Horner's Neck Wood extended walk, Countisbury
An interesting walk that crosses a variety of landscapes, including the rare opportunity to walk along the bottom of a deep Devon combe without having to wade through a river.
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. It is rich in wildlife with the possibility of seeing deer and otters.
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 the 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 ½ mile (800m) west of the Blue Ball Inn.
Cross the road at the end of the row of cottages and take the signposted National Trust Centenary path. Follow this to the right, signposted 'Lynmouth Watersmeet', through the metal gate and across a field to a wooden gate. Go through the gate and walk a few paces down to the fingerpost that signs 'Footpath Lynmouth 2 miles', 'Winstons Footpath Watersmeet' and 'Countisbury Off Road Path.' Turn right here towards Lynmouth, along the path that skirts around the small dam supported by the dry stone ditch. From here, there's a panoramic view down Chiselcombe to your left. A 'combe' is the local name given to a steep-sided valley.
Approximately 90yd (80m) along you'll come to another fingerpost signed 'Countisbury' to the right and 'Lynmouth' to the left. 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 over to the grassy swathe of another Iron Age earthworks, Myrtleberry North. In the autumn, bright yellow gorse flowers colour this section of the walk and on a sunny day fill the air with their coconut fragrance. You can also see a wide variety of fungi here - on trees, in the grass and on the stems of the gorse. Please do not touch or pick any as many species are poisonous.
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. 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.
Take a close look at the dry stone ditch to your right as you walk along - home to a wide variety of small plants and providing an important habitat for insects. You can see sphagnum moss and pennywort amongst many others. Sphagnum moss is commonly called peat moss and some species can hold up to 20 times their weight in water inside their cells.
At the next fingerpost, take the fork to the left, signposted 'Lynmouth 1 ¼ 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're 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're 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.
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 would not 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.
As you walk through the wood look for a fingerpost on your right - it's where the path you are 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 'Watersmeet-Rockford'. You're now walking upstream with the East Lyn River on your right.
Where the path forks there's a fingerpost signed 'Watersmeet Riverside Walk' to the right and 'Watersmeet Woodland Walk' to the left. Turn left and follow the path as it meanders its way along the side of the valley through the woodland to Watersmeet House.
Watersmeet House and East Lyn River
Once a fishing lodge for a wealthy local family, the house is now home to a National Trust gift shop and tea-garden (seasonal opening - check website for opening times) bustling with people, many trying the tea-garden's renowned cream teas. Running nearby is the East Lyn, one of the few rivers in North Devon that can be paddled by kayakers; the entry point for this highly technical route is on the opposite bank to the tea-garden. The river is also open for fishing at certain times of the year; details are on the information board at the end of the footpath as you arrive at Watersmeet House.
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. 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'.
Watersmeet Falls Mine adit
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.
Stay on the 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. 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.
As you walk along the riverside watch out for otters as they can be spotted on occasions. You might also see grey herons as they sit silently on branches just above the river, keeping an eye out for an opportunistic feed. This section of the walk is spectacular in the autumn when the trees are ablaze with copper-coloured leaves, and in the spring the floors of the woodland are carpeted with bluebells.
Do not go as far as the footbridge. About 33yd (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 signpost. Don't go right through the gate, but instead turn to left up the steep steps through Horner's Neck Wood. As you walk up the steps along this steep section give thought to the rangers who carried in the tools, stones and wood needed to build them - quite a task as the nearest vehicle access is a good distance away. This is a good place to see pioneer trees - young growth that indicates that woodland is growing and thriving. Follow the path as it goes uphill and then undulates through the woodland, stopping 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. This is another good spot to look for deer. 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 grassy 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 look after some of the most spectacular areas of our landscape 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. To find out more about how you can help our work as a volunteer, member or donor please visit our homepage.
National Trust car park at Countisbury, grid ref: SS747496
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.