Hiking the SWCP whilst travelling the SW660? Here’s how to visit the Jurassic coastline sustainably

For those of you who wish for a reminder on the detail, I am currently mid eco-hike: a sustainable fusion of using public transport and my two feet to explore the Jurassic section of the SWCP.

Text and images courtesy of Rachel Mead

The sustainable fusion of using public transport and hiking is a concept being supported by the SW660 team as they encourage all tourists to the West Country to adopt sustainable methods of travel during the high peak seasons, reserving road trips for the quieter months when tourism needs a boost.

I began in Weymouth this morning and have steadily made my way along the Dorset coast via West Bay, Seaton, Charmouth and Lyme Regis and I am now about to border hop my way into Devon. Remember, this version of the SW660 is one where in addition to your OS map, you’ll be wanting to download the TravelineSW and Trainline apps so that you can plan your eco-hike in combination with the bus and rail networks. It’s all about lowering your carbon footprint and enjoying the splendour of the coastpath in a slow and sustainable way.

A minor blip

Having hiked 10 miles to the west Dorset town of Lyme Regis, the next stop on my itinerary is Seaton. To get there I need to catch a bus and I, along with my fellow public transport users, are thankful for the sheltered bus stop because Mother Nature is shaking things up again and has replaced the early afternoon sunshine with a late summer shower. Having just got dry, I’m pleased to sit this shower out and I’m enjoying being huddled up in conversation with my fellow bus travellers. The chat is filled with how quaint and pretty Lyme Regis is, with one woman coming specifically to see the Cobb after reading John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman. After returning to Lyme every summer for 15 years, a retirement couple from London are down here property hunting with their main aim being to have a walk along Marine Parade each and every day. As the conversation turns to favourite restaurants (Tom’s wins hands down) we realise that the time for our bus has been and gone, and we all start to get a bit twitchy. The rain is really coming down now and I for one am conscious that I still have another 3.5 mile hike ahead of me… the phones come out as we all research our options.

The school of hard knocks!

Twenty minutes after its scheduled timetable the bus appears over the brow of the hill – hooray! With thumb aloft like the most seasoned of hitch hikers I greet the bus driver with a huge smile, only to be rewarded with a firm shake of his head. He points up to the sign on the front of the bus proclaiming ‘School Bus’ and swiftly swerves away as he heads off to Seaton without us. My bus-shelter buddies and I all groan, say our goodbyes and drift away in various directions as we all amend our plans.

If it was earlier in the day then I would hike, but with the rain still falling and the forecast not improving, I really feel as though I need to get to Seaton sooner rather than later to give myself a good chance of arriving in Branscombe in some form of daylight. I google taxi firms and give fully-electric ‘Go Eco Cabs’ a ring. Unfortunately, they are fully booked for the next couple of hours. I look at my two feet, I’m left with no choice but to put one foot in front of the other. And then, is it a mirage? A taxi driver winds down his window ‘You look soggy, you OK love?!’  I tell him my bus predicament ‘Hop in then! That’s where we’re off to – you can car pool!’.

It’s this West Country warmth that gets me every time. I chat to the kind souls who have let me share their taxi, they too are holidaying along the SWCP. Their day, with such drizzly conditions, has been all about trying the local delicacies as they excitedly tell me about their fresh fish and chips followed by a cream tea. Their preference? Always jam then cream!

Hike Seaton to Branscombe

If you’ve got room in your schedule to play tourist, how about a trip on the Seaton Tram? With a 3 mile journey through East Devon’s Axe Valley you’ll get a unique view of the nature reserves as well as more fabulous countryside views.

As for me, I cheerily wave my taxi goodbye and strike out along the SWCP; I’ve got time to make up and even though it’s not raining in Seaton, the skies are an ominously murky grey, storms are being forecast and I have a feeling my waterproofs are going to be back on again.

The first part of the footpath is easy walking, it’s paved and makes a welcome treat underfoot as I get my head down with the coastal village of Beer in my sights.  If you pause a moment at East Ebb you’ll get a real flavour of how varied the geology of the coastline can be. Some cliffs are chalky white whilst others are deep red, it’s so surprising to see.  Depending on your itinerary, Beer could be a good place to stay the night, there’s various options from the YHA, Airbnb and the local pub all offering rooms. It’s worth noting that Beer has a few good eateries and even a cocktail and wine bar! If you wish to explore the Beer Quarry Caves be sure to book a place on a tour to access the vast man-made complex of underground caverns. For train enthusiasts, Beer is home to the Pecorama, and for Space enthusiasts, the interesting fact of the day is that bacteria microbes from the limestone cliffs at Beer were launched into space in 2008. Scientists found that many of the microbes were still alive over a year and a half later!

The Last Leg for today

As you reach Beer Head your attention will be taken by the Hooken Cliffs, the pinnacles of which were formed following a landslide in 1790. Now a haven for wildlife and landscape photographers, this part of the SWCP is a must-see as you follow the SW660 route. The footpath makes for easy walking here, you’re up as high as you can be, the views are magnificent and the Masons Arms in Branscombe is beckoning you into the village for a well-deserved pit-stop. As you leave the recently converted Old Lookout in your wake you’ll drop down into the village and your final walk for this section will be on road. With a crack of thunder and those heavy dark raindrops, I pick up the pace so that I can revel in the hospitality of the 14th century pub which not only offers fantastic food and local ales but above all else, the Masons Arms has the most comfortable beds for weary hikers!

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