Countisbury to Watersmeet circular walk
An interesting walk rich in wildlife, including otters and salmon, that crosses a variety of landscapes, ranging from open fields, woodlands and riverbanks to the rare opportunity to walk along the bottom of a deep Devon combe without having to wade through a river.
National Trust car park at Countisbury, grid ref SS747496
Walk out of the National Trust car park at Countisbury to the main road and turn right. Please be aware of traffic as this is a public road. Walk down hill in the direction of Lynmouth, with the inn on your left and a row of cottages to your right. 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.
Cross the road at the end of a row of cottages and take the signposted National Trust Centenary path. Follow this to the right, through a metal gate, across the field to the wooden gate. Go through gate and walk a few paces down to the fingerpost that signs 'Footpath Lynmouth 2 miles', 'Winstons Footpath Watersmeet' and 'Countisbury.' Do not take any of these paths. Please follow the grassy path that is not signposted that takes you down into the valley, or combe, as this type of feature is known as in Devon.
'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.
As you walk along this path you'll see areas of scree, evidence of the last Ice Age. There's more information about this on our trails for the Heddon Valley. Walk through an area of sessile oaks to a gate go straight through and carry on to a T-junction. You can now hear the East Lyn River just a short way ahead of you. Turn right and walk through Westerwood until you reach another T-junction.
At the T-junction there's a signpost. Turn left here signed 'Footpath Watersmeet ½ mile.' As you walk along the riverside watch out for salmon and trout in the river. Otters can also be spotted on occasions. The mainly oak woods are home to a wide variety of birds that fill the air with their songs, particularly in the spring and summer. You might also see grey herons as they sit silently on branches just above the river keeping an eye out for an opportunistic feed. Stay on this path all the way to Watersmeet House, keeping the river to your right.
Once a fishing lodge for a wealthy local family, Watersmeet House is now home to a National Trust gift shop and tea-garden, (seasonal opening - please check website for opening times). The East Lyn is one of the few rivers in North Devon that can be paddled by kayakers. The entry point is on the opposite bank to the tea shop garden; it's popular when the water level is high enough as it's a highly technical route. The river is also open for fishing at certain times of the year. Salmon, plus sea and brown trout can be caught in a number of named pools. Details can be found on the information board at the end of the footpath as you arrive at Watersmeet House.
Watersmeet House was built in 1832 as a fishing lodge by the Reverend W.S.Halliday, the son of a rich businessman. The stone for the house was quarried at Watersmeet, above the East Lyn River. This picture, taken when the tea garden is closed for the winter, shows the house as it might have been in the 19th century. Nowadays, especially in the summer, the garden buzzes with activity as our tea-shop here claims to have the best cream teas in Devon.
Before continuing your walk up the East Lyn Valley, cross the two wooden bridges to the right of the house and take a look at the waterfalls at the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water. The mine adit you see as you cross the first bridge is a remnant of speculative mineral exploration in Victorian times by wealthy local landowners. Return across the bridges to the house and turn right to follow the path up the East Lyn River, past the house on your left and keeping the river on your right. Follow the path signed 'Public Footpath and Fishermans Path Rockford and Brendon'.
Wildlife along the East Lyn
The woodlands along the East Lyn River are home to a wide variety of birds including jays, wood warblers, tree creepers and sparrow hawks. Herons, dippers and grey wagtails are often seen along the river itself. Otters live along Hoar Oak Water and are sometimes seen swimming and playing in the East Lyn. If you're very lucky you might hear the roar of red deer in the midst of the rutting season in autumn. The woodlands are also home to a wide variety of fungi, wild flowers and butterflies.
Stay on path to another finger post - follow the sign to Brendon. The path climbs a little way up the side of the valley before coming back down to the water's edge when you enter Barton Woods. This section of the walk is spectacular in the autumn when the forest floor is carpeted with copper-coloured leaves. In the spring, swathes of bluebells appear, scenting the air with their delicate fragrance. Follow the path by the side of the river, still to your right, until you can see Ash Bridge - a footbridge over the river - ahead of you.
Do not go as far as footbridge. About 35yd (30m) before the bridge take the path up to the left signposted Countisbury. Follow the path uphill, with a small brook to your right, until you come to a sign post. Do not go right through gate, but instead turn to left up the steep steps. Follow path as it goes uphill and then gently undulates through the woods. Stop a while at the bench where the view opens out to your left - there's a wonderful view down the East Lyn Valley and across to the grassy swathe of Wind Hill Fort.
Stay on this path until you reach a T-junction; there's a gate to your right that is overgrown. Turn left here and follow the path through the opening in the dry stone wall. Watch out for grey squirrels running acrobatically through the trees. Follow the path through the woods until you come to a finger signpost in a clearing. Turn right here through the gate signed 'Countisbury ½ mile'.
Follow the wide grassy path through the gorse, up onto Trilly Ridge. Go into the field and walk to the waymark ahead of you. Turn around here and look at the fabulous view over to the high moorland above Brendon to the left, along the wooded slopes of the East Lyn Valley and across to Wind Hill Fort to your right.
Turn back round and carry on walking across the field to the top right corner to a signpost showing 'Countisbury'. On a clear day there are far-reaching views cross the Bristol Channel to Wales. 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. Turn left and walk a short distance back to the car park.
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.
National Trust car park at Countisbury, grid ref SS747496
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