Seaton is a seaside town on the south coast of England close to the border between Devon and Dorset facing onto Lyme Bay.
Seaton is set in a landscape which is visually stunning and environmentally precious.
It stands at a unique point on the 95-mile long Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast. Seatons uniqueness along the Jurassic Coast is that it is the only town from which all three Eras of rocks in this 185 million–year ‘geological walk through time’ can be visited.
Seaton Bay is at the mouth of the Estuary of the River Axe where the River flows down the Axe Valley and into the Bay.
On the east side of the estuary are the much younger Greensand rocks of Haven Cliff. To the west are the red mudstone cliffs of the Triassic period and the white chalk cliffs of the Cretaceous period.
The estuary of the river Axe, although once wide and deep enough to be a safe haven for shipping has since the 14th century silted up and narrowed. This was due to the east to west tidal drift creating a big shingle beach, land reclamation of the river bank and the silting up of the river bed.
Although there is still a small harbour it is now used mainly for recreational purposes as it is a ‘tidal’ drying harbour only suitable for yachts, small recreational craft and the local fishing boats.
The town is in the centre of the bay with most of the town built on the higher ground above the flood plain of the west side of the estuary.
The mile long pebble beach is gently sloping and safe to swim from, with the pebbles being small to medium in size although after severe storms the pebbles sometimes get swept away by the tides exposing the coarse sand which lies below the pebbles.
At the top of the beach is the Esplanade, a flat, level, paved walk, 1,160 metres in length, stretching from the boundary of Axmouth Harbour at the eastern end of the bay, to the Chine café towards the western end.
Although much appreciated by walkers, visitors should be aware that for half its length the walk is at the front of the sea wall
Access for this section is through one of the several storm gates let into the wall.
For much of the year these storm gates are open, allowing easy access onto the esplanade and beach.
During the winter months or when the risk of flooding by the sea is high, these gates may be closed.
When the gates are closed, walkers have to use the steps at the harbour end to get over the sea wall or walk back to the open section of the esplanade near the town centre.
All parking along the Esplanade Road is now ‘Pay & Display’ except during the winter months.
Seaton Town Centre is close by the Esplanade and is largely pedestrianised. There are several pay and display car parks serving the Town Centre, the largest being on the Underfleet near the terminus of Seaton Tramways and the Tourist Information Centre.
The two main streets in Seaton Town Centre, Fore Street and Queen Street are pedestrianised with mix of small individual shops. More shops can be found at the top end of Fore St. and Queen St, in Cross St. along Harbour Road and on the Esplanade.
The shops include:
Antiques, pet foods, bakers, betting shop, iron mongers, business agents, butchers, cafés, carpet shop, car sales and repairs, chemists, clocks and watch repairs, computer sales and repairs, printers & crafts.
Delicatessen, DIY shops, estate agents, financial services, fishmongers, fitted kitchens, florists, gifts shops, greengrocer,hair and beauty salons, health foods, home furnishers, insurance brokers, kitchenware and a CO-OP super market.
In November 2011 a new Tesco super market opened in Harbour Road on the site of the old holiday camp.
There is a selection of restaurants with a choice of cuisine styles and many of the Public Houses also offer food at lunchtimes and evenings, and of course there are fish and chip shops.
The pubs also provide a thriving live music scene, this is mainly at the weekends.
The Esplanade continues past the Town Centre on what is known as the West Walk. At the end of the West Walk is the Chine Café where you can sit at the outdoor tables admiring the view over the bay towards Beer Head and on a clear day, Portland Bill.
At the top of the red mudstone cliffs of the West Walk are the Cliff top gardens with picnic tables and offering superb views. It is in these gardens that Seaton’s Millennium Labyrinth can be found. There is a path up to these gardens which starts at the side of the Chine Café, but visitors should be aware that the path up to the top of the cliff is up steep steps.
An easier route to the Cliff top gardens is to walk up Castle Hill from Fisherman’s Gap, the main entrance onto the Esplanade from the Town centre.
Across the road from Fisherman’s Gap are the newly landscaped Jubilee Gardens and the Jubilee clock.
To the side of the clock are the Seafield Gardens with a Glass House containing a display of cactuses, two tennis courts and an excellent children’s playground. The Seaton Bowling Club and a small putting green are to the rear of the clock.
St Gregory’s the parish church of Seaton was built in the 14th century with its distinctive squat tower dating from the 15th century. Before the Estuary of the River Axe became restricted by the shingle barrier extending along the beach, the estuary waters extended as far as the eastern boundry wall of St Gregory’s churchyard.
Opposite St Gregory’s Church on the junction of Court Lane and Colyford Road is the Seaton Cricket Club ground with its 1st XI team playing in the Devon Cricket League.
Behind the Cricket Club, Seaton Tennis Club offers six floodlit tennis courts; three synthetic and three tarmac.
Seaton Football Club is a short distance away, further up Colyford Road on the right hand side. The 1st team plays in the Devon & Exeter Football League and their Junior teams the East Devon Youth League.
There are 3,300 homes in the town, most of which are on the higher ground to the west side of the river, the population is given at 7,111.
Seaton and the surrounding area still has many accommodation providers including guest houses, hotels, camping sites and caravan parks.
However, Lyme Bay holiday camp closed at the beginning of 2009 when the land the camp was based upon was designated the Seaton Regeneration area by East Devon District Council.
The railway arrived in 1868, when Seaton was served by a branch line from Seaton Junction, 4 miles to the north of the town on the London and South Western Railway main line from London Waterloo and Salisbury to Exeter. British Railways closed the Seaton Junction branch line as part of the Beeching cuts in March 1966, after which part of the trackbed was purchased and used to construct the Seaton Tramway to Colyton, which has become a tourist attraction,bringing in around 100,000 visitors a year.
There are two bridges crossing the River Axe at the Harbour. The present road bridge was built in 1990 to carry the traffic because the smaller earlier bridge was not considered strong or wide enough.
This earlier bridge was built as a toll bridge in 1877 and is the earliest surviving concrete bridge in the country. Now it is only used as a pedestrian or cycle bridge over the river.
The Axe Estuary continues inland from the two bridges. The estuary consists of mud flats, islands, salt marsh and reed beds.
The Estuary is particularly interesting for its bird life, which can easily be viewed from the Axmouth road on the east side of the estuary or from the Local Nature Reserves on the west side.
There are three Local Nature Reserves, Seaton Marshes, Colyford Common and Black Hole Marsh all of which are are owned and managed by East Devon District Council. These are on the west side of the estuary and are a rich mosaic of saltmarsh and freshwater grazing marsh, ponds, reedbed, ditches and saline lagoons that are important for wintering wildfowl and waders, such as curlew and redshank, while in the summer butterflies and dragonflies abound.
The wildlife can be observed from purpose built bird watching hides in the Seaton Marshes, Colyford Common and Black Hole Marsh LNR’s, and watching platforms in the Colyford Common LNR. or for those who prefer, a ride on one of Seaton Tramways open top trams.
There are plans to extend the Local Nature Reserves as part of the Axe Estuary Wetland project which will cover most of the western side of the Axe Estuary and which will stretch from Seaton to Colyford linking the three LNRs.
Since 2011 a field studies room and adjoining bird hide, classroom with facillities for 50 students and pond dipping walkways were constructed by the reedbeds btween Colford and Blackhole Marsh LNR’s.
You can visit all three LNR’s by walking from Seaton starting from the Underfleet carpark and entering the site by using the carpark at Seaton cemetery or by parking at Colyford Common Memorial Hall and walking through Colyford Common.
To the east of the river lies the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. This large area of coastal landslides and cliffs supports important woodland and grassland habitats and can be walked through as part of the South West Coastal path.