Doing the Jurassic Coast walk in southwestern England means following in the footsteps of giants. The dinosaur-era geology gives the coastal cliffs a super-sized quality. England is all about coastline, but this particular stretch has a UNESCO designation as an “area of outstanding beauty”. Plus, it has the Wayfaring Views stamp of approval for providing a rockin’ good hike.
What follows is a three day, 30 mile (48/k) Jurassic Coast hiking itinerary from Exmouth to Lyme Regis. The route will take you along the evolving coastal landscape and through the historic beach towns dotted along the trail.
What makes the Coast Jurassic?
The cliffs were 185 million years in the making and are stratified to form a record of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The Jurassic park filming locations in Costa Rica notwithstanding, this stretch of English coastline is one of the most important sources of Jurassic area reptile fossils.
Even though this section of the Jurassic coast path is only 30 miles long, there is a remarkable variety in the geology along the trail. I chose the hike because I’m a nut for UNESCO sites and I wanted to learn about the unique geology of the area by hiking through it.
Get Onto the Jurassic Coast in Exmouth
Exmouth has been a fishing town since the 1500’s but the place really picked up steam when the rail line was laid. With it, Exmouth became a tourist beach town overnight and has been going ever since.
If you have time when you arrive, stop into the Exmouth Museum. They have a charming assortment of historic bits and bobs cobbled together from grandma’s attic and the docents will give you an enthusiastic oral history of the town. It’s also worth taking a stroll through the peaceful manor gardens and playing ping pong in the town square.
Jurassic Coast Walk: Exmouth to Sidmouth
This first stretch of the hike starts along the wide Exmouth beach and then climbs a series of cliffs before depositing you in Sidmouth 12.5 miles (20.2/k) later.
The landscape on this section of the path is made up of dramatic red sandstone cliffs. I was very taken with the charismatic view from the clifftops and stopped frequently to
rest take pictures. The town of Budleigh Salterton sits about halfway along the trail and makes a good stop for lunch, tea or snack provisions. The trail then detours up the River Otter estuary before climbing up and down once again into Sidmouth.
Fortunately, we rolled into Sidmouth just as the rain began and we avoided getting too drenched. We were tired from the long hike and so just settled in for a beer and a bath. But if you get in early and have the energy, consider visiting the nearby Donkey Sanctuary. I visited a donkey sanctuary in Bonaire and got mobbed by them.
Jurassic Coast Path: Sidmouth to Seaton
This section of the coast path covers 10.2 miles (16.5/k) of cliffs and valleys and cliffs and valleys. I committed to the hike in complete denial about what it takes to earn a those vast coastal views–perhaps a chair lift or escalator? In the end, we earned the views the hard way by climbing and descending a series for four tall clifftops.
It was worth it.
During the course of the day, the landscape transitioned from the red sandstone to white chalk cliff. The cows and sheep who live there full time just stand there chewing and staring at the views every day. But we were on a mission to get to Seaton so we grabbed lunch at the Sea Shanty beach cafe in Branscombe before making the last big push.
As the trail winds down from that last big cliff, you’ll descend into the town of Beer. Go ahead and have one, you’ve earned it. After the beer, we rolled into Seaton and put up our feet for the night.
The Home Stretch: Seaton to Lyme Regis
It rained again overnight and while we were lucky enough to have sun on our third day, the trail was very wet. Take this as a word of warning– always, always prepare for a hike with the proper foot gear.
The landscape on this 7 mile (11.4/k) stretch of the trail changes yet again. In 1839 there was a landslide which caused a huge chunk of the cliff to fall away. The Jurrasic coast walk abandons the cliff tops and dips down into the throes of the slip for most of the day.
The slip is heavily wooded and has a hushed, closed quality to it. Other hikers were in short supply that day so the trail was very quiet. We just heard the splorch of our boots as we carefully picked our way along the muddy trail. The sea views emerged periodically like a game of peekapoo with the foliage.
We slid down the last bit of cliff and into Lyme Regis where I walked directly into the sea, bathing the mud from my boots.
There is even more Jurassic coast to walk between Lyme Regis and Weymouth, but I’m glad that we did this 30 mile stretch. The evolving landscape in this section of the coast path was a visual history lesson.
Planning Your Trip
Use this guide to help you determine how to get to Exmouth, where to stay, what to take and other logistics.
Getting There: London to Jurassic Coast
Train travel: There are 41 trains per day from either Paddington or Waterloo to Exeter. From Exeter it’s an easy change to the local line to Exmouth. There are also good connections to Bristol for western England. The train takes about 2.5 hours.
Driving: Take the M24/M4 to Bristol and then the M5 south to Exmouth. Approx drive time is 3.5 hours.
Air travel: Flybe flies cheaply from London City airport to Exeter. But there is only one flight a day and you’ll still need to transfer to the downtown train station to get to Exmouth so it’s not a great option.
Jurassic Coast Hotels
We were very kindly hosted by the hotels in Exmouth, Seaton and Sigmouth (however, my opinions are my own). All of these hotels are comfortable, offer breakfast and are within an easy walk of the hiking trail.
Exmouth: The Royal Beacon
We did indeed get a royal welcome at the Royal Beacon. Our sea-view room had spectacular views of both the sea and the town below. The room was very comfortable and well supplied with local caramels. The hotel had a cozy bar and a dining room with breakfast included. You can check reviews or book at Trip Advisor or Hotels.com.
Sidmouth: The Hotel Elizabeth
The Hotel Elizabeth sits right on the esplanade and our ocean front room had premium views of the water. The room itself was cute and comfortable and best of all, the bathroom had a tub. We both used it to soak our tired selves after the hike. They have a good continental breakfast buffet plus items cooked to order in a bright breakfast room. You can check reviews or book at Trip Advisor or Booking.com.
Seaton: The Eyre Court Hotel
The Eyre Court is a traditional pub hotel with rooms up top and beer down below. Our room was large and quiet. The downstairs pub had a great local’s vibe and they even serve Jurassic Coast beer. The breakfast was cooked to order and just the thing we needed for our last day of hiking. You can check reviews or book at Trip Advisor or Booking.com.
Lyme Regis: The Sanctuary Bookshop Book Lovers B&B
A B&B inside a bookshop? Yes please! Sanctuary has just two modestly priced rooms above the bookshop. The store itself is stuffed to the ceiling with new and used books of all sorts. The collection overflows onto bookshelves in the rooms. They have a lush remodeled bath, perfect for a post-hike soak. Check out reviews and get more info on Trip Advisor.
If you love bookish lodgings, check out this literary tour of Wales. You can sleep in a library there!
Dealing with Your Bags
You can hike with a full pack….or not. We chose…not. We used the Luggage Transfers UK service to portage our bags from one hotel to the next. It was worth it to have clean clothes and non-hiking boots to wear at night. They are very reliable and it only cost of £64 for the full trip–well worth it.
Essential Items to Take
Start by checking out my packing list for UK hiking and sightseeing. It covers 3-4 days of hiking plus other stuff to support a multi-week trip. And it will all fit into a (large-ish) carry-on. Carry a day pack large enough for rain gear, two bottles of water, lunch/snacks and camera gear.
Check out these essential reads for the trip:
Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier. This fiction book tells the story of the true-to-life Mary Anning. Mary made major fossil discoveries in Lyme Regis at the time of the landslide and she battled sexism and Victorian principals to gain recognition.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock chases down a fiendish hound in West Devon.
Dorset & South Devon Coast Path, by Henry Stedman. Henry’s UK hiking books are indispensibly useful. They have detailed maps and very accurate mileage and time tables. The path is well marked and you can easily find it without the book, but it also has helpful information on the history and topography of the region.
The Southwest Coast path in England has over 600 miles of coastal trails. But the Jurassic Coast hike has really earned its UNESCO designation with an evolving landscape, killer views and cute beach towns well stocked with refreshing beer. Thanks to the South Devon tourism bureau for helping us put together such a scenic itinerary. Have a great hike and happy trails.
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