Don’t underestimate the Undercliff

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The Undercliff lies to the west of Lyme Regis, stretching 5 miles towards Axmouth and Seaton. A wild landscape of meadows and thick, dense woodland created by landslips.

Landslides have created a magnificent wilderness that has been colonised by natural vegetation. The self sown Ash and Field Maple woodland contains large areas of mixed scrub including Wayfaring
Tree and Spindle, with dense entanglements of Bramble, Madder, Clematis and Everlasting Pea.…..

Wet areas, including ponds and springs, have their own distinctive plants, such as Giant Horsetail, sedges and Common Reed. The cliff top chalk grassland contains a wealth of wildlife, with rarities
such as Nottingham Catchfly and Early Gentian. (Natural England leaflet)

John Fowles used to live here in Undercliff cottage where he wrote a number of his works including The French Lieutenant’s Woman in which the Undercliff plays a significant role.  It’s here that Charles encounters Sarah Woodruff dor the second time. She takes walks and rests here as a way of escaping from the restraints of Victorian Society. In the book the Undercliff is notorious for illicit lovers’ trysts and respectable ladies would want to be seen in a place associated with immorality and depravity.

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Today it’s a nature reserve and the South West Coast path runs through it. As is pretty typical for the coast near Lyme, landslips meant that there was a diversion inland for a few years but the path through the Undercliff reopened this year. For much of it’s length there is only one way in and one way out  – there are no paths leading inland or seaward. It’s a challenging walk – the path is very uneven terrain, and hard going as due to the clay soils much of the path is muddy and slippery for most of the year.

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We’d originally planned to take the bus over to Seaton and walk back along the path. Unfortunately time didn’t allow for this. Instead we walked from Monmouth Beach up the steep steps

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and into the Undercliff for just over a couple of miles before turning back and retracing our steps with a diversion via Chimney Rock.

Initially we passed through pleasant meadows

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from where there were views over the bay towards Golden Cap

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but we were soon into dense woodland.

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Wit it’s humid micro climate, I  guess this was a near as we get to rainforest in the UK.

The vegetation was different from elsewhere in the area. I’m not much of a botanist so wouldn’t know how to spot any rare species but there were certainly plenty of these unusual ferns

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They’re Hart’s Tongue Fern

The plants are unusual in being ferns with simple, undivided fronds. The tongue-shaped leaves have given rise to the common name “Hart’s tongue fern”; a hart being an adult male red deer. The sori pattern is reminiscent of a centipede’s legs, and scolopendrium is Latin for “centipede”.[4] The leaves are 10–60 cm long and 3–6 cm broad, with sori arranged in rows perpendicular to the rachis.

The plants grow on neutral and lime-rich substrates, including moist soil and damp crevices in old walls, most commonly in shaded situations but occasionally in full sun; plants in full sun are usually stunted and yellowish in colour, while those in full shade are dark green and luxuriant. (Wikipedia)

It was certainly hard going but we encountered a number of walkers who had trekked through from Seaton. I felt a little jealous. Perhaps next time!

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