Thursday, 15 May 2014

Weston Plats revisited: part 1

I briefly visited Weston Plats - a pleasant coastal 'undercliff' near Sidmouth - on a walk a year ago (see Dunscombe: Spring is in the air). But I took myself out yesterday for a better look: a half-day excursion taking in some of the nicer woodland and coastal scenery of East Devon.

Weston Plats are a remnant of an obsolete farming system in East Devon; 'plats' were sloping south-facing plots, used to raise early vegetables and flowers, in the moist and sheltered microclimate of the 'bench' of Triassic rocks below Cretaceous crags above. Most of the plats have become overgrown, and in one case occupied by a mobile home park, but Weston Plats - where farming ceased in the 1960s - were cleared and restored a few years ago, in a joint project between the National Trust and the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It's mildly hard work to get there - it's part-way up the 500-foot ascent on the western side of Weston Combe, on the South West Coast Path. But it's worth it: a secluded and relaxing place, sheltered below the crags of Rempstone Rocks. I think it must be the most westerly example of an undercliff on the south coast. For further background, see the National Trust page - The past rediscovered: The Weston Plats. The South West Coast Path site has a page - Weston Plats - giving detailed instructions on visiting.

On Wednesday I visited Weston Plats as part of a walk from Weston Donkey Sanctuary to Sidmouth, a 'lite' version tracking inland to avoid most of the major descent and ascent at Salcombe Mouth: still a respectable afternoon's walk of about 5.5 miles, with one stiff climb. I started by taking the 157 Coasthopper bus from Exmouth to Sidmouth, which goes via Budleigh, East Budleigh (birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh) and the Otter valley; then taking a local bus from Sidmouth Triangle up to the Donkey Sanctuary.

Walter Raleigh statue, East Budleigh
Buckton Hill, north of Sidmouth

The Donkey Sanctuary (entry is free) itself has some signposted walks, and one of these links in handily to a visit to Weston Plats: route E, which descends Weston Combe a little way before tracking in a loop up the wooded hillside to take in a hermitage and quarry. The woods looked and smelt beautiful; at this time of year, the chief ground cover is some variety of allium (ramsons, I think).

Where path E returns to the hilltop, head south between the donkey fields, then west; this takes you on to a southward road to Dunscombe Manor holiday park, where a concreted track skirts the side of the valley further southward to a signposted link to the coast path. Follow that, a steep descent of the western side of Weston Combe through woods, then pasture, until you see the information board for Weston Plats.

The access track leads, via a reconstructed linhay (a storage shed) ...

... to the plats, an NT-maintained plat nature reserve, cleared as a meadow surrounded by mature woodland. Despite the scary description ...
Exploring the Weston Plats
Care is needed at all times as the site contains old machinery and is bordered by steep cliffs. Please keep to the waymarked path around the site. There is no through access along the coast.
... there are one or two well-trodden side paths leading through characteristic undercliff woods - ash and hawthorn trees, ivy, brambles, ferns - with fine views along the coast and upward to Rempstone Rocks. Apparently you need to watch out for adders.

To be continued

- Ray

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