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DIFFICULTY (for the average person) – 4/5
I live in a beautiful place. I regularly pinch myself and remind myself how blessed I am to call such a gorgeous part of the UK home. Millions of people holiday in the South West of England each year, paying a decent sum to spend just a few days in the area, one of which used to be me. But now I live here and I love it.
The trouble is, though, when you see a place day in day out, it’s easy to start taking it for granted. Your eyes gloss over and you go about your daily routine seeing but not truly observing the beauty around you.
It’s difficult to make time to enjoy your home town or area when the mundanities of life take over. It happens to us all, I’m sure.
But this year, 2019, things are going to change. I’ve made a goal that I’m going to get out into my local area and enjoy nature a lot more. And to make myself accountable, I’ve decided I’ll do a different hike each month and blog about it. The first of which is the South West Coast Path Branscombe to Sidmouth.
Hiking the South West Coast Path Branscombe to Sidmouth
We first hiked this trail about 6 years ago and I absolutely hated every second of it. I was terribly unfit at the time, had the wrong shoes and did nothing but moan about how uncomfortable I was all day – much to my husband’s dismay! But since I’ve been working out regularly and now have proper hiking gear, I wanted to give this walk another shot to see if I could handle it a second time.
So, on 1st January 2019 we set off for the quaint village of Branscombe on the Jurassic Coast to hike the South West Coast Path Branscombe to Sidmouth.
For those who don’t know, the South West Coast Path spans 630 miles and runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, covering the entire coast of Cornwall and both North and South Devon coasts.
The Branscombe to Sidmouth walk is just a very tiny segment of the colossal South West Coast Path but it’s a segment nonetheless – and a beautiful one at that.
Beginning in Branscombe, we parked at Branscombe Village Hall. Technically, there is free parking here although the village hall do suggest a generous donation of £4 for a long stay, which in my mind is much more reasonable than most long stay pay and display car parks. So, we happily paid the suggested amount and began walking towards the coast.
Note: You can park at the Sea Shanty car park on the beach, but this is more expensive at £7 for 10 hours.
From the village hall, you are about 3/4 mile from the coast. Opposite the village hall you’ll find the start of an easy, flat public footpath through fields, which takes you right up to the base of the first cliff. Follow this footpath until you reach the start of the public car park. With the car park on your left, you should see a path worn into the field, taking you up the hill to your right.
Make sure to climb the cliff on your right-hand side when looking at the sea, otherwise, you’ll end up in Beer – a lovely village and a beautiful hike, but not the right place!
The first climb out of Branscombe is just a small appetiser for the inclines to come. In total, there are 3 steep inclines in each direction, making this a difficult walk for the average person.
Fortunately, once you reach the top of the first cliff, you’ll enjoy a nice, flat, even surface for a couple of miles, giving you plenty of time to catch your breath and prepare for the next uphill stint.
At this point, you’ll need to follow all signs for ‘Coast Path Weston’, ‘Weston Mouth’ or any signs with an ‘acorn’ symbol and yellow arrow. Enjoy the winding, rugged coast and the panoramic views out to sea before you start to descend into Weston Mouth.
Here, you’ll take the steps right down onto the pebbly beach, which is a nice location for a quick pitstop. Rest your legs for 10 minutes, as we did; you’ll need a new lease of life for the next uphill climb.
When you’re ready, walk a small way along the beach, 50 yards or so, and take the steps. At the top of this hill, you’ll need to follow the signpost for ‘Coast Path Dunscombe Cliffs’, which will lead you to another flat stint across the top of the cliffs before heading down into the valley of Salcombe, ready for the final ascent.
I found this last incline out of Salcombe to be the steepest of all. I don’t know whether it’s because my legs were tired by this point, but the steps seemed to go on forever! I ended up taking them in 20-step increments to make it psychologically easier to cope with!
When you finally reach the top of this never-ending hill, you’ll want to follow signs for ‘Sidmouth’, which is now only 1 mile away.
You’ll be glad to know that the final part of this walk is mostly flat with a descent into Sidmouth through a residential estate. This walk is fairly popular so there’ll no doubt be fellow hikers you can follow to navigate through the estate, but if not you should turn right at the bottom of the coast path, then take the first left into Laskeys Lane, following this round into Cliff road, where you’ll eventually meet up with a public footpath that takes you right down through the trees onto Sidmouth seafront.
By this point, my legs were throbbing from the 3 hills, my feet were sore and my tummy was empty, but I was really pleased that, this time, I’d managed to complete the hike without winging which means my fitness levels have definitely improved.
We only spent 30 minutes in Sidmouth, as we wanted to get back before dark, but if you have more time, Sidmouth is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours.
On your way back, you can either take the same route home on the South West Coast Path, or turn it into a circular route by taking an inland footpath.
Personally, I prefer to hike circular routes so I have something different to look at on the way home, so we followed the inland footpaths via the Donkey Sanctuary using the ordnance survey maps app. At least until a very nice lady gave us a spare paper map, which we used to navigate home.
I don’t know about you but there’s something strangely satisfying and fun about being completely lost and navigating home with only a paper map to guide you. It feels like you’re really getting back to basics.
We reached our car by about 5pm, just as it was getting dark, with the sense of achievement that comes from walking 13-14 miles, navigating home with a map and completing a hike that had crippled me before. Success!
Distance: 13-14 miles if you take the circular route, 12-13 miles if you take the coastal route both ways, 6.6 miles one way
Difficulty: 4/5 for average person, 3/5 for very experienced, fit hiker
Park: Branscombe Village Hall
Duration: Minimum 6 hours at good walking speed with minimal stops, or 7-8 hours with stops
Useful link – South West Coast Path Distance Calculator