Dawlish Warren and Cliffs

About this route

Dawlish Warren is a fascinating place. This sand spit at the mouth of the Exe Estuary is not only of geological interest but is also a nationally important habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. It also has a protective effect on the estuary and helps to prevent localised flooding.

Dawlish Warren is a rare ‘double sand spit’ with two dune ridges that, in the recent past, were separated by a tidal inlet. The two ridges can still be seen, most clearly from the meadow known as Greenland Lake. The Warren is also unusual because it is an acidic sand spit and is not derived from shell material.

Getting Around

On foot: the South West Coast Path runs through Dawlish Warren.

By bus: regular bus services run to Dawlish Warren from Exeter, see the Travel Devon website for the latest times.

By train: direct trains run from Exeter and Plymouth, see the Travel Devon website for the latest times.

By road: Leave the M5 Motorway at junction 30 and follow signs for Dawlish along the A379.

Please note, cycling is not permitted within the reserve at Dawlish Warren, where dog restrictions also apply all year round.

Nearby parking, shops and cafes.
A mix of easy level walking on footpaths and more challenging walking on sand.

Interesting information

Compared to most sites of geological interest, Dawlish Warren is very young – a mere 7000 years old. It was created by post-glacial sea level rises. As might be imagined, a sand spit is not the most stable of structures and its continued presence relies on a balance between erosion on the one hand and the arrival of sediments that travel along the coastline in a north-easterly direction (longshore drift).

The wind also had a significant effect on the Warren, with sand dunes visible in the exposed areas facing the open sea. The more sheltered area behind the spit has developed an area of intertidal sand and mud that provides feeding grounds for wintering wildfowl and waders. The Warren continues to evolve, and in recent decades storms and higher tides have resulted in an overall loss of sediment.

Nearby to the south-west can be seen the impressive Dawlish Cliffs. They show some of the finest exposures of Permian sands in Britain and their red colouration is a striking feature of the coastline. Ancient winds piled up these sands upon what was a gravelly desert floor and you are, in effect, looking at fossilised sand dunes. The modern effect of wind erosionĀ  on these cliffs has produced some striking patterns and forms in the exposed sand.

The site is a Local Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation.

Close up photo of red sandstone cliffs at Dawlish
Dawlish Cliffs by Craig Dixon

You can explore more in this area

Photo looking along the coast over the sea and red rocks to Parsons tunnel at Dawlish

Dawlish to Dawlish Warren

Part of the South West Coast Path, this path runs between the pretty town of Dawlish and the National Nature