Countisbury figure-of-eight walk
A walk with panoramic views reaching from the Bristol Channel, across the East Lyn Valley and over to the high parts of Exmoor above Brendon. The walk goes through a large sessile oak woodland noted for its beauty, traverses an ancient linhay and passes alongside one of the most important Iron Age forts in Devon.
National Trust car park at Barna Barrow, SS 744497
Walk up through Barna Barrow Car Park towards the Bristol Channel. At the top of the car park turn left and follow the grassy path to the right of a wall. When the paths fork take the left hand one until you reach the finger post. From here you can enjoy extensive views across to Lynton and Lynmouth. To avoid going past the house look across to Countisbury Church and aim for the pedestrian gate which is at the right hand side of the church yard wall. Go through the gate and through the church yard. You may wish to call in to visit the Parish of Saint John the Evangelist Church either now or on your way back. The Parish of Saint John the Evangelist Church The church is an 18th and 19th Century rebuilding of an earlier church. It contains a reset medieval bench end with crowned swan and arms and a screen dating to c.1700. Follow the lane through Countisbury down to the road and into the car park of The Blue Ball Inn. Turn right out of the car park and cross the road where it is safe to do so. Countisbury is thought to mean ‘camp on the headland’ and comes from the spectacular Iron Age fort on Wind Hill, about half a mile west of the Blue Ball Inn.
Next to the Exmoor Bunkhouse take the path to the right, signposted ‘Lynmouth Watersmeet’ through the metal gate. Follow the path across the field to the wooden gate. Go through the gate and walk a little way down to the finger post and follow the path for Lynmouth 2’ Turn right here, towards Lynmouth, along the path that skirts around the small dew pond supported by a dry stone wall. From here, there is a panoramic view down Chiselcombe to your left. On the far side of the pond the path forks. Take the left hand path as the other one will return you to the road.
Approximately 90yd (80m) along you’ll come to another finger post on your right signed ’Countisbury / Arnold’s Linhay’. Take the grassy path to your left that skirts high along the north-west side of Chiselcombe. As you walk, look over to your left to the sweeping views across the East Lyn Valley and to the grassy swathe of another Iron Age earthworks, Myrtleberry North, in the distance.
This old packhorse trail takes its name from the linhay, or cattle shelter, that stood beside the track in the lower part of Westerwood. This shelter would have been used by the mules that carried lime or timber along the path. In autumn, you might see the bright pink seed pods of the spindle tree scattered on the forest floor. Spindle trees wouldn't usually grow on the acidic soils of this area; they have taken root where burnt limestone has accidentally been scattered along the track as it was hauled up Arnold's Linhay from the river to the main road at Countisbury in the 19th century.
Go through the wooden gate. To your left is a large area of sessile oaks called Westerwood that stretches along this side of the valley all the way to the outskirts of Lynmouth. The trunks and boughs of many of the trees are covered in lichen and moss, testament to the fact that Devon has some of the cleanest air in the British Isles. Take a close look at the dry stone wall to your right as you walk along - home to a wide variety of small plants, providing an important habitat for insects. As the woodlands open out you can, for a short while, look up to your right towards the base of the Iron Age fort of Wind Hill.
Wind Hill Iron Age fort
This walk skirts around the remains of one of the most impressive Iron Age forts in Devon, built 2,500 years ago. Often called Countisbury Castle this fortified hill is thought to be the site of the AD878 Battle of Cynuit where the Saxon army was beseiged by the Vikings. Although outnumbered the Saxons overcame the enemy, changing the course of English history. Some historians have argued that other fortifications could have been the location of this epic battle. Whatever the case, it's well worth taking the footpath of the main A39 road to see the ramparts at close quarters.
At the next fingerpost, take the fork to the left signposted 'Lynmouth 1 1/4 via Arnold's Linhay', and follow this path as it winds its way down the side of the valley to the river. Keep a keen eye out for wildlife in the woods; if you are very fortunate you may see roe deer, easily identified by their white tails. This wood is also a haven for birdlife and even in winter you'll hear birdsong competing with the rush of the East Lyn River as it makes its way to the sea. In the autumn and winter when they are stripped of foliage, you can see the wonderful shapes made by the oaks in Westerwood as their boughs have twisted and curled in their search for light.
As you walk through the wood look for a fingerpost on your right - it's where the path you're walking on reaches a T-junction, but it's easy to miss. At this fingerpost turn sharp left off Arnold's Linhay, which continues on to Lynmouth, and take the path signposted 'Footpath Watersmeet 1'. You're now walking upstream with the East Lyn River on your right.
Where the path forks there's a fingerpost signed 'Footpath Watersmeet 1 Riverside Walk' to the right and 'Footpath Watersmeet 1 Woodland Walk' to the left. Turn left and follow the path as it meanders its way along the side of the valley.
At the next 3-finger signpost, that has Chiselcombe written on its vertical post, turn left, signed 'Footpath Countisbury.' (You can choose to follow the path straight on at this point, signed 'Watersmeet ½', and have one of our famous cream teas in our tea shop - please check the website for opening times. You can then retrace your steps to this point and carry on with your walk).
After a short climb, go through the wooden gate and stay on the grassy trail as it winds its way up the bottom of this steep-sided valley called Chiselcombe. 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 the large areas of scree on both sides of the path.
'Combe' is the second most common place name element found in Devon. It comes from the Old English 'cumb' and is of Celtic origin. It's used locally to denote a steep-sided valley that is usually wooded. The Welsh equivalent is 'cwm'. The one you're walking along is called Chiselcombe and you'll follow it down to where it meets the East Lyn River.
At the head of the valley you'll return to the fingerpost mentioned in point 2 of this walk. At this fingerpost turn to your right along the path signed 'Winstons Footpath Watersmeet. This path is named after Winston Singleton who was Warden of Watersmeet for 34 years and built the path in the 1970s. As this path climbs and follows the contours around the hillside there are panoramic views stretching from the Bristol Channel, across to Wind Hill and Myrtleberry North hill forts and over to Brendon Common to the east.
Follow the path, through a gate and down some steps into another area of oak woodland. When you come to the 4-finger signpost turn left, signed 'Countisbury ½ mile'. Follow the steep grassy path through the gorse, up into the field on Trilly Ridge. There are spectacular 360 degree views from the waymark post along the path.
Walk across the field to the top right corner to a signpost showing 'Countisbury'. Go through the field gate and walk straight along the green track back towards Countisbury, through a couple more gates until you reach the main road. Please be careful here and watch out for traffic. Carefully cross road and turn left and retrace your steps along the lane to the right, through the churchyard and across the cliff tops back to Barna Barrow car park.
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.
National Trust car park at Barna Barrow, SS 744497
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.