Heddon Valley to Woody Bay Walk
A varied walk that follows an historic 19th century carriageway and a section of the South West Coast Path along some of the highest and most dramatic cliffs in England. The views along the coast and across to Wales are breathtaking. Along the way you will pass a Roman Fortlet and walk through ancient sessile oak woodlands. In the spring and summer the cliffs are alive with a variety of sea birds.
National Trust gift shop, grid ref SS655480
With the National Trust shop on your right, walk down the road towards the Hunter's Inn public house. At the junction turn right, and then left along the bridleway by the side of the inn. At the fork take the footpath to your right signposted Woody Bay 2 ¾ miles. You are now walking through Road Wood along a wide track known as 'The Carriageway' that you are going to follow along its length up and along the cliffs to Woody Bay. This first section along Hill Brook Combe is home to bilberry, common cow-wheat, wild strawberry and wood avens. In early summer this section is full of foxgloves as a result of the work we have done in recent years in cutting back encroaching sycamores.
In 1885 'Colonel' Benjamin Lake bought the Martinhoe Manor estate with grand plans to create a splendid tourist destination in Woody Bay. By 1899 he had built a pier in Woody Bay for steamers carrying wealthy passengers to dock at. The carriageway you are walking on was designed to carry these same tourists by carriage from Woody Bay to the Hunter's Inn in the Heddon Valley. In 1900 the 'Colonel' was declared bankrupt with his grand plans never having come to fruition.
Carry on straight up and along the Carriageway as it climbs around the headland above Heddon's Mouth and Highveer Rocks. On a clear day there are far-reaching views over the Bristol Channel to Wales, down to the lime kiln at Heddon's Mouth, up the Heddon Valley and to the northwest to Lundy island.
As you follow the track you can see Woody Bay, Valley of the Rocks, Lynmouth Bay and Foreland Point stretching out before you. Look for the signpost on your right that leads up to Martinhoe Roman Fortlet.
Martinhoe Roman Fortlet
This small, square fortlet situated on cliffs overlooking Heddon's Mouth is one of several that can be found in Devon. It was manned until AD75 under the command of the Second Augustan legion based at Exeter. With a little imagination you can almost see the barracks, smell the drifting smoke from numerous fires and hear the cries of the soldiers based here. In 1960 archaeologists discovered a plate inscribed with the name of Silvanus, a soldier, together with ceramics, cooking pots and a coin from the reign of Emperor Nero.
Returning to the main track, continue towards Woody Bay. Above Hollow Brook Combe the path is flanked by sessile oaks and rare whitebeams. This is an excellent place to look out for the peregrines and buzzards that breed in this area.
Pass through the gate, closing it behind you. You are now walking through West Woody Bay Wood, home to ash, larch and birch, as well as more oaks. Keep an eye out for red deer and woodpeckers.
Stay straight on the Carriageway to where it meets the road on sharp hairpin bend. Turn left and follow road down the hill, past a small National Trust car park an alternative starting point for this walk. Just past the car park turn left down a road shown as a dead end that leads to Woody Bay. The woods you are walking through are under constant threat from Rhododendron ponticum and Himalayan Knotweed and since 1987 we have been carrying out a continual eradication programme.
On a very sharp right-hand bend in the road look for the South West Coast Path on your left, signposted 'Coastpath Hunters Inn'. Turn onto this path which you are going to stay on all the way back to your start point. Follow the steep incline up the side of the cliff and pass through the gate into a woodland of sessile oaks, sheared by the wind over decades into a myriad of twisted shapes. In the late spring the floor of this woodland is carpeted with bluebells. Hollow Brook Combe waterfall drops in a series of cascades 219 yards (200m) to the sea.
Carry on up the side of the combe to Great Burland Rocks. This is an excellent vantage point from which to look for the guillemots, razorbills and other seabirds in the bird colony down below you to the east at Wringapeak.
A wide variety of sea birds nest and breed on the cliffs between Woody Bay and Heddon's Mouth, most particularly on the rocks of Wringapeak to the east of the vantage point at Great Burland Rocks. Guillemeots, razorbills, Manx shearwaters, black backed gulls, kittiiwakes and fulmars are just some of the species you might see.
Carry on along the footpath to where it turns back up the Heddon Valley along the side of the combe. This is a good position from which to look down onto the beach and the lime kiln, and across the valley to where the coast path makes its away precipitously around the headland and on to Combe Martin. In autumn the gorse on this section scents the air with the smell of coconuts. You might also see cormorants and ravens here.
Carry on down the hill, across some scree, where you will meet a footpath signposted to the right to the beach. Unless you wish to make a short detour to the pebble beach and lime kiln at Heddon's Mouth, turn left along South West Coast Path signposted ½ mile to Hunters Inn, follow the signposts back to the pub and the Trust gift shop and ice cream parlour. We hope that you enjoyed this walk. The National Trust looks after some of the most spectacular areas of coastline for the enjoyment of all. We need your support to help us continue our work to cherish the countryside and provide access to our beautiful landscapes. To find out more about how you can help our work as a volunteer, member or donor please go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/northdevon.
National Trust gift shop, grid ref SS655480
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