Exploring Branscombe and Beer

Tony LambertTony Lambert is a Jurassic Coast Ambassador from Branscombe. Here he writes about his latest guided walk from Branscombe to Beer, undertaken earlier this month.

Our annual July guided walk from Branscombe to Beer and back, a collaborative effort between the Jurassic Coast Trust and the National Trust, was a great success this year. We welcomed a group of 16 along, including four walk leaders – myself, my fellow Ambassador Norah Jaggers and her husband Henry, and Mike Lock, a local botanist.

The Old Mill, Branscombe
The Old Mill, Branscombe.

The weather was perfect, and our first stop after leaving Branscombe’s Branoc Hall was the National Trust-owned Manor Mill. We were accompanied by Katy, a local NT warden who showed us around the Mill, which was built in and has been used since the nineteenth century. Katy explained the Mill workings and let us see it in action.

Once on the beach, I spoke about the geology of the area which was there for us all to see, with red Triassic cliffs to the West and a mix of both Early and late Cretaceous cliffs to the right. I also talked about the varied coastal industries which had taken place on the beach over the last 200 years or so, for example the late eighteenth century limestone furnace on the beach producing Mortar for building and fertilizer for acid and heavy soils.

The limestone came from local quarries and the furnace was powered by coal, brought in by boat from South Wales and stored where the present café stands. There was also a gypsum mill on the beach in the mid-nineteenth century, powered by a water mill whose supply came from the Leat, winding its way along the valley.

Plaster of Paris was produced in the mill for use, for example, in the building of houses and cathedrals. The pebbles on the beach were also put to good use from early in the twentieth century. They were sold in large quantities to cement works and were used for grinding the ‘clinker’, or residue, from the furnaces. These orders provided work for both Branscombe and Beer residents.

As we walked along the beach towards Hooken, our botanist Mike pointed out interesting flowers and plants. From the beach we climbed the steep path through the gap created by the huge land slip at the end of the eighteenth century and on to Beer.

After a refreshing lunch break, Norah and Henry enlightened us all with a talk about Beer’s interesting history and geology, which included the importance of the black flints found in pure Beer Late Cretaceous limestone. These flints were used back in the Neolithic period for tools. The flint was ‘knapped’ and very sharp blades and scrapers were produced. The flints were also used for ‘flintlocks’ in the 17th and 18th century gun trade.

We then returned via the old Coastguard Station and the ruins of a gun battery dating from the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. Both the Coastguard Station and the old battery had amazing views across the whole of Lyme Bay. We arrived back at Branoc Hall at 4.30pm as planned, and the group of 12 said that they had really enjoyed the walk and they also felt that they had learned a great deal about this wonderful stretch of coastline.

I am looking forward to next year’s walk already!