Photo credit: Tom Stephenson

A popular stretch of the South West Coast Path has been reopened ahead of the main walking season, with a new route through Natural England’s Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve.

The Path was closed and diverted inland almost two years ago at the western end of the Undercliffs, after an ongoing landslip resulted in the area becoming unsafe for walkers. Since then, there has been extensive negotiations with landowners and advice from geologists to create a new safe route through one of the most challenging and unusual sections of the entire South West Coast Path. The new path has been created thanks to the close collaboration between Natural England, which oversees the maintenance of the National Nature Reserve, Devon County Council which manages the Coast Path and the South West Coast Path Association, which helped with funding through a grant from the Coastal Communities Fund and with volunteers.  

Tom Sunderland, Senior Reserve Manager for Natural England said;

I am delighted to be able to welcome walkers back to the National Nature Reserve – one of the geological wonders of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The new route through the reserve, taking in Goat Island, provides wonderful views out to sea across Lyme Bay and it offers Coast Path walkers new exciting access to one of the most attractive parts of the Undercliffs.

The area has a reputation for being the closest thing you’ll get to a rainforest in England with its humid and sheltered environment providing the perfect habitat for ferns, fungi, orchids, wild clematis and many different insects. It is also a geological wonder with its star attraction, Goat Island, famous for being the first ever scientifically described and recorded landslip when on Christmas Eve 1839, several fields slipped seaward. Goat Island has not previously been accessible or open to the general public, making it the highlight of this new route.

Walkers are advised to take good care as they make their way through the reserve via the way-marked path, particularly staying away from the cliff edge on Goat Island, which is unstable and dangerous. The five miles through the reserve between Axmouth and Lyme Regis is a particularly challenging part of the Coast Path, as it is very undulating with no way of cutting the walk short. The path and steps can also get very muddy and slippery after rain. Walkers are strongly advised not to stray off the path,  not only to prevent damage to sensitive habitats, but the unstable nature of this section of the coast has created a number of natural hazards including deep hidden fissures,  soft cliff edges, and areas with falling rocks that could catch out the unwary. Safety is paramount on this remote stretch so stick to the Coast Path at all times and enjoy the views.

Colin Smith, the Association’s Volunteer Area Rep for the stretch between Exmouth to Abbotsbury who worked alongside Tom to help install the diversion and to create the new improved route says;

The re-opening of this stretch of Coast Path after two years is fantastic news for walkers. It previously had the reputation of being a "marmite" section, loved or hated, because of the lack of sea views. The new route offers stunning sea views as well as the chance to explore the wild and wooded areas of the National Nature Reserve. Whilst closed, the Association had numerous enquiries from walkers asking when it would be re-opened and reports from local businesses who had suffered from a drop in trade due to a reduction in walkers using this section of the Coast Path. The new route along with the nearby new Seaton Jurassic Visitor Centre, is expected to provide a welcome economic boost to this part of East Devon.

East Devon District Council’s Environment Portfolio Holder, Cllr Iain Chubb said:

We are delighted that the Undercliffs are now able to reopen as it is such an iconic part of East Devon’s outstanding natural environment.  The Undercliffs as part of The Jurassic Coast, England's first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, East Devon AONB and the South West Coast Path is a huge magnet for tourists and so brings significant economic benefits for our local communities in the area.  I am really looking forward to getting out there and experiencing it for myself.

Cllr Jim Knight, Devon County Council’s Local Member for Seaton, said:

The South West Coast Path is an important asset for our county, especially this section which boasts stunning views of the Jurassic Coast. Locals and visitors will be pleased that there is a new route along this popular section, and will no doubt take great pleasure in exploring it and continuing to enjoy some of their favourite walks. Thanks must go to the landowners who have worked with us to allow people to enjoy this section of the trail safely.

For more information about the South West Coast Path Association visit www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk