Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Axmouth Harbour, Axmouth, Seaton, Devon

Like the beach, the harbour is one of those places that continually changes, not just by the seasons, but also from day to day according to the tides and the weather. I've been taking photos of it for almost 40 years...and I still don't feel that I've captured it properly! Unfortunately, that's meant that many of the photos look too disparate when put together on the page. However, I scanned a load of b&w negs and colour slides taken some 20 plus years ago, so I've mostly used those for the sake of cohesion...and dramatic effect, lol...together with a couple of my more recent favourites. 

Originally a thriving port for ships and industry, the gravel spit now only allows a precarious exit to the sea for yachts and fishing boats. There's a huge amount of history attached to the harbour. An important harbour in prehistoric times, it was the gateway into a very significant buffer land protected by Iron Age hill forts between the surrounding Durotriges and Dumnonian tribes, and was the coastal start of trading routes leading up to the Stonehenge and Avebury complex. In fact, finds of animal bones during excavations there indicate that cattle used during celebrations originally came from East Devon, as well as elsewhere in Britain.

Visiting peoples from other lands included the Phoenicians, who sailed into the River Axe, and it was also a possible port for the Romans, or more likely a mooring slightly higher up the river opposite the now village of Axmouth where there have been found Roman remains, and who established a settlement in Seaton and quarried limestone from near the now village of Beer. The Danes also landed here in 937, happily defeated by King Athelston in a huge battle at Axminster. In Mediaeval times the monks of Newenham and Sherborne continued to use and cultivate growth of the harbour...and who, interestingly, held lands for orchards and gardens in Beer; the name Beer being an Anglo Saxon word for 'grove'.


During these earlier times the estuary was much wider and deeper than it is now, allowing for ships to sail at least as far as a mooring at Colyton. In fact, a ship's anchor and other ship remains have been found as far as Axminster, some 7 miles inland. Trading and shipbuilding were still very much alive throughout the Middle Ages, until the estuary was partially blocked due to a landslip at Haven Cliff during the 14th century. From that time, silt carried down river was blocked, forming a salt marsh behind the shingle bank. Several attempts were made to cut through the bank, but the tides continued to bring back the shingle, making it impossible to restore the deep water necessary for ships to navigate into the harbour.


Up until 1877 a ferry operated across the river, at which time it was replaced by a toll bridge and is the oldest surviving mass concrete bridge in the country. This did two things. It facilitated access between Axmouth and Seaton more readily, especially with the upcoming use of the motorised vehicle, but also stymied any further attempts to enable ingress by taller shipping.

Today, the harbour is dependant upon the tides, therefore boats can only enter or leave at high tide. Used mainly for recreational boats, the harbour contains the Axe Yacht Club house on the western bank plus floating pontoons (not so evident in these photos as many have been added since I took these shots, but they can be seen in recent pics in the Photo Gallery). The club was founded in 1936 and was called the Seaton Sailing and Motor Boat Club. This was suspended during the second world war, but was recommenced in 1947 under the new name. Not only did the 'Axe' relate to the river, but the logo of a Saxon battle axe is used to recall to mind the Saxon inhabitants of the Axe Valley...the town of Seaton originally called by the Anglo-Saxon name Fleote by it's earlier people.

Fishing boats also sail from the harbour, many of which can be seen along the old north wall. The harbour was rebuilt in 1809, and as well as the north wall it comprised a long pier, customs house and warehouses at the mouth of the river. The nearest building in the above photo once belonged to the ferryman, and the one beyond is the only remaining warehouse. Today there are more buildings, and the ferryman's house is now a fishing tackle and bait shop with the lean-to building used as a cafe with outdoor tables...a very pleasant place for a bacon sandwich, a mug of tea and to while away the time doing nothing. ;)


The photo below always amuses me, as at first glance I always think of a seagull riding a bicycle. It is, of course, a fishing boat! With a seagull perched on it!

And finally, a photo I took whilst sat at the outdoor cafe. Bliss! :)

These, along with many more, can also be seen in the Photo Gallery album.

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