Saturday, 20 September 2014

Langstone Cliff - civilised lunch and a missing elephant

I recently went to a Ladies' Probus lunch at the Langstone Cliff Hotel, above Dawlish Warren (it was the President's Lunch, to which spouses are invited). It's a very pleasant location, with a view across to the High Land of Orcombe and Sandy Bay. It also has a verandah perfect for 3D photography, and some interesting coastal history nearby.

I just took one photo, but it's lovely. This is, as previously, a crossed-eye stereopair.

click to enlarge - use full screen for best view

detail, 1801 OS map, William Stanley
The location is geomorphologically interesting. The rising land to the south of the hotel comprises Permian breccias that originally went in a continuous sweep to a headland, Langstone Point. However, the Brunel railway of 1846 took its route through a deep cutting that isolated this headland as what's now known as Langstone Rock. You can't access it direct from the upper-level coast path below the Langstone Cliff Hotel, but need to cross the footbridge at Dawlish Warren railway station and follow the sea wall path.

1898 OS map. Historic map data is © and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.

We didn't visit it this time, but it's a striking location, particularly from beach level at low tide, when you can see the wave-eroded caves and natural arch. You can also get to the top of the rock via a frequently slippery path by the Red Rock Cafe between the rock and railway line. For some good photos, along with a geological account, at Ian West's page Dawlish Warren Sand Spit and Langstone Rock, Devon; Geology of the Wessex Coast.

Photo by RG, 22 Sep 2014
What's not obvious from most images, and visible only from seaward or the air, is that Langstone Rock is really two rocks with a cove between, the smaller one at the Dawlish Warren end pierced with fissures that emerge as a deep 'well' behind the cafe.

Image from South West Coastal Group - Groynes

Detail from aerial photo, Ian West's
Geology of the Wessex Coast site
This explains the reference to a "cavern" in Herapath's Railway Journal, whose correspondent was reporting on storm damage to the line in the autumn of 1846.
There formerly ran a cavern through the Langstone Cliff; this cavern was filled up with earth in the course of the works. In an early part of the gale this had been washed pretty well through, and the sea soon broke right through the wall, coming on to the line to the astonishment of the policeman, who suddenly found himself wet as a shag.
-  South Devon Railway, Herapath's Railway Journal, Volume 8, No. 386, October 31, 1846, page 1384
The location gets a reference in the Maurice Drake's crime thriller The Ocean Sleuth, whose investigator protagonist stays in Dawlish.
To kill time before the evening meal, I strolled to the end of the Dawlish sea-wall as far as Langstone Cliff. Here, as between Teignmouth and Dawlish, the railway pierces a headland, but the cliffs being low it passes through a cutting instead of a tunnel, the end of the promontory, isolated by the cutting, standing up like a square island of rock to seaward of the line. A flight of steps led to its summit, and I climbed them, intending to have a look along the coast, but just as I reached the top it came on to rain again. Close to me were a flag-post and a little wooden look-out hut, and outside the hut a coastguard was waving two flags, talking semaphore language to the coastguard station at Exmouth, about two miles away. 
- Maurice Drake, The Ocean Sleuth, Methuen, 1915, Internet Archive oceansleuth00drakrich 
We must wander down there shortly. Googling finds a number of interesting images such as those at the Dartmoor Archive (e.g. Langstone Cliff, Taken From Path On Top Of Sea Defenses South Of Dawlish Warren); this postcard of "Smugglers Caves. Langstone Cliff. The Warren. Dawlish" ...

... and of "Elephant Rock", which in postcards is the formation viewed looking toward the natural arch from the shore between the two sections of Langstone Rock. It doesn't look anything like an elephant in any of the postcard images, the reason being that the original Elephant Rock, at the eastern end of the promontory, was broken by erosion in the 1800s. A sequence of watercolours by the Sidmouth antiquarian Peter Orlando Hutchinson documents the process.

#1 - the original Elephant Rock
"The Elephant Rock," east side of Langstone Point near Dawlish, Devon. It is only apparent at one point on the Railway wall. As the rock is soft it will probably not endure many years. Coloured there May 4, 1868.
The Elephant Rock, Langstone Point, near Dawlish. The head is falling away. Sketched on the spot July 30, 1879. See the more perfect drawing of May 4, 1868. See forward, where the Elephant appears without its head. Sketch dated July 31, 1888.
#2 - going
The Elephant Rock, with the head fallen off. Coloured on the spot, July 31, 1888. (See back July 30, 1879, and May 4, 1868.) These changes shew the constant washing of the cliff. The waves have made caverns and passages underneath its body between its legs, through which I have walked and come out the other side.

#3 - gone
(Peter Orlando Hutchinson images: low-resolution images - subjectively colour-corrected - for purpose of non-commercial commentary/review, credits to Devon Record Office and the In the Footsteps of Peter Orlando Hutchinson project 2010-2013. For higher-resolution original versions, see Hutchinson's Pictures, part of the POH project's ongoing work to digitise Hutchinson's remarkable output of diaries, sketches and paintings).

- Ray

Update: see the following post, Langstone Rock - live visit,  for more photos, taken on 22 Sep 2014.

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