Thursday, 21 January 2010

A coastly affair

Our sister-town of Brewster on Cape Cod and Budleigh Salterton on the East Devon coast share many natural beauties common to seaside communities, with their unspoilt shorelines and their estuary landscapes, havens for wildlife. This stretch of peaceful coastline to the west of Budleigh may look like a dream beach, with that calm, incredibly blue sea lapping gently at the pebbles beneath wonderful red cliffs.

It's relatively empty, even in high summer. No wonder it's supposed to be one of the places where Diana, Princess of Wales, sought happiness during secret walks here with her lover James Hewitt.

And there's even a secluded section designated as a naturist beach where sun-worshippers can lie contentedly on the pebbles.

Diana, Princess of Wales, during a visit to Peterborough
Photo credit: Chris White

But the latest news from the US eastern seaboard and Brewster's coastline reveals a less happy resemblance with Budleigh Salterton's. I read that a massive storm combined with surging tides this month has ravaged beaches along Cape Cod Bay from Provincetown to Brewster, decimating protective dunes, ruining paved parking lots, and endangering coastal homes.

In Brewster, areas like Paine’s Creek Landing, Breakwater Landing, and Ellis Landing have particularly suffered, with sand removed by the force of the tides.

At Paines Creek landing, popular with dog walkers and beach strollers large sections of asphalt were torn from about a third of the parking area.
Above: Sunset at Paines Creek, Brewster Photo credit: Byron Cain

Here in Budleigh that beautiful stretch of the shoreline along which the South West Coast Path runs has been regularly falling victim to natural erosion for many years. Walkers are warned to keep away from the cliff edge, and I feel just a little bit nervous as I stand there to take my amazing photos.

I don't suppose you get much warning if a thundering noise suddenly emerges from those cracks in the ground, sweeping soil and vegetation along with any rash photographers in a matter of seconds down to the beach hundreds of yards below, and marking a new line in Britain's failing defences against the sea.

At the magnificently situated East Devon Golf Club they're already making plans to deal with the likelihood that the parts of the South West Coast Path, which runs alongside the golf course, will soon be too dangerous for walkers to use. The path, following 630 miles of coastline is Britain's longest national trail, running from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. It's been calculated that a total of 19 miles of the path is at risk to regular coastal slippage.

"The section of the coast path at the top of the 16th fairway is eroding very quickly,"
say Club spokesmen. "One more landslide and the coast path will have to be re-routed to a safer position."

A plan has been drawn up which, the Club feels, maintains what it believes to be the ethos of the course, namely "to use the natural contours and flora of the land to provide a great golfing experience." The three-stage plan, involving protection of the course's heather beds and some judicious movement of plants, consists of constructing a new 13th hole along with new 14th and 17th tees, creating a new fairway and altering the route of the 16th hole away from the cliff. A total expenditure of £92,500 is involved, but the Club is confident that all stages of the plan, recently approved by its members, will be completed through the annual cash surplus.

And in Brewster too they're talking about the cash burden of ravages caused by the sea. The town's Natural Resources Departments estimated that long-term repairs in the area would cost as much as $500,000.

On both sides of 'the pond' there's a price to be paid for living in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

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