East Devon – Devon
Often overlooked by tourists, East Devon has a long, wild coastline where dramatic red sandstone cliffs to the west give way to remote, undercliff beaches set far below wooded slopes. Inland, there are ancient forests to explore, and the oldest and biggest oak tree in the South West.
You have to make special arrangement to visit King John’s Oak near Shute in Axminster, but you will be rewarded by the unforgettable sight of the aged, gnarled tree with a girth of more than seven arm spans. Tradition has it that the tree started life as an acorn planted by King John in 1199, when hunting nearby. Now, its great contorted boughs reach right down to the ground. You’ll find more fine oaks on the ancient forest trail at Killerton Park and also at Ashclyst forest, near Exeter–a great place to see butterflies.
Some picturesque woodland valleys drop down to the sea, terminating in beautiful coves. A walk of about a mile, following a stream down through secluded woods, leads you to Weston Mouth, five miles west of Seaton. Easier to access is the charming National Trust beach at Branscombe, where you can head off on a deep-sea mackerel fishing trip. To the west, beyond Sidmouth, the profile of the coast changes and steep woods are replaced by spectacular, red sandstone cliffs. Ladram Bay has amazing stacks, sea caves and huge rock pools to explore. This same bedrock colours the pretty River Otter, which swirls beneath ivy-clad ciffs, forming secret river pools edged with red sand beaches. At its estuary you might come across red pebbles that split to reveal prehistoric, fossilised shells.
At the eastern extreme of this region, towards Lyme Regis, there is a particularly long, remote section of coastline. In 1839, after intense rain, a huge avalanche resulted in a 45-acre section of agricultural land breaking away to form ‘Goat Island’, complete with crops. The island became a tourist attraction and farmers charged for entry, but it has long disappeared. This special area is now known as the undercliff, a nature reserve with a unique geology and habitat, and accessible only by walking. The sandy beach far beneath, at Charton Bay, is hidden from sight by dense foliage. Miles from anywhere, this is one of the most beautiful wild bays in Devon and on a sunny day, you could almost be on a desert island.