Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Dowland Landslips

A Jurassic wilderness
Sencan and I did a walk from Charmouth to Seaton on Saturday, following the South West Coast Path westwards across the border from Dorset into Devon, along part of the Jurassic Coast.

It was a superb walk, and one that is well worth doing. The traditional images of coastal walks are of endless, white sands, or of soaring cliffs. Yet less salubrious images also spring to my mind: endless Essex mudflats and burnt-out cars next to boarded-up houses.

One image that does not spring to mind, especially in respect to coasts, is woodland. Trees block views and can, after a while, feel endless and oppressive. The second part of Saturday's walk between Lyme Regis and Seaton passed through an area called the Dowland Landslips, an amazing and possibly unique stretch of the British coastline.

Sencan and yet another climb
It is hard to find anywhere on the south coast that is unspoilt, yet the Dowlands Landslips offer six miles of walking that most matches that description. You cannot go down to the sea, or up the cliffs inland, meaning that your only way out lies ahead, or back the way you came.

The area was formed by a series of landslips down to the sea. On Christmas Day, 1839 an estimated 800 million tons of rock fell in one such slip.

The resultant landscape is stunning; large chunks of rock stick jaggedly out of the ground, and in places waves of undulating rock lead down towards the sea. There are also obvious signs of more recent, smaller slips. This geological instability has stopped any development of the area, and wildlife has taken over. The path can be hard to walk, and is constantly climbing and falling, if only be a few feet at a time. The clay was slippery on Saturday, a fact made worse by the carpet of brown and orange leaves underfoot.
Aview out to sea from the landslips

Despite this, it was a superb stretch of path. The sea bursts into view unexpectedly, offering tantalising glimpses of deep blue water. At other times the only indication of the sea is the distant sound of crashing waves. This wonderful area sometimes seems like something out of Jurassic Park - you would not be surprised to come face-to-face with a dinosaur. It is a surprisingly hard but ultimately rewarding walk.

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