Sandymouth to Duckpool and Stowe Wood circular walk
This circular trail offers walkers contrasting landscapes as it follows dramatic coastline to Duckpool before heading inland along a wooded valley, through the centuries-old Stowe Wood before heading back to Sandymouth. This walk embraces the seasons with clifftops carpeted with wildflowers over the summer and woodland rich in autumn colour. Look out for a number of birds including blackcaps, linnets and stonechats. The area is steeped in history, passing King William’s bridge, a home of Parson Hawker at Coombe and the house of Stowe.
Sandymouth car park, EX23 9HW
From the car park follow the path down towards the beach and cliffs (past the café and toilets). Before the path drops to the beach (where the information panel is located) turn right and follow the footpath through a kissing gate.
Sandymouth beach is worth exploring
At low tide the beach is a mile-long stretch of sand with rockpools where you’ll find limpets, mussels, barnacles and anomones. The cliffs are part of the ‘Bude Formation’ of Upper Carboniferous rocks and their spectacular sequence of folded shale, mudstone, siltstone and sandstone is why this coast is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Follow the path across the field and over the river. Take the sloping path up the valley to your right, to arrive on top of Stowe Cliffs.
The wreck of Eliza
‘Eliza beach’ sits below and is named after the 1846 wreck of the brig Eliza, bound for Chile. The crew were saved, but the cargo was seized by locals. At the highest point of Stowe Cliffs there was a lookout hut for the RAF Cleave firing range during the 1940s; some concrete footings are still visible.
Continue along the coast path (wooden finger posts will guide you), passing through a gate and eventually descending to the footbridge at Warren Gutter. Cross the stream and climb the slope to Warren Point. Keep walking and soon you’ll pass through another gate and look down on Duckpool and the freshwater pond behind the pebble bank which might have given the beach its name.
Look out for summer wildflowers
In midsummer the slopes and valley stream here are dotted with wildflowers such as wild thyme, milkwort, thrift and yellow iris. Keep an eye out for green hairstreak butterflies on the slender thistles which line the coast path on the approach to Duckpool.
Follow the path down to the National Trust car park.
The beach here is also backed by impressive cliff-face formations and there are rock pools to explore. The rows of concrete blocks at the top of the beach are what remains of anti-tank 'dragon's teeth' put in place during WW2. There are many birds to spot too, with linnets, blackcaps and stonechats all breeding here.
After exploring Duckpool beach following the access road inland until you arrive at the road junction. King William's bridge is to your right. Turn left and then take the first right along the road into Coombe hamlet.
King William's bridge
The bridge was built in 1836 when the existing ford became inpassable. Parson Hawker, newly arrived at his parish of Morwenstow, organised the building of a bridge. A plaque celebrates the King’s donation of £20, but Hawker paid the lion’s share himself, one of many projects which left him penniless.
Continue through Coombe and over the footbridge that spans the ford. Leave the road as it bares around to the left and join the footpath signed Coombe Valley. Follow the path through Lee Wood.
The thatched cottages on your left as you enter Coombe is where Hawker lived briefly with his newly-wedded wife Charlotte in 1826. Built of stone and cob, it has a curious cross-shaped window which Hawker designed. It was here that he composed his famous ballad Song of the Western Men. After the ford to your right stands Coombe Mill and its ruined outbuildings. Walking here at dusk, you might spot pipistrelles, and lesser and greater horseshoe bats.
At the first fork in the path, bear right, soon crossing a stream. At the next junction, bear right again entering Stowe Wood and at the next fork take the narrow path which climbs gently on the left.
Follow the path through the woods until you reach a wooden kissing gate with a National Trust sign for Stowe Barton. Go through the gate and continue, emerging from the wood and then follow the path up the slope between newly planted trees.
Remnants of Stowe mansion
This path is thought to have once been the main approach to the original house at Stowe. As you leave the woods you’ll see to the right a long brick wall, one of the few parts of the demolished mansion still standing.
Pass a small modern bungalow to your right and go through the kissing gate that is opposite from a cottage. Turn left and follow the track through a farm gate and continue past Stowe Barton farm to your right and along the path as it curves left and go through a pillared gateway. Cross over the road to join the bridle way opposite.
House of Stowe
The history of Stowe goes back to the 12th century and the 'great house' (part of which is the wall you can see) was built by the Grenville family in 1679. It was torn down in 1739 and the farmhouse you see today was built later that century.
Follow the track across the fields, and keep straight ahead ignoring the bridleway to your left (leading to Northcott Mouth). Arriving at a sheep pen, go through two waymarked gates into a paddock. Bear left around the hedge, then right to follow the fence and then down towards a gap in the hedge marked with a finger post.
Continue on towards the signposted gate in the right field corner, and up the slope to arrive once more on Stowe Cliff. At the fingerpost follow the path down left into the valley and all the way back to the car park.
Sandymouth car park EX23 9HW
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