The wonderful thing about our Jurassic coastline is that it can be enjoyed equally by people on their own, in small groups, or as part of an organised tour. Every visit brings a new experience and perspective, even when it’s returning to a favourite spot.
This summer the Jurassic Coast Trust organised a series of coastal walks led by our volunteer Ambassadors. We covered the coast from Ringstead to Ladram Bay – taking in Triassic burrows, the inferior oolite of West Bay (Broadchurch country), and everything in between. By offering a little bit of perspective from a local expert, we aimed to add useful nuggets to people’s experiences of the area, explaining why the coast looks as it does, pointing out key features along each walk, and telling the wider Jurassic Coast story that knits these myriad landscapes together.
I was fortunate enough to attend the last walk in our series, a jaw-dropping traverse through the western section of the Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. Expecting a jolly day out in a lovely Devonian landscape, I was certainly not prepared for such an incredible, other-worldly environment that brought to mind my time spent travelling in the jungles of Costa Rica and Ecuador.
The Undercliffs truly is Amazonian in nature, if not in scale, offering the kind of wilderness experience that is rarely presented in the UK, or indeed in anywhere north of Timbuktu. Just as impressive as the reserve itself was the fact that it was navigated with such brave, seemingly effortless aplomb by the ageless Donald Campbell, putting people half his age to shame as he hopped branches and scampered through crevasses, accompanied by his faithful dog Fuggles.
The Undercliffs needs to be seen to be believed. Once inside, it is a truly immersive natural experience unlike anything else. The unique landscape was created by a landslip in the 19th century, and has led to an environment where nature is well and truly in control.
Its landmarks are without human influence and are just given generic names that obscure their spectacular nature. Donald led us on an initial trip through the “Chasm”, following which we emerged to the spectacular “Plateau” for lunch – a wildflower-filled patch with stunning views stretching from West Bay to Sidmouth. After that was the “Beach” (there’s only one!) full of stunning in-situ ammonites and a bubbling emergent spring that makes for a perfect drinking water replenishing spot.
Throughout this section, the other walkers and I largely maintained a hushed, reverent silence, a far cry from the usual chit-chat that is the mainstay of British countryside walking. But fear not, it was soon to return!
Re-joining the coast path and passing the slightly better-known Goat Island, it was like re-emerging into civilisation after our epic adventures. We awoke from our collective daydream to politely share variations on, “Gosh, it’s quite wild isn’t it?”
The Jurassic Coast Trust hopes to work more with Natural England on the Undercliffs, and now, having experienced its unique treasures first-hand, I’ll be doing everything I can to ensure more people know just how brilliant it is, and how much can be gained through a trip with an experienced hand like Donald.