Sunday, 28 June 2009

Over the pebbles and far away… Knowle > East Budleigh > Knowle

I’ve been asked to record my favourite walks by the pebble people at I hope that this is the kind of thing they want.

Other people might find it interesting anyway if they want to try a walk that they may not have done before.

This could well be the first of various guided rambles that I’ll post exploring the beautiful countryside around Budleigh. I suspect that I have to make a legal disclaimer to state that I am not responsible if you fall into a rut or a puddle, get scratched by brambles or bitten by ticks. Such is the stupid age we live in.

Also I might get some details wrong, so please let me know if corrections are needed.

This first one is about six miles. It’s also fairly orthodox, following public footpath signs. Personally I prefer getting totally lost and then coming across unexpected views, follies and other weird stuff, but many people don’t like surprises.

Start at the Dog and Donkey (above) in Knowle We admired the colourful gardens in Rolle Cottages and collected gardening tips from local resident ex-submariner Colin before taking the peaceful Dalditch Lane opposite the pub.

On the left you pass the charming little St John’s church. It has only a couple of services a month, but the well-tended garden makes up for that, so do have a quick look. On your right you pass Lily Farm where they sell ducks, arum lilies and now wine. Admire the neatly tended vines. See
Pass under the viaduct of the old railway line, now transformed as a cycle path, so you might hear disembodied voices above you as you pass underneath. A bit further along on the left is a drive marked Long Orchard, which I mention only because it leads to a house called Coxen, mentioned in Pevsner’s architectural guide to Devon. Many architects associated with Budleigh homes in the early 20th century were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement Coxen was designed by Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) a prominent member of the movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had attended a lecture on 'Art and Socialism' at the Leicester Secular Society given by Morris. In 1893 he moved to the rural region of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire “to live near to nature.” The use of Devon cob, an eco-friendly material, in Coxen’s construction is characteristic of his work. The house is not open to the public, but I mention it only because it took me ages to find out where it was in Budleigh.

When you get to this big oak tree outside Dalditch Farm take the farm track to your right. Like many of the farms round here, it is owned by Clinton Devon Estates.

The route is uphill and stony for about 100 yards, and suddenly you see a little signed footpath on the left.

The path is little used, passing through bracken and often blocked by brambles but I prefer it that way.

The heather was beginning to come out in its purple magnificence, and there was a buzzard circling over the sunlit valley down on the left of the picture (above). It’s really peaceful and beautiful. The photo of this buzzard (right) was taken as it sat in our garden, and I just had to put it in. As I was typing that sentence another buzzard settled in the eucalyptus tree at the front of the house. (They’re pretty common round here)

The path suddenly emerges at Squabmoor Reservoir. This is also a peaceful place where you can spend a day fishing for “carp, tench, bream, roach, rudd, crucian carp and eels” according to the notice posted by South West Lakes Trust, from whom you can get a permit.

Take the path on the north side of the reservoir (pictured here from the west). We found a suitable place for a picnic in the shade of silver birches and young oaks, and watched the swallows and dragonflies darting over the water.

Carry along the footpath through a stile until you reach a small car park area to the west of the reservoir and then the road which crosses East Budleigh Common. Turn right and follow the road uphill to the next small car park at Wheat Hill. There is an informative display telling you that you are on one of Europe’s largest and oldest pebblebed heaths, “a Triassic site over 200 million years old.”

It’s also the site of a Second World War Royal Marine Camp (see the photo, left), and one of the best sites in East Devon for butterflies, so the notice says.

This is real heathland, with its own special atmosphere: silent except for the buzzards and other twittering birds that I should be able to identify but can’t. Somewhere around here there are supposed to be Dartford warblers, but I’d probably mistake them for robins. In spite of my admiration for buzzards I’m a pretty clueless ornithologist.
I imagine that with all that gorse it’s the kind of Egdon Heath-type landscape that Dorset writer Thomas Hardy painted in his novel The Return of the Native. Not that it’s a pretty-pretty type of setting: the adder that bites and kills Mrs Yeobright is a dark force in Hardy’s book. When I read of the grandmother and the marine who both died on separate occasions a few years ago after being scratched by gorse on Woodbury Common not far from here I thought immediately of Mrs Yeobright.

So it’s worth taking a few precautions and avoiding being scratched. This heathland, you see, unlike the sleepy pastures of Devon has had a far from pacific life. Fighting men have left their mark on it through the centuries, from the Iron Age fort at Woodbury castle to the military manoeuvres in the Napoleonic era, when a whole army camped on the commons to repel a French invasion.

A century or so goes by: the brick buildings still standing on the heathlands remind us of the allied forces there, readying themselves for D-Day and the attack on the Nazis’ Fortress Europe.

And nowadays we have the marines from Lympstone using it as a training-ground. Perhaps the gorse is just imitating the humans on these heaths in its aggressiveness.

Gardeners in this part of East Devon are warned about the damage to lawn machinery caused by the pebbles constantly rising to the surface, many of them massive, not to mention the radioactive ones. Perhaps the pebbles simply want to join in the conflict above ground, like so many dragons’ teeth of Greek legend turned warriors, intent on a clash with your lawnmower blades.

Enough fantasising. Now you have to head eastwards. The helpful public footpath signs have disappeared, but a good landmark was a row of temporary lavatories, hidden behind the heather and gorse. What they were doing there I’ve no idea, but you know you’re following instructions when you pass them on your right.

More good landmarks as you follow the path through Wheathill Plantation are the tall stacks of logs belonging to Devon Clinton Estates. It all looks pretty organised apart from the lack of public footpath signs. There are little tracks going in all directions.

To the left is what looks like a World War Two brick firing range wall, but if you see that you’re going the wrong way. The correct path should take you past a small brick WW2 shelter hidden in undergrowth to the right of the path.

Eventually you meet a footpath sign which points to the right rather than ahead. Carry straight on, ignoring the sign until you see two tall grey metal posts which mark Hayeswood Lane track.

As you go through the woods you will see another footpath sign, which you should follow. The path is deeply rutted and gets pretty muddy when it’s wet. On the edge of the wood you arrive at Hayeswood Cottage where you see acres of pig arks, and Hayes Barton in the distance. Follow the track past the cottage until you meet the road. We amused ourselves by watching a massive boar making a pig of himself with several sows. I was going to include a photo with an obvious caption on the lines of “Who said life was ….?” (Sorry. I’ll stop there.) But I’ve been told that it’s not suitable for a nice family blog like this one. Great photo though. I can send you a copy if you ask.

A few minutes’ diversion along the road to the left to pay homage to the wonderful thatched house called Hayes Barton, birthplace of Devon’s Elizabethan hero Sir Walter Raleigh. It belongs to Clinton Devon Estates.

Now go back on your tracks following the road to East Budleigh. Pictured, left, is the village with the parish church of All Saints in the distance. They're keen gardeners here, having won numerous Britain in Bloom awards.

We turned right opposite the Sir Walter Raleigh pub with its colourful sign showing Sir Walter and Queen Elizabeth I at the famous puddle, and followed the road through the village.

The flowers are beautiful but it was the sight of scarecrows springing up everywhere in readiness for the Festival that caught our eye.

There are many antiquities and curiosities to see in the village. We passed this sign marking the spot where the ancient ceremony of 'beating the bounds' took place.

If you’re now feeling a bit feeble, as we were, you can stop for refreshment at the East Budleigh Tea Rooms. I’m tempted to return here one Friday or Saturday evening to try out the Caribbean cuisine that they offer at the Tea Rooms – surely an unusual attraction in this part of Devon!%20Cafe%20and%20Tea%20Rooms.htm

There’s even a bus stop opposite the Tea Rooms if you want to take the bus back to Budleigh. We would have been tempted to take the bus back, had we not seen it disappearing into the distance at this point. Rather than follow the B3178 in the direction of Budleigh we decided to go back on our tracks into the village to take what was supposed to be a short cut back to the starting-point at the Dog and Donkey.

So if you’re feeling masochistic or super fit, go as far as Wynards Farm, where they offer bed & breakfast accommodation, and take Hayeswood Lane track on the left through the farm buildings. It could be described as a pretty route lined with hedgerows fluttering with Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood butterflies. But the cowsplats swarming with flies are smelly evidence that farm cattle rather than townie hikers have priority here. And it goes on and on, upwards and ever upwards. I kept promising that there would be a sea view at the end.

At last we found on the left the footpath which would take us back to Knowle. Before taking it, reward yourself by admiring the sea view looking towards Peak Hill and Sidmouth.

Heading towards Knowle the footpath runs along the edge of a field and then over a stile through Shortwood Common, where the thistles were growing head-high. The path leads downwards into a wood, where there are hidden masses of bluebells in the spring.

Soon you find yourself following Shortwood Lane track, which meets Bear Lane. Try to get this little sea view of Budleigh. You'll find it will give you strength for the last stretch. Pass Shortwood House and Pooh Cottage camp site in its idyllic setting and at the B 3178 turn right and follow the road into Knowle and the pub.

This is a moderately strenuous walk and I reckon I lost 2 lb. But you could easily put this back on by sinking a pint or two of Otter Ale at the Dog and Donkey.

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