Heddon's Mouth circular walk
A beautiful walk through ancient woodland alongside the River Heddon to where it meets the sea between some of England's highest cliffs. Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Heddon Valley is home to a variety of wildlife including otters and the rare high brown fritillary butterfly. You will find a restored 19th century lime kiln on the beach.
National Trust gift shop, grid ref SS655480
With the National Trust shop on your right, walk down the road towards the Hunter's Inn. Keeping the Inn to your right, follow the road over the River Heddon and carry on as it curves up to the left and then to the right over the stone bridge. Please be aware of the traffic on this section. Just after the bridge look to your right - Harry's Orchard was planted in memory of Harry Westcott, a former National Trust employee.
33yd (30m) past the stone bridge turn right and go through the gate along the footpath signed Heddon's Mouth. You will follow these signs all the way to the beach. Please close all gates behind you.
The towering cliffs at either side of Heddon's Mouth are some of the highest in England. They are made from Devonian sandstone and are almost 400 million years old. During the last Ice Age the summer thawing of the top layer of permafrost resulted in a slow flow of loose rock and soil downslope, clearly visible as large areas of scree today.
Follow the footpath until you reach the next gate. As you are walking look across the river into the meadow and up into the woodland to your left, home to sessile oaks, ash and some rare whitebeams. If you are lucky you might even see an otter in the river. Go through the gate and carry on straight. The path is gently undulating and passes a stretch of traditional dry stone wall, a thriving habitat for insects. You will also see large patches of scree left over from the last Ice Age.
Carry on past the wooden bridge. The valley now opens out. Vast stretches of heather light up the slopes in August and in early autumn the air is tinged with the coconut smell of bright yellow gorse flowers. Just beyond the top of a slight incline the path reaches its end at the 19th century lime kiln at the beach. For your own safety, please do not enter the kiln. This is a wonderful viewpoint down onto the pebble beach, up to the top of the cliffs and back along the valley behind you. Rest a while and absorb the myriad of sounds - waves crashing on the beach, pebbles rolling back and forth, and the birdsong. If you walk down onto the beach, please keep away from the base of the cliffs.
The lime kiln found on the beach at Heddon's Mouth was originally restored by us in 1982. In the 19th century limestone and coal were brought across the Bristol Channel and burnt in the kiln to make the lime needed to counteract the acidity of the local soil.
Retrace your steps back along path, with the river now on your left, down the slight incline to the wooden bridge. Turn left and cross the wooden bridge over the river taking the time to look up- and downstream. You might just see a heron or some dippers. At the end of the bridge turn right and follow the path upstream, keeping the river to your right. Now that you are closer to the river you will be able to see the wonderful clarity of the water. Brown trout are common in the River Heddon and occasionally, depending on water levels and access, sea trout and salmon can be seen.
Stay on the path as it winds its way up a short incline past more scree slopes. In autumn and winter keep an eye out for robins, cheeky woodland inhabitants that will often fly alongside you as you walk. They sometimes stop on nearby bushes providing a perfect photo opportunity. Continue along the path, now on the side of the hill above the river. As you walk along look up and across the water to your right where the valley side reaches seemingly endlessly upwards allowing you to fully appreciate the scale of the Heddon Valley and the way it was sculpted during the last Ice Age.
You will start going down a slight incline to come level with the meadow that you first viewed from the other side when you walked down to the river mouth. In spring this meadow is filled with wildflowers. You might also see local Devon ruby red cattle grazing. Stay on the path past the stone bridge over the river. Where the path splits, follow the right hand fork along the river bank bank. In late June and July look out for the rare high brown fritillary butterfly nectaring on the bramble flowers along the side of the path. In autumn there are different types of fungi in the woods on both sides of the river. They are lovely to look at and fun for children to identify, but please do not pick any as some are poisonous.
High brown fritillary butterfly
The population of this rare butterfly has declined 90 per cent since the 1970s largely due to the ending of woodland coppicing. The woods and meadows in the Heddon Valley are maintained by us to encourage breeding. The best season to spot this beautiful butterfly is between mid-June and early July.
Carry on up an incline and a few steps to where the footpath joins a bridleway. Keep to your right down a slight slope where the path rejoins the river bank. Go up another short incline. Here the footpath meets an old carriageway built in the late 1880s by Colonel Benjamin Lake to transport tourists from his resort in Woody Bay to the Hunter's Inn in Heddon Valley. This carriageway now forms part of an breathtaking circular walk that connects the Heddon Valley to Woody Bay (also available as a downloadable trail from our website).
At the carriageway turn right and walk back down to rejoin the road past the Hunter's Inn public house on your right back to your starting point at the National Trust gift shop and ice cream parlour. We hope that you enjoyed this walk. We look after some of the most spectacular areas of countryside for the enjoyment of all. We need your support to help us continue our work 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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