is beginning to trickle down my neck so I’m ramping it up a gear and pushing on to Lyme Regis where my weather app reassures me that the forecast is set to improve.
Lunching in Lyme
The SWCP brings you in to the eastern side of town, you’ll be welcomed by quirky architecture, the Lyme Regis Museum and a whole host of cafes and restaurant choices. With fresh fish very much on the menus, Lyme Regis offers foodies the opportunity to eat the catch of the day within hours of it being caught. For me, I’ve chanced across The Creperie which for this soggy hiker offers me the perfect opportunity to dry out as I grab a seat outside in the sun which has thankfully returned. Kate cooks both savoury galettes and sweet crepes and makes superbly fresh coffee which will no doubt energise you for this afternoon’s adventure..!