Walking the East Devon Heathlands
On Colaton Raleigh Common
Sunday was another of those beautiful cold winter walking days, with clear blue skies, clear views across miles of lovely countryside, and frosted ground.
The commons of east Devon are excellent examples of important lowland heath, vast open spaces set above a most attractive pastoral landscape, with far vistas of the sea. We did one of my favourite short walks, a six mile circuit of Colaton Raleigh Common, nearly all of the walk on heathland tracks and wooded footpaths.
The walk starts at the high point of Woodbury Castle, a most impressive Iron Age hill fort, an excellent viewpoint. The fort was first occupied over two thousand years ago and has often been a defensive position since. In 1549, it was held by Lord John Russell during the Prayer Book Rebellion; in the early 1800s Redcoats were billeted there to deter a possible invasion by Napoleon; and in the Second World War it was a regular patrol point for the Home Guard. A small cottage stands in the hill fort’s grounds, but most of it is open to the public, its wooded ramparts a place of great beauty.
The Common itself is wide and spacious, with sandy and stony tracks, a reminder that this was the site of a desert surrounded river during the Triassic period. It is a fine wild place. It owes its recent preservation to the many locals, and the Ramblers Association, who fought off proposals to construct two golf courses there in the 1970s. Such destruction of lowland heath would now be unthinkable.
Anyway, below is the route we took:
It starts from the south-east car park at Woodbury Castle (grid reference SY033872). The walk is 6 miles long and there is roughly 600 feet of climb, though this is very gradual and spread in easy stages throughout the walk. As always you agree to follow in my footsteps at your own risk. Watch out for mountain-bikers! The path network here is complicated for the uninitiated, so read the instructions below with care. However, Woodbury Castle is in view for much of the walk and obvious paths lead back to it.
1. Leave the car park and take the steps over the rampart of the hill fort. Descending the rampart, take the obvious path half-right across the interior. Take the left of the two gaps in the far rampart. Cross the dip and continue downhill through the trees beyond.
2. When you reach a wider track, turn right and follow. Ignore the first two turnings to the left and keep left as you enter a big wide space, then take a third track to the left, which heads downhill and is very wide. From here there are really grand views over the east Devon countryside, with High Peak above the coastline then, going inland, Mutters Moor and Fire Beacon, high above the Vale of the River Otter.
3. Follow this broad track downhill for just under a mile, ignoring any side tracks. As it reaches the foot of the open common it descends into trees and then, just by a path going off to the right (ignore), begins to ascend again. After just a few yards turn left along another track – waymarked blue for bridleway. This is a really pleasant section of the walk, with trees to your left and open common to the right.
4. After just under a half mile, the path enters the trees and zigzags downhill, leading eventually to a T-junction of tracks and a metal barrier. Turn left, cross a very pretty brook either by a ford or footbridge, and continue uphill. Ignore the first track to the right, but take the second, a hundred yards above a metal barrier crossing your track.
5. This lovely bridlepath, rich in views, runs along the edge of the common, immediately above the neighbouring fields. Keep as near to the boundary as you can for just over a mile. About half way, a green lane goes off to the right, but ignore this and stick to the bridleway. Half a mile further on from that junction the path reaches a T-junction. Turn right downhill, crossing a metal barrier. A hundred yards down the track exits on to a country lane. Turn left (signposted “Woodbury”) and follow the lane uphill, past some ramshackle buildings, for a quarter mile.
6. You come level with a house (on right). Immediately opposite, on the left hand side of the road, is a joint footpath/bridleway. Take this and go downhill to a ford and footbridge, the keep uphill through the woodland beyond. As the trees end, keep to the bridleway and it climbs uphill, veering left (ignore the nearby footpath to the right). This is by far the steepest portion of the walk, but it is only a hundred yards or so!
7. The path arrives at a wider track. Turn right and carry on uphill for a mile, ignoring tracks to the right and then left. Carry straight on through a crossroads of paths. Eventually the track levels out and reaches a junction of paths, with a spinney to the right. Here take the second track on the left. Woodbury Castle is now in sight.
8. The track rises slightly and then descends. Keep straight on at the next crossroads. Descend a little further and look for a path going off to the right, waymarked as part of the “East Devon Way”. Bear right at the next junction and then left a few yards further on, heading up the track to the main road.
9. Cross the road, taking the lane almost opposite. Carry on down for a quarter mile, ignoring the two lanes off to the right (the first goes to the Woodbury Country Club). Just as the trees end and the lane becomes enclosed between fields, look for a right of way going off to the left. Follow this uphill (there are good views across the Exe estuary to the Haldon Hills). A quarter mile on a path veers off the main track to the left. Take this. After a quarter mile it exits on the opposite side of the road to the starting point. Enjoy the walk!