[Simon Thurgood Images] [Simon Thurgood Images]


Out and About - Devon

[Welcombe to Devon sign sited on Exmoor]Devon is the only county in England to have two separate coastlines; the South West Coast Path runs along the entire length of both, around 65% of which is named as Heritage Coast. This path shows some terrific scenery especially on the North coast where the cliffs are the highest in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangman, a 1043 ft (318 m) "hog-backed" hill with an 820 ft (250 m) cliff-face, located near Combe Martin Bay. Its sister cliff is the 716 ft (218 m) Little Hangman, which marks the edge of Exmoor. Inland, the Dartmoor National Park lies wholly in Devon, and the Exmoor National Park lies in both Devon and Somerset. Apart from these areas of high moorland the county has attractive rolling rural scenery and many Blue flag beaches. All these features make Devon a popular holiday destination. The county also boasts a strong link with the military, the Navy Docks in Plymouth, the Royal Marines at Lympstone and the military training areas on Dartmoor.

Apart from the scenery, wildlife both on land, air and sea - there are over 40 reserves not withstanding the National Trust and English Nature properties, there is plenty of sport to watch and take part in. Surfing especially on the North coast, Canoeing on the many rivers in the county and many other water sports around the coast.


Andrew's Wood

[public notice board]I found this great little reserve close to Loddiswell in South Devon. I found it a magical place and well worth a visit. Andrew's Wood reserve which is run by the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) covers woods and grassland, over a system of fields originally farmed by the villagers of Stanton. The ruins of this hamlet can still be found at the southern end of the reserve. In the past it was known as Stanton Moor but was sold to DWT on condition that the name would be changed. The new name is in memory of the former owner's late son.

There are two circular way-marked trails which unfortunately in places are not that clear. One will take you about 30 minutes and the other about an hour. Both trails start and finish at the car park. With the exception of a gentle slope down the track from the car park, the ground is mostly flat with steps, bridges and boardwalks where necessary to negotiate any obstacles. The paths, while generally ok, would be difficult to go around in a chair or use a pushchair. Where the path crosses any fences there are kissing gates. Please note that the path is extremely muddy, especially in the winter, and use appropriate foot wear.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 20 ref SX707515

Ashclyst Forest

[Ashclyst Forest]What a great place! Ashclyst Forest, which is part of the Killerton Estate near Exeter, Devon, is the single largest area of woodland owned by the National Trust in Devon. There is 741 acres of mixed woodland which is a home to a wide selection of flora and fauna.

The forest has been classed as one of the best 20 butterfly walks in the UK and after walking around myself I can see why, especially if you go on the red walk under the power lines. I would recommend you visit the National Trust website for more information.

The forest is easy to get to with a road going through the middle and four car parks, the pathways are well looked after and access is good. Understandably it gets busy at weekends with walkers, but during the week it seems nice and quiet and well worth a visit.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps 114 and 115

Axe Estuary Wetlands

[]The Axe Estuary Wetlands is an overarching term for the nature reserves managed by East Devon District Council on the lower Axe. There are three main reserves Colyford, Black Hole Marsh and Seaton Marshes. The District Council has a long term ambition to create a single nature reserve stretching from Seaton to Colyford, which will bring environmental, social and economic benefits to the area.

These reserves are a rich mosaic of salt marsh and freshwater grazing marsh, ponds, reedbed, ditches and saline lagoon.

There are great opportunities for wildlife watching here and there are some great new hides where there has obviously had some thought put into it, there is the recently extended Borrow Pit pond dipping platform, all set against the beautiful backdrop of the lower Axe valley. Improvements to access and facilities are being made all the time.

The vision plans for a wealth of new wildlife habitats, making the area one of the best sites for wildlife watching in Devon. A network of paths will provide public access to all of the different habitats. Up to three and a half miles of routes will be available to explore, and these will be screened wherever necessary to avoid disturbance to the wildlife. All routes will be created to a standard suitable for wheelchairs and will include sections of boardwalks and bridges to allow safe access over marshy or tidal areas.

There is a new car park at Colyford Graveyard, you go through the graveyard to an area designated specially for the reserve.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 116

Black Hole Marsh

[]Black Hole Marsh is a new nature reserve on the Axe. It was bought in 2008 by the District Council and following a planning approval, the Countryside Service proceeded to create a saline lagoon on what was previously a drained agricultural field, with little wildlife interest.

The lagoon was created by excavating a large shallow scrape and creating islands within it, all surrounded by an earth bund. The Environment Agency worked with local engineering company, Stonemans, to create an innovative self regulating tidal exchange gate, which allows water of just the right salinity to enter the lagoon.

Within the first year, the lagoon attracted breeding Oystercatchers and is already well populated with the crustaceans and molluscs that support a wide range of wildfowl and waders. Regular birds to be seen include Dunlin, Black Tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover. Rarities often stop by, such as the Glossy Ibis that passed through last year.

New banks and a reedbed and pond were created in June 2010, to screen paths by the lagoon and there is a brilliant bird hide in the centre of the lagoon, reached by a screened boardwalk. There is also a Tower hide over looking the River Axe.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 116

Colyford Common Local Nature Reserve

Colyford Common is an important wetland site on the Axe Estuary. Being regularly flooded by high tides, this salt marsh has a very unusual flora and fauna, supporting many locally rare and nationally important species. Little egrets fish in the creeks and lagoons on the estuary and large black and white shelduck can be seen grazing on the Local Nature Reserve. Wheatears flit across the Common as you walk through it and you can find evidence of Water Vole in the new reedbed close to the village.

There is a bird hide on the Common which offers fantastic views across the upper reaches of the estuary and surrounding salt marsh. A new boardwalk leads to the hide and also to a viewing platform further north which gives great views of waders such as Curlew in winter. From Colyford Common, you can follow white marked posts to take you to our new reserve at Black Hole Marsh. This route is unsurfaced and has steps and bridges.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 116

Seaton Marshes Local Nature Reserve

[]Seaton Marshes is a freshwater grazing marsh, with scrapes, ditches and ponds that attract considerable wildlife interest, from wildfowl and wading birds in the winter to dragonflies and butterflies in the summer.

Before the Local Nature Reserve was established, there was no public access to the lower part of the Axe estuary, so very little was known of its value for wild birds. Now with the installation of a viewing hide reached by a path which is accessible to all, you are free to enjoy this beautiful area and its wildlife. This hide is popular with disabled visitors since it is only 300m from the nearest parking spot.

Seaton Marshes also contains the beautiful Borrow Pit pond, managed by EDDC Countryside Service on behalf of Axe Vale and District Conservation Society, who have recently supported the extension to the pond dipping platform. Over the winter of 2009/10, two otters were regularly seen during the day at the Borrow Pit. The pond and surrounding ditches are full of dragonflies and damselflies through the summer.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 116

Beesands Ley

[beesands ]The Ley is close to the beech at the north end of the village. It is easily accessible from the South West Coast Path. Beesands is set on the coast of Start Bay between Slapton and Hallsands.

The ley itself is fairly small giving good views from the side, there is a excellent hide on the bank which has been set up by the Devon Bird-Watching and Preservation Society.

Parking is good and there are toilet facilities not far. Best of all there is a great pub for non drivers the "Cricket Inn" which serves a mean pint. :o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

Berry Head

[Nats Navigational aid site at Berry head]Berry Head to Sharkham Point is a haven for several nationally rare and threatened species which are dependent upon the thin limestone soils, mild climate and exposed conditions of the headland. The coastal cliffs here are home to a Seabird colony, including Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars. The guillemot colony on the cliffs below the Southern Fort is one of the largest on England's south coast and can be closely watched live on CCTV in the Visitor Centre. Berry Head also acts as an important staging post for migrant birds, it also has a population of Cirl Buntings here. Berry Head was the first place I managed to take pictures of these "smart" little birds.

Caves at Berry Head are home to the endangered Greater horseshoe bat. A small herd of cattle which have been reintroduced to Berry Head produce cow pats which in turn provide food for the bats in the form of Dung Beetles.

Berry Head has in the past been a important gun emplacement and also in later years a listening post in the "Cold War". There are two forts and they were built on the pre-existing Iron Age Hill Fort site overlooking Torbay naval anchorage. Fortifications were erected on the headland in 1793 against threatened invasion by French armies and strengthened with limestone in 1803, when gun batteries were added to protect the anchorages. They were abandoned after two years when the War of American Independence finished, and the armaments were moved to Plymouth, but the ramparts remain.

The former artillery house now houses a public display, featuring details about the history of the area, its wildlife and how it became an important strategic point. Berry Head is fairly easy to get to and there is ample parking for which there is a charge, there is toilet facilities and a café. Access is good and dogs are welcome at the moment but having watched some of the behaviour of some of the owners in allowing the dogs to chase the cows and others not picking up the mess I wouldn't be surprised if this changed.

Great views and plenty of places to try out the camera.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 110

Bolt Head to Bolt Tail

[walkers enjoying the view]This fantastic walk is part of the South West Coast Path. If you do a circular walk, which I recommend, go via Bolbery, Furzedown and East Soar Farm. This is a total of about 11 miles which gives a mixture of lovely Devon countryside and splendid cliff walking. You can go from ether Hope Cove or Salcombe as there are car parks at ether end. I prefer to park up at Hope Cove as there is a great pub there to enjoy a pint at the end. :o)

Both Inner and Outer Hope are worth exploring and there is plenty of history here to please you that are interested in that area, there is a Iron age fort on the headland of Bolt Tail.

From Inner Hope the Coast Path rises steadily to Bolberry Down, owned and managed by the National Trust. There is a long level section before the drop down into beautiful Soar Mill Cove. After the steady climb out again the Coast Path is high, level and surrounded by golden gorse.

Out to sea you will see the Ham Stone and Lantern Rock, the coast looks absolutely spectacular, rugged and beautiful. This walk will give you plenty of opportunities to for bird, butterfly watching and camera work. Along parts of the walk there are a few mystery buildings, but they are part of the old RAF Bolt Head Airfield. The airfield does still exist - in parts - with the current single runway built through farmland and on a different alignment to the wartime strips.

To see this a bit closer you need to take a footpath in land and you end up in a car park where there is a great information board which reads:

"You are standing at the intersection of the two runways of RAF Bolt Head. After the harvest of 1940 the land here was taken over, hedges removed, and runways laid. RAF Bolt Head was operational from 1941 until 1945. RAF Hope Cove, the Ground Control Interceptor Station, (GCI) was established in 1941 to direct fighter operations in this sector of the English Channel."

"RAF Bolt Head was built as a satellite station to Exeter. It had to Sommerfeld track runways 2700ft long, which were later extended to 3600ft and 4200ft. These consisted of coconut matting laid on the fields with metal grids on top. The station was originally used for fighters of 10 and 11 group to escort bombers. The clifftop site allowed fighters the maximum range for these sorties into France. Later, in the build up to D Day, Spitfires and Typhoons by day and Mosquitoes and Beaufighters by night, used the station for raids across the Channel. It was alos a base for Air Sea Rescue using Lysanders, Spitfires and Walruses. At first the personnel were under canvas but as the war progressed facilities improved with huts and hangars being built."

Follow the path back to the cliffs to follow the coast path towards Bolt Head and Salcombe. From Bolt Head onwards you will notice weirdly weathered rocks around and above you. The Coast Path circles Starehole Bay where the seaweed clad hull of the sunken 'tall ship', the Herzogin Cecilie can be made out at dead low water. Here also you can see the Overbeck gardens which is open in the summer and worth a visit.

You can ether return via the cliffs or go thought he lanes back to Hope Cove or go into Salcombe, a great resort which has changed quite a bit over the years. The town is close to the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary, built mostly on the steep west side of the estuary and lies within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The town's extensive waterfront and the naturally sheltered harbour formed by the estuary gave rise to its success as a boat- and ship-building and sailing port and, in modern times, tourism especially in the form of pleasure sailing and yachting.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

Dartmoor National Park

[The Visitor Centre at Postbridge, Dartmoor]Dartmoor in Devon was designated a National Park by statue in 1951. It is 368 square miles (954 km²) in area and has about 33400 people living in it as well as millions of people visit each year.

The Dartmoor National Park Authority was set up in 1974 to manage the park and is committed to working with and through others to ensure the conservation, sustainable development, understanding and enjoyment of the area for you and for future generations.

I recommend you visit the excellent website www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk before you visit as it is packed with information.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

Bellever Forest and Tor

[Bellever torr]Bellever Forest is easily accessible for all, with good car parking and toilet facilities. The paths that are going into the forest are also good giving easy access to all.

There is plenty of wildlife to see (if you are patient) and there are other walks from here which will lead you to the River Dart, Bellever Tor and the high Moor. Soussons Down is a short walk from here and Postbridge is a nice walk either via the road or through the woods.

While walking through the forest is easy, walking on the Moor is a different matter so make sure you have appropriate clothing and map before you go.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure 28

Burrator Reservoir

[Naming stone on the Dam]Burrator is run by the South West Lakes Trust and is an attractive stretch of artificial water, built in the 1890s to supply Plymouth with drinking water. The Dam is constructed of 6 ton granite blocks and holds back some one thousand million gallons of water. Undisturbed Burrator is surrounded by mixed woodland which sharply contrasts with the open moor and rugged Dartmoor tors. The reservoir is popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders due to its wealth of footpaths and bridleways. Many of the trails lead onto Dartmoor so it makes an ideal starting point for longer trips.

The circular walk which follows the lanes around the water is ideal for families as it is easy going and flat. It will take between 1.5 - 2 hours to complete and is approximately 3.5 miles. Parking is possible at various locations including the Quarry car park, Norsworthy Bridge and the Dam. It can get very busy on weekends especially on sunny days so watch out for the cars.

Also Burrator is surrounded by Dartmoor so please dress appropriately and you are close to water so please watch the kids. ;o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

Castle Drogo, Drewsteignton and Fingle Bridge

[castle Drogo]This a fantastic area to visit with many alternatives for the visitor to do, you can visit Castle Drogo which is a country house owned by the National Trust. It was built in the 1910s and 1920s for Julius Drewe to designs by architect Edwin Lutyens, Castle Drogo was the last castle to be built in England, and probably the last private house in the country to be built entirely of granite.

The stately home borrows styles of castle building from the medieval and Tudor periods, along with more minimalist contemporary approaches. The castle has a fine formal garden, designed by Lutyens with planting by Gertrude Jekyll, which contrasts effectively with its striking setting on the edge of Dartmoor. The garden is noted for its rhododendrons and magnolias, herbaceous borders, rose garden, shrub garden and circular croquet lawn. From here you can walk to Drewsteignton which is a village to the north . Drewsteignton was mentioned in the Domesday Book as "Taintone", meaning a village beside the Teign. Much of the village building is of granite, as is Fingle Bridge, over the Teign, which was built in the 16th or 17th century. Among the village buildings is the Drewe Arms, a pub retaining many historic features and a great pint. :o)

For the lovers of history among you there is two great hill forts that are a must, they are Prestonbury Castle and Cranbrook Castle. These are steep walks and are classed as strenuous, so take your time and enjoy the fantastic views up the River Teign towards Castle Drogo. To get to both of these park at Fingle Bridge.

To get to Prestonbury castle walk away from the bridge towards Preston. On the right just before Preston Farm, there is a permissive path up south west between hedges up to a field and Prestonbury Common. Follow the path up and enter a field through a gate. Keep climbing up through the field until you get to the castle. From the ramparts of Prestonbury Castle just sit and enjoy the views across to Drewsteignton and up the River Teign, plus there is a superb view looking down onto Fingle Bridge.

The castle sits a full 500 ft above the Fingle Bridge and you should take the opportunity of a walk around the ramparts of the fort and the 360 degree views are very spectacular and are well worth the climb all the way up from Fingle Bridge. There is only one way back and that is to retrace your steps all the way down again to Fingle Bridge. Stop here for a break at the "Anglers Rest" or picnic by the River Teign and just marvel at the beauty of the place.

When you are ready for the next bit, cross Fingle Bridge and look for the path ahead of you sign posted to Cranbrook Castle. A serious uphill section follows for a good mile uphill along a steep zig zagged path up through the woods to the top of the hill. This bit is steep so take it easy and enjoy the views! At the top there is a turning right through a gate. From the gate walk up across Cranbrook Down and the large Cranbrook Castle at the top. The ramparts can be walked and the defensive ditch is still clearly visible.

Look around the top and the views are magnificent, Castle Drogo can very clearly be seen. Looking south over Dartmoor from here is just awesome and if you know Dartmoor you will be able to pick out lots of landmarks including some of the highest tors on Dartmoor. To get back you have to retrace your route but take care because of the steepness of the walk.

For wildlife and natural beauty you will find it difficult to beat a walk up the River Teign along "The Fisherman's Path", which is also part of "The Dartmoor Way". You can do this several ways and include "The Hunter's Path", which also doubles up as "The Two Moors Way". I often park up in Drewsteignton and walk south using The Two Moors Way to get to the Hunter's Path. This is a path that goes at the top of the valley giving outstanding views of the valley and Castle Drogo. I usually walk west towards the castle until I come to the meeting of both of the paths. I then double back on myself up the Fisherman's Path away from the castle along the River Teign. I then follow the river until Fingle Bridge, which is a great place to stop for a drink or a bite to eat or even a picnic if you are organised enough. When you have enjoyed the scenery enough walk away from the bridge up the hill, Beware of cars as this area can be busy! Follow the road until you get back to Drewsteignton and enjoy a pint in the pub if you are not driving. :o)

Remember that this Dartmoor and some of the walks are strenuous, so make sure you are dressed appropriately and have a map. The websites of the National Trust and Dartmoor National Park both contain for more information on Castle Drogo and some of the walks.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure 28

Challacombe Farm

[notice board]Challacombe Farm, in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, is a working hill farm, set in a valley that is roughly midway between Widecombe and Postbridge on the road to Grimspound. It is also next to Soussons Woods and is accessible via the western route of the Two Moors Way. You can also park close to the Warren House Inn which is on the Postbridge-Moretonhampstead road and walk down to it - this path is suitable for people with prams and 'rugged' mobility scooters.

Challacombe has been farmed more or less continuously for around 4000 years. This has left a rich legacy of archaeological remains, many of which are easily seen. But the flora and fauna does it for me and I would recommend a visit. Remember if you are walking you are still on the moor so suitable clothing is advisable. I would also recommend you visit these websites:

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure 28

Dart Valley Reserve

[River Dart sign at Newbridge]There are two major access points: the New Bridge and Dartmeet car parks. A track from the car park leads you north into the reserve. The entrance to the northern end of the reserve is at Dartmeet, the path follows the river downstream onto the nature reserve.

The Dart Valley nature reserve is the largest of Devon Wildlife Trust's reserves and one of the most spectacular. It covers over 290ha of upland moor and unspoilt wooded valley, and includes the River Dart. The reserve is leased to Devon Wild life Trust by the Spitchwick Manor Estate. The entire site falls within the Holne Woodlands Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and is all subject to common rights. There are several access points to this enormous nature reserve and if you want to explore the entire site more thoroughly, we suggest you consult the Ordnance Survey outdoor leisure map for Dartmoor. However there are two main entry points, both with ample parking and toilets: these are at New Bridge and Dartmeet.

The entire reserve is designated 'Access Land' which allows you to explore the whole area. However the terrain is very rough in places and there are only a few recognised paths. From both New Bridge and Dartmeet it is possible to walk the length of the reserve along the river. The walk is strenuous and the path is very rough and narrow with several steep rocky sections. Allow a whole day to walk the 13km from one end to the other and back. For easy access to some of the most interesting areas, park at the New Bridge end and follow the track described above. This track is well made, relatively smooth and entirely level for a distance of nearly 2km before reaching a steep rocky ascent. From the Dartmeet end, access is possible along the river bank for a kilometre before the path deteriorates; it is, however, likely to be very muddy. You can see some fantastic wildlife along here, I especially love to watch the Dippers.

This part of the River Dart is also very popular with canoeists and have found parking a problem especially at Newbridge. Also at Newbridge there is some great areas for taking a picnic, I can sit for hours watching the water and all that happens on this stretch of the Dart.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

Dunsford Woods

[Steps bridge public information sign in the car park]140 acres (56 ha) of river valley woodland, flood plain grassland and scrub and heathy rocky slopes, part of a larger Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There are two entrances, one at Steps Bridge, the other not far from Clifford Bridge. I would use the Steps Bridge entrance. You can park in the Dartmoor National Park car park next to the Steps Bridge tea rooms which is free. The reserve entrance is just past Steps Bridge itself, on the Exeter side of the bridge. But be careful walking on the road as some road users unfortunately to my dismay seem to think it's a race track!. A path runs along the valley floor between the two entrances. A footpath and bridlepath run along the valley floor, from Steps Bridge to the Clifford Bridge entrance, as well as a number of other smaller paths running alongside the river. It will take you about an hour to walk from one end of Dunsford to the other. While a circular route is not really possible, you can use the main track in one direction and the riverside footpath in the other. The main track is flat and has a well made, smooth surface although when wet it can get very muddy. Access is possible by wheelchair from the Steps Bridge entrance. Also please remember it is next to a river which when in full flow looks and sounds spectacular it is also very dangerous! so watch any children you have with you.

Dunsford is almost unrivalled in its wide range of plants and animals. This is largely due to the great mixture of habitats within its 57ha: large areas of oak, with ash and hazel dotted with grass clearings, bracken-covered slopes and a series of exposed rocky outcrops. In spring there is a spectacular display of wild daffodils. The reserve has been leased by the Devon Wildlife Trust since 1965 and is now owned by the National Trust. It lies within the Dartmoor National Park and is part of the Teign Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

East Dartmoor Woods and Heaths - Yarner Wood, Trendlebere Down and the Bovey Valley Woodlands

[East Dartmoor Woods and Heaths]East Dartmoor Woods and Heaths, which are approximately 10km north-west of Newton Abbot to the west of the A382 and north of the B3387 consists of three adjacent sites: Yarner Wood, Trendlebere Down and the Bovey Valley Woodlands. They are a National Nature Reserve and the Natural England website includes more information on this reserve and others.

Together they provide an excellent example of internationally important Western Oakwood with its associated bird and lower plant communities. The heathlands at Yarner Wood and Trendlebere Down help provide further diversity whilst the Bovey Valley Woodlands has a boulder-strewn valley with steep, rocky, tree-covered slopes.

There is a limited public car park at Yarner Wood which is open from 8.30am until 7pm. Access on foot from Trendlebere Down car park is possible at all times.

At Yarner Wood there are two circular nature trails, one 2.5km long, the other 3.5km. There is a hide where birds are fed from November to March. At Trendlebere Down access is centred round the car park on the road leading to Manaton village. The area has largely recovered from a serious fire which swept through the Down in 1997 and bird-life - including nightjars, linnets, stonechats and skylarks - has returned to the area. Butterfly populations, including the pearl-bordered fritillary, have also recovered.

The woods at Bovey Valley are served by public footpaths and are home to diverse fungi, lichens mosses and ferns. The woods are also home to a number of rare butterflies and are a breeding and wintering site for birds. The River Bovey provides an important habitat for otters, dippers, grey wagtails and dragonflies.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer mapOL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

Fernworthy Reservoir

[Picnic area and the dam]Fernworthy Reservoir is run by South West Lakes Trust. It is one of eight reservoirs on Dartmoor and a great place to visit. The official route to get there is through Chagford but I would recommend you look at the map and go through the lanes as you can halve the time.

But what ever the way you take to get there it is worth the journey. Apart from the walks around the reservoir, it is a great place to have a picnic especially with the family.

A Special Protection Zone on the south western arm of the lake is managed in conjunction with the Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society. Visitors will find two bird hides, one of which is suitable for wheelchair access.

There is a decent free car park and toilets, a very enjoyable place to visit. But please remember you are on Dartmoor so please dress appropriately and you are close to water so watch the kids ;o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

Soussons Down

[Stacked timber waiting to be picked up]Soussons Down was one of the last coniferous plantations to be planted on Dartmoor. Planting was carried out by the Forestry Commission in the late 1940s. This a great site to walk around although please be aware it is a working environment where forestry operations are taking place.

There is plenty of wildlife here and I saw my first crossbills here, so if you are close to Postbridge on Dartmoor it's worth a visit. There is parking off the road but don't block the gate as you are likely to get it moved by a tractor, the paths are ok and passable.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

The Templer Way

[Some of the waste rock by the quarry]This is a great walk, I've done it a few times now and I always find new things to see. It has a length of 18 miles (29 km) and covers a wide range of scenery - open moorland, woodland, meadow, historical tracks, road walking, urban land and estuary foreshore. Although they say there is public transport close by I have found it wanting! If you are going to do the full walk, you will need to time it, so you are following the tide out which doesn't fit into the bus timetable. I normally get a friend to drop me off at Haytor and walk home. There are now several planned return loops in the walk. If you just want to do a smaller section of the walk, Devon County Council do a excellent leaflet on the Templer Way. I would recommend you get a copy of this, as it has maps and other information you will need.

The story of the route begins in 1722 when James Templer was born in Exeter. He was brought up as an orphan and then, when still quite young, he ran away to sea. He eventually made his fortune in India, apparently through the building of the Madras docks, and returned to England. In 1765 he purchased the run-down Stover Estate, near Newton Abbot, built the new Stover House and set about renovating his estate. In 1792, his son, James II, built a canal between Teigngrace and the tidal River Teign at Newton Abbot. This, the Stover Canal, was built to carry clay for export from workings on his land via Teignmouth Docks.

In 1820 James II's son, George, built a granite tramway from Haytor to link with the canal in order to export the granite being extracted from his Dartmoor quarries. Once the granite quarries became uneconomic during the 1850s the tramway was no longer used. The branch line to Moretonhampstead later followed the lower part of its route. Clay continued to be exported along the lower end of the canal until the mid 20th century. It ceased to be maintained in 1942.

The walk is well signposted and most of the paths are good. The only problem would be in some of the woods when its wet and on the foreshore when you must be careful as it can be slippery. Using a mixture of rights of way, permissive routes and minor roads, the Templer Way follows as closely as possible the route of the Templers' ventures - the Haytor Granite Tramway and the Stover Canal - between Haytor and Newton Abbot. It then follows the old exporting route down the Teign Estuary to the Templers' New Quay at Teignmouth.

Except on the open moorland at Haytor Down, where the granite rails of the tramway can be followed, the route is way marked in both directions, and may be tackled in short stretches or in one go. Circular walks have been developed for most sections, including the Heritage Trail, a circuit around the Templer Estate at Stover. The way marks are made up of the Templer Way logo which is composed of a tramway wheel and the tiller and rudder of a barge. Anyone wishing to complete the Templer Way in one day should allow up to 10 hours and should check tide tables before setting out.

The start of the walk is at Haytor, here I would recommended you visit the disused quarry, which is now a pond. It's a great place to sit and let life pass you by, but not to long as you have a walk to do :o) This part of the route passes over the open moorland of Haytor Down before winding downhill through enclosed farmland to Yarner Wood which is part of the East Dartmoor Woods and Heaths National Nature Reserve. Here the beautiful beech avenue lining the tramway was probably planted when the rails were laid down in about 1820. The granite rails are still visible in many places both here and higher up the route. On leaving the woodland the route continues onwards along a permissive path through fields and apple orchards. It joins the main road close to the Edgemoor Hotel. From the open moorland there are stunning views out over the whole route to the coast at Teignmouth. The area also supports a rich diversity of wildlife. To explore Yarner Wood further, follow the nature trail signs.

From Edgemoor Hotel you have to cross the road so be careful as its on a bit of a bend and cars cant always see you. Once you are on the other side the route starts along a stretch of the original tramway through a small deciduous woodland before following minor roads and bridleways through Brimley on the edge of Bovey Tracey. In some places the granite rails are still visible along with an original milestone which gives the distance to the Stover Canal.

Near Chapple the tramway crosses the Bovey Pottery Leat, at its only surviving bridge. A short distance afterwards the Templer Way passes close to Pottery Pond. The pond was constructed in the eighteenth century as a holding reservoir for the water supply that powered machinery in the nearby Bovey Tracey potteries. It is now a small and peaceful tree-fringed wildlife haven. On leaving Pottery Pond the route follows minor roads to the edge of Great Plantation which was once part of the Templers' Stover Estate and is now owned by the Forestry Commission.

From the Great Plantation you have to navigate a very busy round about called "Drum Bridges". For me this is a part of the walk that could do with some better signposting and warnings for drivers who look at you stunned as you try to cross the busy road, round abouts weren't designed for pedestrians!

Once you get over look for the sign on the left which will take you into Stover Country Park.The Templer Way passes by a conifer plantation, meadow, woodland, lake and river and rejoins the tramway at Ventiford Basin. This is where the Templers' Stover Canal and Haytor Granite Tramway met. Granite was transferred onto barges to be taken down the Canal and on to Teignmouth. The ground here is fairly flat and runs along off-road tracks (some unsurfaced), woodland paths and fields. There is a short road section along quiet lanes at Ventiford.

The Templer Way follows the Stover Canal past two old locks. Much of these upper stretches of the canal no longer hold water but form areas of damp woodland. Further downstream the canal emerges into the Jetty Marsh Canal Basin - the end of the Canal. Barges then followed the Whitelake Channel through what is now Jetty Marsh Local Nature Reserve, until the Channel merged with the River Lemon and then the River Teign just upstream of Newton Town Quay. Ball clay from Decoy mines and pits was loaded onto barges there until the 1940s.This section is fairly level and even, and there is a safe crossing over the busy B3195 to Wharf Road Sidings. However, there is then a stepped bridge over the River Lemon.

The Templer Way then follows the Teign Estuary shore and should only be walked with the tide going out so basically you follow it down the river. It is uneven and can be slippery after heavy rain or high tides - never leave the path or you may get stuck in the estuary mud. This section of the route is not suitable for cycles.

At Ringmore Strand the Templer Way leaves the shore and passes through the village of Shaldon to the ferry. Cross the busy estuary, then once off the ferry walk towards the town of Teignmouth along the 'back beach', and you will find the historic and picturesque 'New' Quay (great pub!) built in 1821 by the Templer family. Here clay was transhipped to the potteries and granite to London. After the long walk and a nice pint what more could you ask for :o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 and Explorer map 110

Wistmans Wood

[Path to the woods from the carpark]What a fantastic place! Still haven't made my mind up whether the woods are better in summer when there is a canopy and with the leaves, moss and ferns you are in a "Green" world or in the winter when the leaves and other green growth has gone to leave the twisted trees which look like something out of Lord of the Rings. Wistman's Wood is one of three remote copses of stunted oaks on Dartmoor, Devon, England. It lies in the valley of the West Dart River near Two Bridges. There is a car park by the road (B3212) in a quarry and from there you walk up a fairly easy track for about half an hour and well worth the visit.

Wistman's Wood is a remnant of the ancient woodland that once covered much of the moor, and because of this it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The wood consists mainly of stunted Pedunculate Oak trees that grow from between moss-covered boulders and are festooned with Epiphytic mosses, lichens and ferns. Over the centuries the wood has changed considerably. In 1620 Tristram Risdon wrote that the trees were "no taller than a man may touch to top with his head". In 1912 a geological survey party tried to walk the wood but gave up due to the dense vegetation. The average height of the trees today is about six metres, three times the height they were in 1912.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer map OL28 or Outdoor Leisure Map 28

Dartmouth

[The harbour front]I find Dartmouth a fantastic place to visit. It is a tourist destination set on the banks of the estuary of the River Dart, which is a long narrow tidal ria that runs inland as far as Totnes, then on to its source at Dartmoor. Dartmouth is just full of history, I could easily spend a couple of days here. It's a great stop-off point if you are walking the South West Coast Path. The views are just great and you sailors among you will love all the boats.

The town is steeped in navel history; Dartmouth was of strategic importance as a deep-water port for sailing vessels. The port was used as the sailing point for the crusades of 1147 and 1190, and a creek close to Dartmouth Castle is supposed by some to be named for the vast fleets which assembled there (Warfleet Creek). It was a home of the English navy since the reign of Edward III and was twice surprised and sacked during the Hundred Years' War, after which the mouth of the estuary was closed every night with a great chain.

The town is dominated by the Royal Navy Officer Training college (Britannia Royal Naval College) and all officers of the Royal Navy, as well as many foreign navies, are trained there.

The town itself, contains historic buildings, the most obvious of which is the Butterwalk, built 1635 - 1640. Its intricately carved wooden fascia is supported on granite columns. Charles II held court in the Butterwalk whilst sheltering from storms in 1671 in a room which now forms part of Dartmouth Museum. Much of the interior survives from that time, as does at least one ghost. The Royal Castle Hotel was built in 1639 on the then new Quay. The building was refronted in the nineteenth century, and as the new frontage is itself listed, it is not possible to see the original which lies beneath. A claimant for the oldest building is a former merchants house in Higher Street, now a Good Beer Guide listed public house called The Cherub (great pint ;o) ), built circa 1380. Agincourt House (next to the Lower Ferry) is also 14th century.

The narrow mouth of the Dart is protected by two fortified castles, Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear Castle. Notwithstanding Dartmouth's connections with the crown and respectable society, it was a major base for privateering (state sanctioned or licenced piracy) in medieval times.

Originally Dartmouth's only wharf was Bayard's Cove, a relatively small but picturesque area protected by a fort at the southern end of the town. Bayard's Cove has been used in several television productions, because of its 18th century buildings; photographs are on show in the Dartmouth Arms public house. The made up embankment which today extends the whole length of the town's river front is the result of nineteenth century land reclamation, started in earnest when the town played host to a large number of prisoners of war from the Napoleonic wars which formed a captive workforce. Prior to this, what is now the town centre was almost entirely tidal mud flats.

The remains of a fort at Gallants Bower just outside the town are some of the best preserved remains of a civil war defensive structure. The fort was built by Royalist occupation forces in c1643 to the south east of the town, with a similar fort at Mount Ridley on the opposite slopes of what is now Kingswear. The parliamentarian General Fairfax attacked from the North in 1646, taking the town and forcing the Royalists to surrender, after which Gallants Bower was demolished. In the latter part of World War II the town was a base for American forces, and one of the departure points for Utah Beach in the D Day landings. For more information about this can be found in the text on Slapton Ley and Torcross about 'Exercise Tiger'.

The Onedin Line, a popular BBC television drama series from my youth that ran from 1971 to 1980, was filmed here. I loved the episode that had them going through the Brazilian Jungle which in fact were the woods on the Dart!

Dartmouth is linked to Kingswear, on the other side of the River Dart, by three ferries. The Higher Ferry and the Lower Ferry are both vehicular ferries. The Passenger Ferry, as its name suggests, carries only passengers, principally to connect with the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway at Kingswear station. No railway has ever run to Dartmouth, but the town does have a railway station, although it is now a restaurant. The original plans for the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway line took the line across a bridge and into the town. Opposition from local seamen and merchants saw the route diverted to Kingswear on the opposite side of the river, but this occurred after the station had been built at Dartmouth. The railway terminated at a station called "Kingswear for Dartmouth" (now on the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway) and a ferry took passengers across the river to the station at Dartmouth railway station, which had a dedicated pontoon. It is believed to be the only place in the world with a purpose built railway station which has never seen a train.

Thomas Newcomen, the inventor of the steam pumping engine was born in Dartmouth in 1663. The location of his house in Lower Street is marked with a plaque, although the building itself was demolished (and reconstructed on Ridge Hill) in the nineteenth century to make way for a new road which was named after Newcomen. An eighteenth century working Newcomen engine is on display in the town. The town was also home to the civil engineer and mathematical genius George Parker Bidder (1806 - 1878), who is notable for his work on railways over much of the world, as well as the docks of the East End of London. Bidder served on the town council, and his expertise was instrumental in draining the area which is now the centre of the town, but was then part of the river Dart. He also undertook pioneering work on steam trawling whilst living in the town. Bidder died at his home at Paradise Point near Warfleet Creek and is buried at nearby Stoke Fleming.

Dartmouth Castle is one of a pair of forts, the other being Kingswear Castle, that guard the mouth of the Dart Estuary. A small fortalice (coastal fort) was built in 1388 under the direction of John Hawley. The present Gun tower building is the earliest surviving English coastal fortress specifically built to carry guns. It was built by the corporation of Dartmouth between 1481 and 1495 and additions, including open-air gun platforms, were made during the 16th century by Henry VIII and again in the 17th century in order to accommodate new military technology.

During the Civil War it was besieged for one month and then taken by the Royalists, who then constructed an earthwork fort above the Castle at Gallant's Bower to protect its landward side. After being held by them for 3 years it was attacked and taken by Sir Thomas Fairfax for the Parliamentarians in 1646. The castle continued in use as a working fort until the nineteenth century, when it housed no less than five huge 64-pdr cannons on traversing carriages. The 19th century Gun Battery is the most substantial remaining part of the castle and itself remained in military use throughout the First and Second World Wars, overlooking the D-Day preparations in the latter.

The castle comprises two linked towers - one round and one square - and sections of wall, the whole of which is built upon a rocky promotory, very close to the water's edge. A church, St Petroc's, is immediately adjacent to the structure.

Dartmouth Castle is now in the ownership of English Heritage. The English Heritage website also contains information about Bayard's Cove Fort.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

Dawlish

[The famous Black Swans of Dawlish]Dawlish is situated on the western coast of Lyme Bay in Devon in the south west of England. It sits on the coast 12 miles south of the county town of Exeter and 10 miles north of Torquay and the English Riviera. To the west by 15 miles is Dartmoor National Park.

There is a great website www.dawlish.com, which is packed with information about accommodation and there is an informative section about the history of Dawlish.

Another site is www.dawlish.gov.uk, which gives you many links to leisure and tourism in the area.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 110

Dawlish Warren

[A view across the golf course and nature reserve at Dawlish Warren]Dawlish Warren is a National nature reserve which is at the mouth of the river Exe in Devon. The reserve covers some 210 hectares and the site supports up to 190 species of visiting birds, 620 plants and 250 fungi of which many are national rarities, there are also many mammals, amphibians and reptiles. 31 species of butterflies, 21 species of dragonflies and numerous records of moths have been reported here.

The Warren is also a very important tourist destination. In recent decades, levels of tourist numbers making 850,000 annually has increased the potential for conflict between the needs of the wildlife and wishes of visitors.

I recommend you look at www.dawlishwarren.co.uk, which is an extremely informative website packed with information which is worth a read before you visit.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 110

East Devon Pebblebed Heaths

[Public information signs in the carpark]The heaths are Devon's largest site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). The round pebbles that you see here were deposited 240 million years ago by a huge river. There are several reserves run by the RSPB: Aylesbeare Common and Harpford Common (both of which have been leased to the RSPB) and Venn Ottery. The rest are run and managed by the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust which is a charity which employs full time wardens to look after the heaths and implement their Heathland Management Plan, developed in conjunction with Natural England.

The public was granted access to all seven of the heaths 2,800 acres in 1930, by the 21st Baron Clinton. Since then, the Estate has had a progressive attitude to public access. In fact, nearly 10 miles of permissive paths and 1100 acres of forestry has been accessible to the public for over 20 years. Today the area has been brought under control by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The Estate has created many new footpaths linking current paths into circular walks. Signs in all car parks and at the main access points to the commons outline the important information that the public needs to be aware of before entering the heathlands.

The main areas are (from north to south):

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 115

Aylesbeare and Harpford Commons

[Aylesbeare Common]This quiet area of Devon heathland is important for Dartford warblers, Nightjars and stonechats. It's sheltered wooded fringes, streams and ponds abound with insects - 37 species of butterfly and 24 species of dragon and damselfly (including the internationally endangered southern damselfly) have been recorded.

The reserve is leased to the RSPB from Clinton Devon Estates, the owners of the majority of the pebblebed heathland. There is a visitors' trail on the reserve marked by green topped posts. Aylesbeare Common has the EU status of Special Protection Area (SPA).

But be careful when walking round not to be diverted onto other paths which take you away from the main track as many paths cross which can make it confusing. Also be aware of the busy road which you have to cross from the car park. I found this dangerous as cars have no warning that pedestrians are crossing - so be careful!


Bicton Common

[Heathland on Bicton Common]The main access to this common is from the Four Firs car park although you can get to it from some of the others, this car park is the easiest. Bicton Common is just south of Woodbury Common and as with Woodbury and Colaton Raleigh there is a Military presence. Also there is quarrying going on to the south of the common with some big ponds so stay away. Some of the paths in this section are steep and the paths are loose so take care. Plenty of wildlife around here so with the views have fun with the camera.


Colaton Raleigh

[One of the public notice boards in the carpark]South from Hawkerland is another common called Colaton Raleigh, which is named after a local village. The main access is the car park at the "Warren". The common has the same outlook and feel about it as the others, but right in the middle is a live firing area for the Royal Marines, so keep your heads down if the flags are up! :o)


Hawkerland

[Overlooking the heathland]Hawkerland, which is next to Aylesbeare and due south, is very much the same type of enviroment but perhaps quieter as its not so well known and less people about. The tracks are ok and the site is mostly flat with the exception of the roadside there is plenty of parking at the top as you use the same one as for Aylesbeare but with out the hassle of crossing the dangerous road.


Mutter's Moor

Mutter's Moor is situated on top of a steep hill. To the east, it overlooks the Regency seaside town of Sidmouth. To the west, the Otter Valley stretches beneath with views to Woodbury Common. The moor is an outstanding example of lowland heath.

Ancient trackways lead onto and across Mutter's Moor and today there is a network of paths and bridleways which have been cleared, signed and waymarked. Public access to the plantations however is much more restricted.

The South West of England is steeped in history and legend. One story which appears to be based on fact concerns the infamous Mutter gang which operated in the area during the 17th century. They were heavily involved in smuggling wines and tobacco from the nearby coastline.

One of the extended family of Mutters became an agent of the government forces which were responsible for controlling and eradicating smugglers. He was much despised by other members of the Mutter family and one night they murdered him. They were not content with this and dismembered his body and even went to the extent of throwing the parts into the bushes for passers-by to see.


Woodbury Common

[In the middle of the castle]The commons encompass many areas of historical and archaeological interest, including a hill fort, some seventeen burial mounds and a fire beacon. Around 500-300 B.C. man moved into the area and built a hill fort, now known as Woodbury Castle. This is a scheduled ancient monument. Man gradually cleared the trees for fire wood, buildings, etc.

With the establishment of the local manors and the division of the land into parishes, the Lord of the Manor allowed commoners rights of grazing, turf cutting, the taking of bracken for bedding and the cutting of certain sizes of trees for fuel. This went on for many years until the locals became richer and stopped using their common rights.

The commons were then allowed to fall into their own succession of growth from heather and gorse to the invasion of trees, bracken, etc. If this had been allowed to go on unchecked, one of the most valuable lowland heaths in the country would have been lost.

The main car park is by the castle with another on the opposite side of a busy road so be carefull if crossing. The paths are consistant with other parts of the Peble heaths and generaly a nice walk, especially around the castle.

Again be aware that the Royal marines use most parts of the commons and there is ordnance around from the Second World War - so don't touch!


Exeter Ship Canal

[In the basin at Exeter]At the start of Exeter's history, the River Exe was tidal and navigable up to the city walls enabling it to be a busy port. In the 1270s or 80s, the Countess of Devon, built a weir across the river to power her mills (this weir is remembered in the name of the nearby suburb Countess Wear). This had the effect of cutting off Exeter's port from the sea and damaging its salmon fisheries. In 1290, trade with Exeter's port was restored, only to be blocked by a new weir built in 1317 by Hugh de Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon, who also built a quay at Topsham. Because of the blockages on the river, boats were forced to unload at Topsham and the earls were able to exact large tolls to transport goods to Exeter. For the next 250 years the city petitioned the King to have the waterway reopened, to no avail, until 1550 when Edward VI finally granted permission. However it was by then too late because the river channel had silted up.

In 1563, Exeter traders employed John Trew of Glamorgan to build a canal to bypass the weirs and rejoin the River Exe in the centre of the city where a quay would be built. The canal had three locks with vertical gates ? the first pound locks to be built in Britain. The original cut was 3 feet (0.91 m) deep and 16 feet (4.9 m) wide (0.9 m by 5 m). It ran one and three quarter miles (2.8 km) from just below the Countess Weir to the centre of Exeter. The weir that maintains the water level in the quay is still named "Trew's Weir" after the canal's builder.

In 1677 the canal was extended and the entrance was moved downstream to Topsham. In 1701 the canal was deepened and widened to allow the passage of ocean-going ships. At the same time the number of locks on the canal was reduced to one. Floodgates were also fitted to the canal entrance. These improvements lead to the canal being highly successful until demand for access declined with the end of the wool trade in the early nineteenth century and later with the rise of the railways.

The last commercial use of the canal was in 1972 when the Esso Jersey left the canal basin, carrying oil to its terminal, although the government-owned water board ran a sludge tanker, the Countess Weir, until 1997 by which time it was privately owned.

The fall of commercial traffic in the 1960s coincided with the rise of leisure use of the canal. After some recent difficulties the future of the canal looks good with the city basin being included in part of a 24 million pound redevelopment. The quay area has been subject to redevelopment over recent years and is continuing to be converted to wider recreational use. The canal basin itself is popular for a range of water sports. Apart from water sports the canal is popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. There is plenty to see on the wildlife front with the canal going past Exminster marshes before it meets the River Exe. It also goes through the Riverside park and from Exeter to the pub at Turf Lock is ether a great ride or a very enjoyable walk and a great pint at the end of it! You can continue to walk/ride past the Turf to Powderham Church or further on to Starcross and possibly get the train back or even at the Turf get a ferry over to Topsham which is another great trip.

The canal basin itself has been transformed by redevelopment and the use of the water for training by Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre. The centre, which is approved by BCU and RYA specialises in activity-based courses for all ages and abilities and offers a wide range of activites include canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, caving, climbing, orienteering, raft building and team building/problem solving. The canal is probably as busy now as it has ever been.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 114

Exminster Marshes

[Exminster Marshes Nature Reserve]Exminster Marshes are on the Western bank of the River Exe and the opposite side to the Bowling Green Reserve in Topsham which are both run by the RSPB.

You can walk from Powderham along the river to the reserve but parking the car can be a problem. There is a car park by the Swans Nest pub which I would recommend as the roads and paths can get quite busy with walkers and cyclists especially over the weekend. It is a great place to visit but would recommend you do the same as me and visit on weekday.

The area is good for birds of prey with peregrines and buzzards regularly seen and the odd hobby. Butterflies and dragonflies are plentiful as well as some great plant life. Hen harriers and short-eared owls have been seen in winter. Otters are also known to frequent this area, but are very shy so best of luck!

Of special interest on the mud flats in winter is the flock of hundreds of avocets. They remain out on the open estuary, floating in a group at high tide, and can be seen upstream of the Turf Hotel at the lower end of the ship canal. One of the best ways to view the waders and wildfowl of the estuary and to be sure of a sighting of avocets is to obtain a place on an RSPB 'Avocet Cruise'. These trips run at certain times between November and March. Full details can be obtained from the RSPB South-West Regional Office (01392 833632). Details of other river cruises in the area can be found on the Exe 2 Sea Cruises website.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps 110 and 114

Haldon Forest Park

[Haldon Forest Park]Haldon Forest park is just off the A38 by the Exeter Race course, 15 minutes from Exeter. It has 3500 acres of woods with 25 miles of trails where you can safely walk, jog, cycle and ride.

Various well signposted trails lead off from the main car park at Haldon Gateway, where you will find all the facilities you need to an hour or a whole day in the park.

The Forestry Commission organises a wide variety of events at Haldon Forest park. Go to the Haldon Forest Park website for more information.


Ideford Common

[Public information board on the common]Ideford Common represents about 2% of the remaining lowland heath in Devon. This is not a natural but a man-made habitat. However, in a country where there are virtually no habitats free from man's influence heathland has a high 'naturalness' and represents a landscape of great 'wilderness' value.

Typical heathland species are abundant throughout the site, notably common heather, bell heather, cross-leaved heath, western gorse, european gorse, bristle bent and purple moor-grass. There are areas of silver birch and willow scrub, valuable for feeding nightjar, on the margins. This is the place were I took my great pictures of the nightjar. The site is notable for the presence of a number of typical heathland bird species - nightjars and Dartford warblers have both been recorded here. Meadow pipit, tree pipit, skylark and stonechat are also typical breeding species. Mammals allegedly present include fallow deer, roe deer, red fox and brown hare although I have only seen roe deer!

A prehistoric barrow is located in the north-east corner of the site for those of you interested in history and two small cairns are located in the central northern part, close to the track. The barrow in particular is in very good condition with evidence of a ditch surrounding it, although the 'dishing' in the top suggests it may have been excavated, probably during the 18th Century.

Ideford Common is a great place for fresh air. On clear days, views across the heath through scattered pine trees can extend over low-lying farmland, as the slope drops away, to the tors of Dartmoor to the south. And since recent adjacent plantation felling, you can see right over to the white cliffs of Lyme Regis in the east. Visit in high summer and you will be rewarded by the purple and gold of the heath in full bloom. Brilliant for landscape photography at this time of year! It is a large site and the extensive network of flinty tracks gives plenty of scope for exploration. Most heathland birds are ground nesters so if exercising the dog, remember to keep him close and out of the long vegetation. Cycling and horse riding are permitted on the site's three designated bridleways. Access is good and the site has a free car park.


Isley Marsh

[Isley Marsh]The reserve is run by the RSPB. There are no hides as such but there are plenty of viewing points looking across the estuary.

Isley Marsh is made up of saltmarsh and intertidal mudflats on the southern edge of the Taw Torridge estuary and lies largely within the estuary SSSI.

It is very difficult to park near by and possibly it would be best to park ether at Barnstaple or Instow and walk along the South West Coast Path which also is part of the Tarka Trail.

From Barnstaple the path takes you along with the Taw estuary on one side and open farmland on the other. If you park at Instow you follow the river Torridge for a small distance to where the Torridge and Taw meet then follow the path east along to the reserve. The path is also very popular with cyclist some good some not so good so beware. ;o)

To view parts of the reserve you take the footpaths leading to the estuary. It's best to view this on a incoming tide as when it is high tide I have found that the birds are too far away to view. It's a great place to see spoonbills here and at times you can see up to seven that over-winter here.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 139

Old Sludge Beds

[dwt sign]I found this lovely little Reserve which is run by the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) by the side of the Exeter Canal. Walk from along the canal from Exeter by the Countess Wear Swing Bridge (you can park in the University boathouse car park SX 941 894) past the sewage works, turning immediately left at the far end. The reserve entrance lies on the right.

This reserve, part of the Exe Estuary SSSI, is sandwiched between the River Exe and the Exeter ship canal and just upstream from the M5 motorway flyover. Until the construction of new treatment works in 1969 the Sludge Beds were the final breakdown site for treated sewage. However when the new works were opened they were abandoned and gradually developed a cover of wetland vegetation. Today the area has reed beds that are home to a wide variety of wetland birds. The reserve has become a major stop-off point and feeding area for migrating birds and there are many breeding species including Cetti's warbler, According to the DWT Harvest mice are known to breed on the site. A path with boardwalks runs through the site; you can make a circular walk by returning along the canal bank. The paths are flat and the terrain fairly smooth although there are steps and ramps to negotiate and all the paths are prone to water logging. Continuing along the canal towpath at the motorway end of the reserve provides excellent views of the upper parts of the estuary including the adjacent Exe Reed Beds DWT nature reserve.

While there are walk ways etc. it would be difficult to take a wheelchair around as the walk ways are not wide enough.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey map 114

Prawle Point

[Prawle Point]Prawle Point, which is run by the National Trust is the most southern point in Devon and apart from the car it can be accessed by the South West Coast Path. If you are going by car there is a National Trust car park which is free but donations are always welcome. The car park is opposite a small reserve run by the DBWPS which is worth a look as Prawle area on the migratory route for many birds. There are some stunning views and the coast path will take you east towards Start Point and west towards East Portlemouth, the Kingsbridge estuary and over the ferry to Salcombe.

Also at Prawle there are remains of WWII buildings which if careful you can walk around, but watch out for cattle as they use them for shelter.

There are no facilities here at the point but at the village of East Prawle there are some shops, toilets and the legendary "Pigs Nose" pub and if you are not driving a great place for a pint. :o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

Roadford Lake Nature Reserver

[roadford lake]Roadford lake is run by the South West Lakes Trust. With over 730 acres of water, Roadford Lake is a spectacular lake set on the edge of Dartmoor between Okehampton and Launceston. The Nature Reserve which is a fairly new one, set up in 2006 is on the northern shore of the lake and the creek that leads up to Germansweek which also encompasses the area around south week woods, the creek can be observed from the bridge, but watch the cars. There is a hide which is run by the Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society (DBWPS), that overlooks the lake.

It is very easy to find and there is a lay by close to the hide to park your car. There are no toilet facilities close by so make sure you sort yourself out before you visit. :o) Also Roadford is close to Dartmoor so please dress appropriately and remember you are close to water so watch the kids ;o)

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 190

Slapton Ley and Torcross

[Sherman tank at Torcross]Slapton Ley Nature Reserve (NNR) is recognised as a wetland with an important place in Britain's Natural Heritage. The main feature is the lower Ley, which is the largest natural lake in South West England. Although it is only separated from the sea by a narrow shingle bar, it is of geological interest, and harbours a wealth of colourful flowers in summer.

Surrounding marshes, reed beds and woodland add to the variety of habitats. These provide excellent feeding and breeding ground for rich and varied wildlife. Much is accessible by public footpath and is a major attraction for birdwatchers and naturalists. Go to www.slnnr.org.uk for more information.

The village of Torcross which sits on the south of the Ley and the beach has a memorial to over 900 US troops killed during a D-day exercise called "Exercise Tiger" in Lyme bay when Landing craft where attacked by patrolling E boats in the early hours of 28 April 1944.

It is a 32 ton Sherman Tank which was lost in Exercise Tiger, it was found and brought to the surface in November 1984 as a fitting tribute to the men that where lost.

Go to www.shermantank.co.uk for more information about Exercise Tiger and the battle to get the memorial.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

South Hallsands

[that way]South Hallsands is a deserted village and beach in south Devon, England, in a precarious position between cliffs and the sea, between Beesands to the north and Start Point to the south.

The village grew in size during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and by 1891 it had 37 houses, a spring, a pub called the London Inn and a population of 159. Most residents of Hallsands at that time depended on fishing for a living, particularly crab fishing on the nearby Skerries Bank in Start Bay.

Following the idea from Sir John Jackson in the 1890s, a decision was made to expand the naval dockyard at Keyham, near Plymouth, dredging began offshore from Hallsands to provide material for construction. The Board of Trade agreed to establish a local inquiry in response to protests from villagers, who feared that the dredging might destabilise the beach and thereby threaten the village. The inquiry found that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat to the village, so dredging continued.

By 1900, however, the level of the beach had started to fall. In the autumn storms that year, part of the sea wall was washed away. In November 1900, villagers petitioned their Member of Parliament complaining of damage to their houses, and in March 1901 Kingsbridge Rural District Council wrote to the Board of Trade complaining of damage to the road. In September 1901 a new Board of Trade inspector concluded that further severe storms could cause serious damage and recommended that dredging be stopped. On 8 January 1902 the dredging licence was revoked. During 1902 the level of the beach recovered; however the winter of 1902 brought more storms and damage.

On 26 January 1917, a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached Hallsands' defences, and by the end of that year only one house remained habitable. The villagers' fight for compensation took seven years.

The site of the old village at South Hallsands, is closed, although South Hams District Council has built a viewing platform, which is accessed from Trout's Apartments (formerly Trout's Hotel) in South Hallsands. Parking here is a bit of a issue as there is building work going on and access by car is difficult, hopefully this will be sorted out soon.

The beach at North Hallsands, known locally at the time as "Greenstraight", is the only one remaining at Hallsands and there is a car park here and you can use the South West Footpath to walk to the remains of the village were there are just two houses that remain intact at South Hallsands.

You can also park up at the Start Point car park and walk to the village using the South West Footpath, This is a nice walk with some great views across Start Bay and villages such as Slapton and Torcross all of which can be found on this site. While here take the opportunity to look at the lighthouse at Start point.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

Start Point

[Start Point lighthouse]This is one of the most southerly points of Devon and a must see place to visit. The views are stunning and wild, especially when the sea is rough. It is a jumping off and receiving point for migratory birds and many can be found resting in the bushes around the point if you are patient. Apart from birds there is a small seal colony on the south side between the Point and Mattiscombe beech, if you are quiet you can sit on the rocks and watch them, they are quite inquisitive and will if you are lucky swim over to you, so you are really not sure who is observing who!

The South West Coast Path runs through the site but please note while it is a beautiful place, it is hazardous, you need sturdy boots and to be careful especially the footpath from Start Point to Lanacombe beach.

To the north from the lighthouse you can see South Hallsands, Beesands Ley, Torcross and Slapton and around the bay to Dartmouth, and to the south you can see Prawle Point.

There is a car park at Start Point at which sometimes you have to pay and others you don' - it all depends on if anybody turns up. :o)

Because of the views and the light house it can be a very crowded place especially at weekends so would recommend visit on a weekday. I tend to walk the site clockwise from the car park towards the lighthouse then just before follow the coast path over the crest. This part of the walk can be dangerous and there are plenty of signs telling you to stay on the path so please do so! This part is also stunning, it's one of those 'good to be alive places' - well I think so.

Just along here as I've already said you might be lucky to see the seals on the rocks. Follow the path until you get to the beach, take a break and dip your toes. :o) The walk to and from the beach can be a bit tricky as it is very uneven so be careful.

Then, when you have finished with the beach, you can ether carry on walking along the South West Coast Path to the next beach Lannacombe, which is another lovely beach then follow the roads back to the car park, or from Mattiscombe beach take the signs up the field up a very uneven path which quite often has farm animals around until you get back to the car park. This path takes you up a valley with open fields, watch out for the odd Peregrine or other raptors hunting in this area.

There no facilities at the point and the nearest toilets are probably Torcross where you can get yourself some food here as well.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 or Outdoor Leisure Map 20

Stover Country Park

[The lake at Stover Country Park]Stover Country Park contains over 114 acres of woodland, heath land, grassland, lake and marsh and a substantial variety of wildlife.

The country park is historically Part of the Bovey Heath, an expanse of wet boggy lowland heath, which covered the majority of the Bovey Basin. Following the decline and sale of the estate in the 1930s the site was bought by the Forestry Commission and stands of Scots pine, Norway spruce, Douglas fir, Western hemlock, Sitka spruce and larch were subsequently planted. The Country Park is now owned and administered by Devon County Council having been purchased in 1979 from the Forestry Commission. The Country park was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1984 by the Nature Conservancy Council (now English Nature) due to its rare dragonfly species and invertebrates. It was added to the register of Historic Parks and Gardens in 1995, and was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 2001.

I recommended you check out the Stover Country Park website for further information on the Templer Way, the historical and wildlife information.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 110

Topsham

Topsham is at the top end of the Exe estuary in Devon, it has a rich and varied history. First documented as a Roman settlement, it was granted a charter as a town on 22nd August 1300 by Edward I developing into a major British port and shipbuilding centre that in its heyday rivalled London. There are Dutch houses from the maritime past, and fine examples of Georgian and Edwardian Architecture. In the year 2000 Topsham celebrated its 700 year anniversary with the Queen visiting a pub in Topsham for the first time.

I recommend that you visit their excellent website www.topsham.org.uk before you visit for places to stay or eat.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 114

Bird watching at Topsham

[The River Exe from the Goat Walk, Topsham]Topsham is a great place to watch birds as Topsham sits on the edge of the River Exe and the River Clyst. Opposite of Topsham on the other side of the Exe is the River Exe Reed beds, which is a reserve run by the Devon Wildlife Trust.

There are several options for watching birds and other wildlife around Topsham. One of them is to park in the University boathouse car park (SX 941894) close to the canal bridges near Countess Wear Exeter. It's best to point out that if approaching on the northbound carriageway (i.e. from Matford - see map linked to previous grid reference) you cannot cross the road to the car park, so you will have to go up the road about half a mile and go round the roundabout and return on the other carriageway. Once parked up, walk back to the road, turn right and then walk over Countess Wear Bridge. (If you go over the canal (across the swing bridge) you will go the wrong way!) Once over the other side, turn right and follow the signs for Topsham. Some of the route follows the cycle path and some is a normal footpath, which goes south along the River Exe. At this point it is important to point out that you need to time it so the tide is going out. It is an uneven path, so you need to be cautious when walking. Apart from the path being open at low tide you will see plenty of waders, gulls and ducks feeding as they follow the water out. As you go under the motorway bridge look out for the gull roost on the opposite side. Follow the river along the edge of the town and you will see plenty, especially in the winter with avocets, godwits and curlews in action on the mud flats. As you walk along you will come across the "Goat Walk" which is a great place to sit and watch the waders such as avocets which come quite close and the view down the River Exe is great.

There is another option and it is to come at it from the other side and park close to the RSPB reserve at Bowling Green. This a great reserve and will get very busy both with birds and people especially when the birds are pushed off the Rivers Exe and Clyst by the high tide. The reserve has plenty of ducks and waders with the odd rarity, but look out for foxes which are often seen sunning themselves by the far hedge.

The bird hide can get over crowded but you can get good views from the road. Also along the road watch out for birds in the hedges especially in autumn when winter thrushes feast on the berries. As you go along the road you come to a footpath to the "Platform" which looks over the River Clyst. This is good for watching birds of all shapes and sizes fly into and away from the Reserve at Bowling Green. The best time to watch here is when the tide is on the move as waders, grebes and ducks feed on the falling tide. Behind the platform is a reed bed which is good for Reed Warblers in the Summer and looking down from the Platform you can see good views of the Exe.

Once you come back from the Platform onto the road you can follow on to the "Goat Walk" which was described in the earlier part of this section.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 114

Wembury

[safty sign]Wembury is a village on the south coast of Devon, very close to Plymouth Sound. It can be reached by the South West Coast Path, which goes past the coastal end of the town. The National Trust has taken an active role in maintaining the scenic and historic characteristics of the village and its surrounding area and some of the walks from here are just stunning. In particular, the walk which takes you east and through North Barton Farm, which is also owned by the National Trust, I think is a must! It's surprising what you find, especially if you take a few diversions.

The beach is well known for its rockpools. Wembury Marine Centre which is managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust is worth a visit - it educates visitors about what they can find in the rockpools and how they can help protect and preserve them.

There is a car park next to the beach, which is free to National Trust members and there are good facilities such as toilets and a café to get a cup of tea.

Please take note of signs regarding safety on the beach and watch the cliff faces when walking over to North Barton Farm.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey map Outdoor Leisure 20

West Charlton Marshes

[Hide name]This is a fantastic setting that overlooks Frogmoor Creek which can be viewed from a hide that is managed by the Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society (DBWPS). To get to it, you walk along a side of a field which is marshy and has its own wildlife- plants, birds and insects.

When you get to the hide you get a great view of the water and the times I have visited I have not been disappointed with numbers and variety of birds that can be seen.

It's not very well signposted from the road but there is car parking available once you have turned down the road away from the A379.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey map Outdoor Leisure 20

© Simon Thurgood 2014
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