The 5 km hike that has it all: Budleigh Beach

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

The 5k hike that has it all starts at what is quite possibly the world's most beautiful car park - Lime Kiln.
Lime Kiln – possibly the prettiest car park in the world.

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.)

An estuary, a river, iconic trees, cliff formations named after cute animals - this is the 5k hike that has it all
Head towards the River Otter estuary and the iconic trees by Otter Head
When the tide is high, this area is popular with kite surfers, stand-up paddleboarders and other waterspouts enthusiasts..
Stunning sea views and bright red triassic cliffs - this is the 5k hike that has it all
Follow the path around the bend, where this view is waiting for you.
Budleigh Salterton is a town, but parts of it have the feel of a fishing village.

Beach huts and pebble art

Pastel-coloured beach huts on pink pebbles - this is the 5k hike that has it all
Pastel-coloured beach huts on Budleigh Beach

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.)

Pink pebbles that are a geological phenomenon - this is the 5k hike that has it all
The famous pink pebbles of Budleigh Beach are endlessly fascinating. To geologists.
'Stay Strong' - pebble art on Budleigh Beach
Pebble art became a big thing during lockdown

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.

Always check the tide times!
Always check the tide times. If you haven’t got an app for that (I use My Tide Times), you can check the times for the high tide manually at the top of the Steamer Steps.
The cliffs are unstable, and rock falls are not infrequent. Not an ideal spot for a picnic.
Not the best spot for a picnic – you can even see the remnants of a previous rock fall!

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

Kapes, a prehistoric creature that inhabited this area before the dinosaurs. Told you, this is the 5k hike that has it all.
Here, kitty, kitty, Kapes! Can I have one? #socute 
Image credit: Bristol University

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.

More iconic trees and cliffs, with some humans for scale.
I’m a bit obsessed with the silhouette of the trees on top of these cliffs. 
(Humans for scale.)

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. 

I have no idea how I managed to miss this massive 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.)

Close-up of the pebbles in the foot of some 246 million years old cliffs - this is the 5k hike that has it all.
Age is but a number – in this case, that number is 246 million years.

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.

Unstable, but pretty cliffs - this is the 5k hike that has it all
Unstable, but oh so pretty.
More beach huts and Otter Head in the distance - this is the 5k hike that has it all
Heading back to Lime Kiln car park.

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.

Waves crashing against the famous pink pebbles of Budaleigh Beach
Or you can just sit down on the beach, close your eyes, listen to the waves and chill…

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.

Happy trails!

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)