Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seaton to Lyme Regis and the Bindon Landslip

Howling gales and torrential rain here at the moment but on a sunny day in October I went to Seaton to walk into the middle of the woods between Axmouth and Lyme Regis. I usually miss out the photographs of the early part of the walk, but for a bit of a change I have put up some of these and I will be back soon to put up the photos of the woods proper and talk about the walk a bit more. In the meantime here is a little bit of the historical record of the event which began on a stark and dormy night just before Christmas in 1839...

The History of the study of Landforms Or the development of Geomorphology edited by T. P. Burt, R. J. Chorley, D. Bunsden and others.

One of the earliest examples was presented by William Cronybeare (1840) the vicar of Axminster and William Buckland, professor of geology at Oxford, reporting changes produced on the coast of east devon between Axmouth and Lyme Regis by the subsidence of a chasm 200 m wide, 30 m deep and 1.5 km long as a piece of land, known as Goat Island, moved seaward. Of its time, the Bindon event is the most widely documented mass movement in the British Isles. The fortuitous presence in the area of two of the leading catastrophist geologists of the day, Cronybeare and Buckland, meant that Bindon is the first landslide event ever recorded with a full scientific memoir of the Geological Survey.

From Cronybeare

A week or two before Christmas and on the 23rd of December, one of the cottages in the undercliff below began to show signs of subsidence, though not sufficient to create alarm.
At about 4.00 a.m. there came a 'wonderful crack' followed by movements in absolute silence and without vibration. The occupier of the house was only able to open the door with considerable difficulty and wagons brought to remove the household effects only just returned on the path. The journey was described as 'perilous'. Two coastgaurds saw the ground cracking and heard a sound like 'the rending of cloth'. There was a 'heaving and disturbance of the beach, the sea being violently agitated while a dark ridge rose in the water'. There was a 'deafening crashing of falling rocks', 'flashes of fire' and 'a strong smell of sulphur'. So much alarm was generated by the reports that many people were discouraged from visiting the slip. Those who did venture out were 'breathless and bewildered at the sight' and one person was 'led back to a sick bed at Honiton' from which ' he with difficulty recovered'.

From Wanderings in Devon by W. H. Hamilton Rogers MDCCCLXIX

The exact period of the descent, was on the night succeeding Christmas Day, 1839, and it continued gradually sinking or subsiding during the whole of the next day. There was no noise of any kind except from portions of the detached soil falling down. An eye witness who was present on the morning following the descent, and while the mass was still settling, describes the scene as being of a very awful description; to see the vast and apparently bottomless cracks extending, and the mass of land moving, while as if to shroud this vast convulsion in still further mystery, there was a dense fog setting in from the sea, enveloping everything.

About forty five acres of fields growing wheat and turnips were dislodged when a great chasm was formed more than 300 feet (91 m) across, 160 feet (49 m) deep and three quarters of a mile long. The crops remained intact on the top of what became known as "Goat Island" among the newly formed gullies. On February 3 1840, 5 weeks later, there was a second landslip nearby but much smaller than the former. This strange phenomenon attracted many visitors, and the canny farmers charged sixpence for entrance and held a grand reaping party when the wheat ripened.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Woods at Broadhembury

A day spent putting succulents to bed for the winter and then the following afternoon I finally find my way into Jeremy's woods, which turns out to be a lovely little wildwood. Long wellington boots are essential in here due to the large amount of water which underlies pretty much everything. Even with these on the wood still needs negotiating with care, so as not to end up getting very wet.

This is a small, friendly seeming wood, tucked away up many lanes near Broadhembury. I get the sensation that people do not enter into these woods very often. I leave huge galumphing footprints in the deep moss behind me which I hope will spring back after I leave. It is almost like walking on a floating green river of plants and moss. Nothing is certain here; what appears to be solid ground quite often isn't. Trees cannot be relied upon to bear weight if you lean against them. Apparently solid branches are actually soft and can just collapse with the slightest touch. Trees fall over and then they regrow themselves from the disintegrating horizontal trunks.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sidmouth to Budleigh Salterton

A couple of good long walks up over the hills and cliffs to Budleigh Salterton in what turned out to be better weather in September than we had most of the summer.

It takes about three and a half hours to walk the roughly seven miles to Budleigh though at this time of the year you are walking into the sun all afternoon, so it is a fairly squinty walk.

Over the first series of hills, those being Peak Hill and Higher Peak, and then down into Ladrum Bay with its interesting stacks and lovely clear water, we encounter a couple of very young looking children apparently skinning up behind the hedge at the caravan park. They look round rather guiltily and scuttle back to the death slide to smoke their spliff.

Ignoring the ice-cream shop in the hope of getting one at Budleigh we move on and past the abundant sloes growing in the hedges along the cliff edge. The hedges have all been recently flailed, destroying many of the lower fruits and making the rest hard to gather, though this still appears a popular spot for families out picking.

We meet a man who has been walking round the entire coast of Britain along the coastal path. He left Brighton heading eastwards and we meet him when he is on the last couple of hundred miles or so. It had taken him about three months which is pretty good going by my reckoning.

Along past the world war two spotter station situated at the lonely location of Brandy Point which would be a nice place to sit out a war, I should think. In earlier times this was used to look out for smugglers, of which there has always been plenty along this coast what with its isolated bays and beaches.

On past freshly ploughed fields and crops of corn growing up to the cliff edges the walker gets right to the beach at Budleigh only to find a river in the way, so a detour inland and up the river is needed to find a bridge to cross. This is not really a problem as the river is so pretty that it is good to see a bit more of it and it does have a lot of interesting birdlife, such as Heron, an Egret and some that might have been Canada Geese.

Finally we arrive in Budleigh Salterton, home of the young Walter Raleigh who isn't around at the moment, and with slightly achy feet we manage to find some fantastic and much needed ice-creams and sorbets. Yum yum!