Seaton to Lyme Regis through the Undercliff
The South West Coastal path runs through the the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliff NNR from Axmouth Harbour to the Cobb Harbour at Lyme Regis. The walk is 7 to 8 miles long, 5 miles of which pass through the Undercliffs NNR.
The section of Coast Path that runs through the Undercliff National Nature Reserve crosses one of the largest and active coastal landslip systems in Western Europe and this has created a spectacular woodland wilderness. However this geology means that the whole area can become unstable after periods of heavy rain.
In early 2014 the area around Culverholm, part way through the reserve started to slide between Christmas and New Year which has resulted in the path becoming unsafe – see this feature from the Western Morning News that explains more.
As a result the original route of the Coast Path was closed and a diversion posted which went inland. In April 2016 a new route was opened which bypasses the land slide yet leads through the Undercliff now giving more glimpses of the sea than the original route.
From Seaton the start of the Undercliff walk follows the original, through the golf course, along the bridle way, into the coastal fields. Where the path used to decend into the Undercliff a new section has been opened which continues through the fields to a point where the path passes into the Chasm. From here the path leads down into the Chasm and up to Goat Island. The walk continues across Goat Island to steps leading into the Chasm on the far side. Decending the steps through the Undercliff the route then takes you to rejoin the original path of the Undercliff walk.
The Undercliff is managed by Natural England and is one of the largest active coastal landslide systems in Western Europe. The Undercliff is part of the 95 mile long Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and contains rocks from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of geological time. The rocks get younger as you walk from Axmouth in the west to Lyme Regis in the east.
The reserve is important for wildlife. It forms part of the Sidmouth to West Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and is also part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Woodland covers the majority of the reserve and the unstable terrain is dominated mainly by ash and field maple woodland. The reserve is sheltered, south facing and often relatively hot and humid providing ideal growing conditions for ferns including the characteristic Hart’s tongue fern. Away from the path the cliffs and unstable terrain also provide a haven for a variety of specialist insects and other plants. In some parts of the reserve non-native species including holm oak, rhododendron and laurel can be seen and the spread of these is being controlled.
Goat Island is a particularly special part of the reserve. Although once part of the old fields on the cliff tops, it has been unfarmed for over 150 years. Today it is managed for the species rich chalk grassland that has developed on it’s well drained chalky soils. With the help of volunteers, the grassland is cut and raked each year to provide the right conditions for a wide range of rare planst and insects to thrive, including a number of orchids and butterflies such as the common blue. Without active management the chalk grassland, which is a rare habitat, would quickly become overgrown and invaded by scrub.
To avoid trampling damage to the grassland on Goat Island, please keep to the waymarked path across it.
View Seaton to Lyme Regis Undercliffs walk in a larger map