Budleigh Beach is the 5 km hike that has it all. It is beautiful in all kinds of weather, but on this somewhat chilly autumn day in September, with the sun shining from a clear blue sky, it was nothing short of spectacular.
Eager to familiarise myself with my new camera, I ended up taking about 100 photographs (no, really). Still, even when pausing every few steps to capture a new motif, walking across the pinkish pebbles burned a decent amount of calories. Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that there is an award-winning chippy in Budleigh Salterton? Don’t know why that popped into my head just now…
The 5 km hike that has it all starts at Lime Kiln car park
Parking up at Lime Kiln car park and walking down to the estuary, around onto the beach, past the Steamer Steps and onwards to the western cliffs is roughly a 5-kilometre walk. I mean, how long the walk is kind of depends on whether there are stark naked people tanning themselves on the nudist section of the beach. (There were. I hadn’t expected that in late September. I turned around.)
Beach huts and pebble art
I have waxed lyrical about Budleigh Salterton before, but this is the 5 km hike that has it all. This charming seaside town can boast of pretty beach huts, Triassic cliffs, an estuary, a nature reserve, cute cafés, stunning sea views, cliff formations named after cute animals, a quirky High Street, a picturesque riverside walk, and pebbles that are a geological phenomenon. (No, seriously. A geological phenomenon. I once mentioned Budleigh Beach to a geologist and it took a couple of hours before I could extricate myself from the monologue that ensued. Ok, so maybe I did find it fascinating, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. However, if you think geology rocks, you can learn more about the cliffs and pebbles here.)
Beware of cliff falls and high tides
Make sure you check the tide times before you walk beyond the Steamer Steps, and don’t walk right underneath the cliffs. Sure, you’ll see other people doing it – I even saw a family picnicking right next to one of the warning signs – but the cliffs are unstable and rock falls are far from infrequent. The advice from the Coastguard is to walk as far away from the foot of the cliff as the cliff is high – though this is not possible here as this part of the beach is fairly narrow. You can read more about cliff safety here.
FIY, the area beyond the Steamer Steps is also where you might risk running into the ‘clothing optional’ crowd. Good to know if you’ve brought kids along. Unless you enjoy awkward questions, of course.
Triassic cliffs on the Jurassic Coast
This area is known as the Jurassic Coast, but the breathtaking red cliffs in Budleigh Salterton are actually Triassic. You know, 246 million years old as opposed to a mere 201. In other words, these cliffs predate the dinosaurs, but there were some cute critters living here back then called Kapes.
Apparently the cliffs are red because they were scorched by the sun back in prehistoric times. And they were formed on the Pangaea supercontinent. I know. The mind boggles. I told you this is the 5 km hike that has it all.
To quote Bonnie Tyler: Turn Around
This is roughly the spot where you will want to turn around, depending on your views on nudism. The nudist section of the beach starts ca 500 metres from the Steamer Steps, and it is signposted, but somehow I missed the massive sign and noticed… something else… before I noticed the sign.
As far as I know, there is no way to get from the beach to the top of the cliffs once you’ve passed the Steamer Steps, so there is no opportunity for a circular walk. (Several years ago there was a knotted rope that you could climb up near Sandy Bay, but that cliff section has since collapsed.)
The views of this ancient landscape are still stunning, though! Anyway, at this point you might want to consider stopping at the West End Kiosk by the Steamer Steps for lunch, or perhaps you want to continue to The Longboat Café or prefer to grab something from Fifty Degrees North, the kiosk by the Lime Kiln car park? There are more options in town, in addition to the aforementioned chippy. There is an Indian, an Italian and a Chinese restaurant. And a deli, a coffee house, a couple of cafés, and, of course, ice cream parlours. I think there are actually three of those. I told you, Budleigh Salterton has a little bit of everything. Even for foodies.
This is the 5 km hike that has it all, but you can make it even longer
If you fancy a longer hike, you can head up the Steamer Steps and follow the South West Coast Path towards Sandy Bay and Exmouth. Or you can go back to Lime Kiln car park and follow the footpath along the River Otter until you get to White Bridge. From there you can follow the South West Coast Path towards Ladram Bay and Sidmouth. Budleigh Salterton is happily sandwiched between the two, and both hikes are equally enjoyable. That said, the view of the sea stacks at Ladram Bay is unparalleled in my humble opinion.
Oh, and if like me, you are a bookworm as well as a hiker, you should know that Budleigh Salterton hosts an annual literary festival. This year it was all online (2020, the Year of Cancelled Events), but usually there are talks aplenty all over town and a festival tent on The Green, where you can peruse and purchase books by the festival authors (ironically the town has a literature festival, but no book shops) and enjoy some delicious food while listening to live music.
In short, there are many good reasons to hike through Budleigh Salterton. This is the 5 km hike that has it all.
Distance: 5 km (depending on how far along the west end of the beach you go)
Time: 1-2h (depending on how often you stop to take pictures)