First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A brisk day on the east Devon coast, with a grey and blue sky racing over the white houses of Sidmouth. From the coast path just east of the town the sea gave the impression of inexorable power as it picked at the sandstone cliffs, staining its shallows a dusky red.
All the flowers of spring were out along the cliff path – primroses, daffodils, celandines, coconut-scented gorse, a feast of yellows. The strong west wind whistled in the blackberry scrub, the waves sighed gently on the shore far below. Beyond the deep cleft of Salcombe Mouth, Higher Duncombe Cliff stood tall, capped with rock faces of orange and yellow exposed by recent falls.
A long flight of steps led down to the valley bottom, handing over there to a slog of a climb by zigzags to the cliff top once more. An oil beetle hauled its shiny carapace up the path among clumps of violets and just-emerging speedwell. Over in the valley of Lincombe we heard the first chiffchaff of the year broadcasting its two-tone claim to ownership of a few square metres of ash saplings and briar bushes: tzip-tzap, tzip-tzap, a proclamation of spring.
Robin and wren contested bragging rights nearby. A pair of jackdaws jousted in the wind, their playfulness contrasting with the furious cries of two herring gulls as they divebombed a circling buzzard.
Down at Weston Mouth we passed the old market gardens of Weston Plats, overgrown and neglected since the days when famous early spuds were grown in these sheltered cliff nooks. A steep path led inland to Slade House Farm where donkeys of all ages and stages find sanctuary. Oldsters trotted and brayed, foals raised their angelic little faces to the visiting children.
In snug little Salcombe Regis daffodils were out in the churchyard. Here lie two eminent scientists who loved this delectable spot – Sir Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), discoverer of helium; and Sir Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945), designer of the radio transmitter with which radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi made the first transatlantic transmission in 1901. Marconi took the credit; Fleming nursed his wounded pride in dignified silence. One hopes the beautiful little village where he chose to be buried soothed his spirit.
How hard is it? 5 miles; moderate/strenuous; clifftop and field paths.
NB: steep climbs and descents; many steps, slippery paths, several stiles.
Start: Salcombe Hill car park, near Sidmouth EX10 0NY (OS ref SY 139881). NT car park – £3, card only (members free).
Getting there: Car park is opposite Norman Lockyer Observatory, Salcombe Hill, between Sidmouth and Salcombe Regis (signed off A3052, Sidmouth-Seaton).
Walk (OS Explorer 115): Past NT payment sign; left on tarmac path; in 150m ahead on stony path to Coast Path (139876). Left; follow Coast Path for 2 miles to Weston Mouth (163880). Left inland (fingerpost/FP, ‘Dunscombe’). In 250m path rises to gate, then FP (162884). Fork right (‘Donkey Sanctuary’). In ½ mile at top of rise by sanctuary buildings, left (161892, 2 stiles, FP ‘Salcombe Regis’). Through sanctuary grounds to road (159851). Dogleg left/right (FP ‘Trow, Salcombe Regis’) and on. In 5th field (153889) half left to stile into road (152888). Right into Salcombe Regis. At road, left (149888), fork left past church; at Southcombe House fork right (148886, ‘South Combe Farm, Coast Path’). In ¼ mile fork right uphill through trees (145883, FP ‘Sidmouth’); at top of climb cross track (143882, FP ‘Salcombe Hill, Car Park); ahead to car park.
Lunch: Donkey Sanctuary, EX10 0NU (01395-578222, thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk)
Accommodation: Blue Ball Inn, Stevens Cross, Sidford EX10 9QL (01395-514062, blueballsidford.co.uk)