When the Marine Theatre team suggested a group walk along the Axmouth-Lyme Regis Undercliffs path, whilst I didn’t baulk at the idea, my agreement (to myself) was with the caveat that it had to be fair weather.
I could not have asked for a more perfect autumnal October day and to help me remember my rambling, as I walked I recorded a few observations on my phone. Listening to that now on a very wet and windy November night, that sunny golden day seems a lifetime away…
The entrance to this very beautiful walk is so unremarkable it’s a wonder anyone thinks it worth exploring; accessed from the corner of Holmbush car park Lyme Regis then along a short road of not particularly inspiring houses you leap from boring civilisation to the kind of undergrowth that would have David Bellamy quickly enthusing.
Just a short distance and a fairly easy stroll, you are treated to one of the most magnificent inland views of the Jurassic coast.
But I did not have the luxury of being able to dawdle so I walked on through the gate.
I passed a stagnant pond bordered by enormous gunnera plants and the impossible to eradicate horsetail plant.
Then came across a house that is being built, a house that will command one of the best views in the country, a house that seemingly has a bottomless pit of money available, a house that I wondered ‘how did they ever get permission to build something like that in a place like this’, but then as we all know, money talks.
On I walked into the heart of the reserve which is where my recorded notes take me.
There was hardly so much as a breath of air, just a gentle mother’s kiss of a breeze that barely touched my skin. The trees mostly have their foliage but they are starting to turn and some of the tall slender ferns are a chestnut brown. The path is very rough underfoot, as you would expect, with tree roots protruding from the earth like great varicose veins holding on tight to their upright limbs.
There is the quietest of background noise of which you are barely aware; I don’t think it’s the sound of the sea I can hear, it’s either the gentlest of winds blowing through the trees or maybe it is the sound of the sea echoing on the hill; it could even be traffic noise I suppose but whatever it is, it’s the calmest of sounds, like a stream running down from the hills.
There’s a great deal of birdsong and the oh so frantic chatter and squabbling of squirrels as they leap across the treetops.
An aeroplane breaks the spell; some sort of large jet that I cannot see, carrying people to who knows where, far far away. Whenever I see a plane flying overhead I often wonder where they’re going, whether it’s for a holiday or business, whether they’re pleased to be going or not.
The wind has picked up just a little and the branches are waving from side to side and the sun has broken through the cloud and is shining on the roof of the wooded canopy.
I walk through cobweb trails; spiders must be abseiling on the silken threads searching for prey. Perhaps they watch me in horror and anger as I break their line.
Brambles have secured themselves to trees, grown up using the branches as crutches then dropping down to become vicious barbed vines to catch you as you pass.
The leaves on the trees that are still quite green hang like inseparable twins and they slap together in the wind like clapping hands.
I can hear the aggressive crack-a-crack of the magpie, can’t see it so at least that’s not ‘one for sorrow’. It occurs to me I have seen very few magpies lately, perhaps the autumn is their nesting season.
I walk alongside a small lake that must have some sort of flow to it because it is quite clear; there’s a narrow path I follow where you have to watch your step or risk falling in. It’s the kind of lake where you would expect something ferocious to suddenly appear, a crocodile maybe or an alligator. Something scary anyway.
The flapping of wings tells me there are probably wood pigeons flailing clumsily in the trees; another aeroplane flies overhead.
I ascend a short but very steep and narrow hill and as I approach the summit and wonder how I’m going to navigate the downside given the muddy terrain, I am delighted to see someone thought about that and there are several wooden steps to help me traverse the way down. Of course heading back might be a different story.
Then I reach the midway point and another vantage point to enjoy the spectacular scenery; Pinhay Cliffs, where I was reliably informed by a passing rambler, that the tree there is the very same one that John Fowles mentions in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
I couldn’t possibly comment. But what I can say is the view was stunning.
And it was here that I met the Marine Dream Team and so I about turned and headed back along the beaten path, by which time the spiders had dropped another line and we all commented on the new-build.
My return journey took me back along the boardwalk, perhaps the swamp below was where the crocs and alligators lurked.
Then it was over all too soon and we returned to the civilisation of cars, car parks and houses. I suppose the spiders were glad to see the back of us but I will definitely be back, this time with plenty of time to dawdle.