East Devon Coastal: Branscombe to Beer and back (partly circular) - 6.5 miles - O/S Landranger 192
There are few more satisfying walks than this. Great views, great pubs, plenty of tea houses and fine pebble beaches.
Driving into Branscombe from the west, you pass the Fountain Head on your right. Don't miss it. An old-fashioned stone floored pub serving superb local ales and home cooked food, you can smell the sawdust. its a step back on time. There's parking at the rear along side the outside loo, and a stream that presumably used to be the outside loo. But don’t stay too long, you’ve got a walk to do. Further down (it’s supposedly the longest village in England) park at Branoc Hall, just past the thatched forge (yep, they have a working one with a tea house and bakery opposite).
Across the road from the Hall follow the footpath sign to Branscombe Mouth and coast path. Once there, head east up the hill, passing a WW2 bunker better disguised than it was in its heyday. Shortly after turn right into Sea Shanty Caravan Park (a daft name for some superbly set chalets). This leads to a narrow undercliff path. Easy going until it steepens toward the end. Before then keep an eye out for a cave to your left in the limestone cliffs. There’s a track to it but the cave is out of reach. If someone's left a rope dangling, don’t be tempted. I was once and it’s not worth the risk of a broken back.
Backtracking to the main path, onward and upwards, the sandstone and limestone cliff changes colour to chalk white. In patches all the way from Dover, this is where the white cliffs end (and still not a bluebird in sight). You can get a closer look near the top when a path to your right appears and follows the edge of a flint embedded chalk face. The locals chipped flint like this into shards for muskets. For Charles' musketeers or Cromwell's roundheads I can't remember, but I suspect either if the money was right. This path leads nowhere but admire the view, one of the finest in the county... any county. This bit of coast is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty by World Heritage for good reason.
Back on the main track, you soon emerge at the cliff top. Head east and enjoy the vista as Beer comes into view. A small fishing and quarrying community, it’s another one of Devon’s gems, and I love it. My grandkids love it. You can’t not love it. It’s unique with its beached fishing boats, tea shacks and little clinker-built boats for hire. Deckchairs for hire too and a shed selling freshly caught fish and other sea delicacies. And to top it all (literally because its above the beach) the Anchor Inn with a beer garden overlooking the ocean. What more could you want other than fewer people so you could get a table at lunchtime.
Beer stone is used on many of the local and modestly impressive buildings. There's an air of affluence about them, missing from its neighbour, Seaton. Maybe mining the stone was lucrative, but I wouldn't discount smuggling and privateering (privateering is legalised piracy) as profitable sidelines . Beer men have always known how to handle a boat. Whatever's the reason, it’s well worth exploring the village for twenty minutes (and the antique centre). You could also visit the quarry mine and get a guided tour from an expert on Beer, its past and the stone, which was also used for parts of Exeter - and Westminster - cathedral. Dragging it there on Devon's notoriously crap roads before turnpikes improved things took oxen and sled. Even lighter loads were taken by pack horse rather than cart because of the state of the roads. Devon didn't do wheels.
When it’s time to go, retrace your steps back to Branscombe but, instead of turning off into the undercliff, keep to the cliff top. Enjoy the view of the lush valley as you descend back to Branscombe Mouth.
If you didn't dally at the Fountain Head or the Anchor, take a right near the bottom. It brings you onto a lane that leads to another delightful pub, the Masons Arms, with a roaring real fire in winter. Its a Branscombe chalk world away from the Fountain Head. More for your squires and Dukes than your fishermen and field labourers, but still lovely.
Re-energized on pork scratching, take a right as you leave the pub and stroll up through the village back to your car. If you have time, stop at the church. As village ones go, it's impressive with some Norman bits (the font I think... usually is) and, as with churches in fishing villages, interesting gravestones.
Did I mention this is known as the Jurassic coast, designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and the only natural World Heritage Site in England? And did I mention they're reopening the quarry at Beer to supply stone for repairs to Exeter Cathedral? Time to get the oxen and sled out of retirement.