Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

The Undercliff, World Heritage Jurassic Coast, Devon/Dorset

On Christmas Eve in 1839, a family returning to their home in the evening found that part of the garden appeared to have sunk by around 2ft and that they had difficulty opening the door. During that night a huge rending sound was heard and in the morning the cottage had mysteriously 'slid' some way from the path. This came to be known as The Great Slip of 1839, in which a large tract of land known as a blockside, below Bindon Manor and Dowlands Farm, had broken away from  the mainland. A great chasm appeared between the cliffs and the tract of land, which later became known as Goat Island.

The land above the cliffs was mainly used for farming and the Goat Island plateau contained part of a wheat field. The following August, a ceremonial harvest was conducted, the harvesters led onto the island by four young maids wearing white dresses and carrying gold-painted sickles adorned with ribbons, followed by a brass band. The harvest was carried out (no doubt with plenty of good Devon Cider for refreshment) and much of the wheat was sold as souvenirs, thus heralding the enterprising tourist trade, along with a clifftop farmhouse which had been selling tea to the many sightseers. 

In the 1950's the area was designated a National Nature Reserve and is now part of England's first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Jurassic Coast, which stretches from Orcombe Point in Exmouth, East Devon, to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset. This particular stretch spans between Axmouth, the east side of the River Axe at Seaton in Devon, to Lyme Regis in West Dorset.

This was a walk I had an ambition to do for a long while once I began to get over a disabling illness. It's a site where once on you can only exit half way, and I'd previously managed half the walk but never the whole lot. It's a seven-mile walk as the crow flies, and all the tourist brochures and websites say that it can be walked in three and a half to four hours. However, the terrain is very rough and it's a strenuous walk with many twists and turns, not to mention the ups and downs! 

There are few parts where you can actually see the sea as most of the walk is very overgrown and jungle-like between the chasms, partly due to the instability of the terrain closer to the edge, thereby necessitating that the path be a little further inland. The Sub-tropical climate and south-facing, sheltered bay has provided its own micro-climate, and many rare plants and other wildlife thrive here.

Due to the very steep terrain in parts, there are many log-banked flights of steps to make the walk easier. They look rather cute...until you've climbed up and walked down about thirty of them! 

Just below Bindon is the outcrop of land known as Goat Island (above). Below are the remains of the Pumping House, which was used to bring water up to the farms and cottages above until a later landslide swept away the land, and ram. Only the chimney and part of the watercourse remains.

One of the houses which slipped down in it's entirety during the Great Landslide of 1839. Since abandoned and now just the remains of a single wall.

Underhill Farm (below) just before the end at Ware in Lyme Regis. 

And the final view across Lyme Bay including the Cobb, made famous by the film "The French Lieutenant's Woman" from the book written by John Fowles and filmed in Lyme Regis and parts of the Undercliff. John Fowles lived in Underhill Farm (above) at the time that he wrote the book, published in 1969. He later lived in another historical house in Lyme itself and I am very proud to have had the privilege to meet him. A lovely man who was willing to take the time to discuss an animation proposal about the Undercliff over coffee.

"I Hate The Undercliff". That was the slogan written on the t-shirts of the film crew. With it's twisting paths, rough terrain and the possible need of a machete, they weren't too enamoured with the problems encountered by carting their equipment out there. I almost felt the same towards the end of the walk, when the last few steps were just a step too far, but it's a special place with far more history than I could comfortably fit into this page. I haven't even touched upon the geology and the causes, but I'll include that on the Goat Island entry. 

After around six hours, with a lunch break plus breather and photo stops, myself and a friend finally made it into the town, where we enjoyed some chips before catching the bus back to Seaton. Well earned!

More photos can be seen in the Photo Gallery album along with these.

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