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Dark green fritillary male on thistle Heddon Valley
A dark green fritillary butterfly | © National Trust Images / Matthew Oates

Heddon Valley butterfly spotting walk

Take a walk through a deep woodland coastal combe and high cliff paths with views across to Wales, on the look-out for one of the UK's rarest jewels of a butterfly: the high brown fritillary (only around in June and July). You'll really test your butterfly identification skills as there are two similarly patterned fritillaries.

Total steps: 7

Total steps: 7

Start point

Heddon Valley National Trust car park, grid ref: SS656480

Step 1

Set out from the car park, passing the Hunter's Inn. Cross the bridge and pass an orchard and white cottages. Take the steep lane up towards Trentishoe.

Step 2

There's a colony of high brown fritillaries and many dark greens at Trentishoe Combe (the steep bracken slope beyond the oak trees). Look for them on bramble and thistle flowers. There are also many birds to see on your walk – keep your eyes peeled for woodpeckers, nuthatches and migrant birds like pied flycatcher and wood warbler, whose song is unmistakable (imagine a spinning coin on a hard surface).

A pair of male High Brown Fritillary butterflies in June at Heddon Valley, Devon
A pair of male High Brown Fritillary butterflies in June at Heddon Valley | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

Step 3

Where the bracken ends, turn right on to the level footpath that runs above the bracken slope. If you spot a fritillary here, chances are it's the dark green variety as high browns do not venture so high. You may also see small coppers, wall browns and graylings.

Step 4

Follow the path that skirts field boundaries to the coast.

Silver washed fritillaries mating, Ashclyst Forest, Killerton, Devon
Silver washed fritillaries mating, Ashclyst Forest | © National Trust Images/Fi Hailstone

Step 5

This is one of the finest stretches of the South West Coast Path and you'll see plenty of seabirds gliding below. Walk east along the cliff top to Peter's Rock, take care here as it is a very steep cliff face.

Step 6

Take the path to the right, which leads back through bracken and into high brown territory.

Step 7

Either walk along the west side of the river through woodland (better for butterflies), or cross at the bridge, turn right and head along the east side through water meadows (the route shown on the map here). Enjoy the butterflies on the huge buddleias before stopping at the Hunter's Inn for a drink or meal.

End point

Heddon Valley National Trust car park, grid ref: SS656480

Trail map

Map route for the Heddon Valley butterfly spotting walk
Map route for the Heddon Valley butterfly spotting walk | © Crown copyright and database rights 2013 Ordnance Survey

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Get in touch

Heddon Valley, Near Parracombe, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 4PY

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We’ve partnered with Cotswold Outdoor to help everyone make the most of their time outdoors in the places we care for.

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