A foggy day on the south west coast path: Budleigh Salterton to Sidmouth
Updated: Jul 5, 2022
Date: 22nd December, 2020
Location: Jurassic Coast, Devon (SWCP Section 59)
Distance: 11.4 km (7.1 miles)
Elevation gain: 316 m (1037 ft)
Duration: 4 hours
Highlights: Hiking through a misty forest, lunch at the empty Ladram Bay beach
Summary: An easily accessible section of the coast path with dramatic views, lovely beaches and a good bit of mud (thanks Winter)!
With fears of another national lockdown looming, my sister, Ash, and I have been doing our best to get outside and enjoy the coast while we can. After a sunny walk near Torquay over the weekend, I was excited to take her to another one of my favourite local stretches of the South West Coast Path – from Budleigh Salterton to Sidmouth. Brett and I had walked this stretch back in early September, on a day when the sun was shining and I still had the courage to swim in the sea. I remember loving the dramatic red cliffs and the gorgeous views from High Peak and I was eager to share more of Devon's beautiful landscape with my sister.
Looking at the weather forecast on Tuesday morning, I could tell the conditions were going to be drastically different from what I had experienced the last time I hiked this part of the path. We wrapped up warm, grabbed our waterproof gear and got public transport to Budleigh Salterton. When we arrived at the rocky beach to start our hike, the air was heavy with moisture and unusually still. The sea was reddy-brown and the sky reached on, endlessly grey.
After walking along the beach, we followed the River Otter to the bridge. Over the summer, Brett and I had bypassed this section of the SWCP by wading through the river's mouth (a shortcut much more manageable in the summer months). Climbing up the cliff on the other side of the river, we could see how low the clouds hung in the sky over Budeigh Salterton.
The first half of the hike was mostly through fields, following the edge of dramatic red cliffs. At this point, the sea was still visible, stretching out into the distance where it mixed with the sky. Peaking out from the mist, we could see two fishing boats, whose mechanical noises we could hear surprisingly well despite the distance.
We stopped for lunch at Ladram Bay and were amazed to see we had the whole beach to ourselves. We ate our leftover stir fry and dried mango as a pair of seagulls looked on from a few feet away. Although I would have liked to stay for longer to take some self portraits, we were both feeling cold from the break and so we decided to continue the hike.
After lunch, our hike quickly became more challenging – thanks to the climb up towards High Peak as well as the amount of rain we've had recently. The dirt path was thick with mud and we slipped and slid around, thankful to have brought a pair of hiking poles to help keep us upright.
As we climbed up into the forest near High Peak, we entered a cloud. The trees were shrouded in mist and covered in ivy, giving the forest an ethereal quality, almost like we had just stepped into a fairytale.
The mud wasn't quite as magical...
Leaving the forest, we entered a world of white, unable to see the landscape surrounding us. We opted not to make the climb up to High Peak because we knew the cloud would block all of the incredible views.
Continuing along the coast path in the cloud was eerie, as we were completely unable to see the sea. At some points, we could hear waves crashing somewhere below us, but looking out, all we could see was a wall of cloud. It made for a mystical atmosphere, almost like we were suspended between the land and the heavens above.
We arrived at the edge of Sidmouth around 13:30 and after stopping to drink some spiced hot chocolate we'd brought from home, we walked into the city centre and caught the bus back to Exeter. Despite the grey day, we managed to stay mostly dry throughout the hike (except for Ash's feet which were soaked from the mud).
Although I had hiked this same path before, the fog and clouds made it a completely different and unique experience. The coast path never fails to surprise me.
Getting to Budleigh Salterton: Bus 157 or 357 from Exmouth or Bus 58 from Exeter
Getting to Sidmouth: Bus 9 or 9A from Exeter or Bus 157 from Exmouth