One step at a time: reinstating access to St Gabriel's Beach

Maintaining access to the secluded St Gabriel's beach for walkers on the Golden Cap Estate is an ongoing issue due to the unstable nature of the cliffs here. In the summer of 2014 we were able to replace the steps which were damaged beyond repair in winter storms back in 2011. Here, Ranger Nick Tarrier explains how this tricky task was accomplished with the help of a boat, hard working volunteers and generous donations (as of February 2017 they are closed again due to movement of the undercliff.)

Beach access

St. Gabriel's Steps have been a long standing feature of the Golden Cap Estate. Unfortunately, they regularly need to be maintained or fixed due to the changing dynamic of this stretch of the South West Coast Path. They offer walkers the chance to access the beach from the estate and a different perspective of Golden Cap and the Jurassic Coast. In 2011 the steps were damaged beyond rescue by the winter storms and the path was closed until further notice.

Repair work

Early in the summer of 2014, we decided the clay cliff face at St Gabriel's had dried out enough to begin replacing the sections of steps. Because of the remote location of the path we decided to bring the timber in by boat. We launched from nearby Seatown beach, shipped around Golden Cap and then built the step frames on the beach. Thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers and some exceptionally good weather, the step sections were screwed and bolted together on the shore ready to be dug into place on the cliff.

Steps to completion

Over the course of a week the steps gradually crept up the cliff, 2.4 meter sections at a time. The steps were fastened into place using pins and also gullies were dug to support the weight of the sections. After all the steps had been fixed to the cliff a handrail was added. The path leading down to the steps also had a revamp. It was re-routed, with new steps and the path moved from the slowly disappearing cliff top to a slightly more inland route which should give us more time to enjoy the path.

Funding the work

Due to the almost yearly costs to maintain and repair the steps, we decided to set up a donation box at the top of the path. Passing walkers responded by raising over £1,000 towards the upkeep of the steps, showing just how important and well loved this stretch of coastline is.