Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Walk 177 Coombe Martin to Lynton (Devon)
Walk 177 Coombe Martin to Lynton (Devon)
(Third leg of English coastal walk – Lands End to Bristol)
Map: L/R 180
Distance: 13 miles or 22 km approx
Difficulty: Challenging and demanding. I found it easier to split the walk into two by getting a taxi (twice) to Woody Bay and doing it at a relaxed pace over 2 days. If doing it in one day allow a full day would not recommend it in wet or windy weather.
Terrain: cliff path
Access: Parking at both ends.
Public transport: Not a sensible option as buses involve a change and around a two and a half hour journey. Lynton and Combe Martin have buses to a few locations - check Traveline.
Follow the path up Lester Cliff. Wild Pear Beach can be seen from the path, it is evidently very difficult and dangerous to get down on to the beach thus making it a popular haunt for naturists!
A little further along is Little Hangman cliff which is a warm up for its mighty brother Great Hangman. This is the highest and steepest point on the entire South West Coastal Path and involves a demanding climb and care when descending. Its first mention as Hangman Hill was in the 18th century. A local legend says that it got its name from a sheep stealer who stole a ewe and got the rope attached to the animal trapped around his neck and was strangled by it. On top of the hill is a large pile of stones continually added to by walkers and others. The landlady at the guest house I stayed at said she has had a group visitors who believe the hill has alien visitors while others claim mystical or religious connections.
The path cuts inland after the Great Hangman and about a mile further along is Sherry Combe. The two sides of this are steep, demanding going up – care needed when going down.
The demanding steep walk continues along to Heddon Mouth and Highveer Point. If it is a clear day you should be able to see Wales across the sea. The path goes inland and crosses the River Heddon. Near here there was a Roman signal station where legionnaires kept a constant watch out for possible invaders. Look out for the waterfall at Hollow Brook, probably the highest one in Devon.
The walk continues to Woody Bay, a very pleasant spot which was planned to be a busy holiday resort in the 19th century to rival the nearby towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. A hotel and golf course were built together with some villas on the wooded slopes. New roads and a railway station were constructed (now the base of the current Lynton and Barnstaple steam railway) and a pier was started.. Unfortunately, it all went wrong. The pier was washed away and the solicitor was declared bankrupt. He was jailed for 12 years because he used his client's money to try and prop up the failing resort.
Either finish here as above and continue the next day or carry on along the path which is also part of the Tarka Trail, mentioned in earlier walks. Lee Bay lies at the bottom of what is known locally as Fuchsia Valley.
You will know when you are nearing the Lee Valley Community when a sign of the path asks you to 'Enter his gates with thanksgiving'. The path continues along the road and through the abbey toll-gate (the toll seems to operate on an honesty basis). The Lee Valley Community was founded in 1946 and is home to about 80 Christians of all ages. The abbey hosts retreats, conferences and breaks in the Beacon Activity Centre which opened in 2004. They are very strong on environmental management and sustainability.
On leaving the road be prepared for some striking rocky scenery in the Valley of the Rocks – some with interesting names such Ragged Jack and The Devil's Cheese Ring. This area is mentioned in the novel Lorna Doone and includes the character Mother Meldrum who is said to be based on an old lady who lived in a cave. A visit to the valley by the Australian composer Miriam Hyde led to the 1974 piano composition 'Valley of the rocks'.
The path into Lynton was originally constructed in the 19th century for the influx of new visitors. You may be surprised, as I was, by the sudden appearance of a mountain goat on the path. They live on what appears to be a sheer sided cliff. They are feral wild Cheviot goats that have adapted to the conditions.
On the way into Lynton there are good views of the beach at Lynmouth. Look out for the parish church, part of which was built in the 13th century. The Visitor's Centre is situated in the impressive town hall built in 1900. Try to make some time to visit the Exmoor Museum in the oldest building of the town. It includes a ghost room and information about Lorna Doone and the Tarka Trail. Lynton is 600 feet above its partner town, Lynmouth, and a busy lift runs between the two places.
Photos show: the stones on top of The Great Hangman; Heddons Mouth the path at the bottom can be seen; a precarious looking rock in the Valley of Rocks; a Cheviot mountain goat on the path near Lynton.