A Vale of the Otter Ramble
VALE OF THE OTTER RAMBLE
About 8.5 miles. Total Ascent 755 feet. Start point map reference SY 095956
Ottery St. Mary can be reached by following the main A30 Trunk Road between Exeter and Honiton. Buses travel to Ottery from Exeter and Sidmouth. This walk starts from the ‘Land of Canaan’ long-stay car park on the Western edge of the village (well-signposted as you come in from Exeter).
The River Otter is prone to flooding after long periods of heavy rain. This walk should not be attempted if the river is in flood, though a reasonable diversion to Tipton St. John might be made along the lane to the West of the river. As always, you do these walks at your own risk.
Walk to the farthest side of the car park and cross the tiny bridge to your left, following the path towards the attractive thatched ‘Tumbling Weir‘ hotel. Just as you draw level with the building cross a wooden bridge and turn left alongside the old Saxon mill leat. Soon the Tumbling Weir itself is reached, a hole in the middle of the leat down which the water for the mill disappears. It was constructed in 1790 to power a Georgian serge factory, though a mill has been on the site for over a thousand years. The path drops down to the right at this point running alongside the River Otter (ignore the built-up alley hard left.)
The path winds between the Otter and a disused factory before eventually emerging by St. Saviours Bridge which spans the river. Turning right, cross the bridge and take the footpath on the far side which follows the river downstream. For the first part of the ramble the river is followed across a series of very pleasant water meadows and, provided you stay close to the river bank, no directions are necessary. Just follow the waymarks.
The Otter follows a very pleasant meandering course and is usually a good location for the birdwatcher, both wildfowl and the elusive kingfisher regularly inhabiting its sandy banks. The Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Ottery and knew and loved the Otter which he immortalised in his poem “Dear Native Brook, Wild Streamlet of the West…”. On your right is the course of the old railway line which once wended its way down to Budleigh Salterton and across the river to the East are the wooded slopes of East Hill. Part of it may be followed as you walk parallel to the river.
After about one and a half miles pass through a gate. Beyond is a weir, an excellent spot for a tea-break! A sluice-gate on the opposite bank once led into a leat, constructed to power the ancient mill a hundred yards or so down on the other side of the river.
Cross the river here by the bridge, turning right through a gate a few yards on. Follow this path a half mile until it reaches the village of Tipton St. John, emerging from a narrow path nearly opposite the Golden Lion pub.
Tipton St. John is a relatively new parish, its ‘Church on the Hill’ being constructed as recently as 1839. On the advice of her Bishop, Queen Victoria formalised the creation of the new parish in 1841. The church is a monument to the practical Victorian age, though the stained glass, including a reproduction of William Holman Hunt’s “The Light of the World”, is particularly fine. (The building may be visited by diverting to the right along the main street and over a river bridge.)
Turn left Follow the lane out of the village ignoring any turnings to right or left (notice the old smithy on your right) until it climbs steeply and reached the Coombe Crossroads. Turn right here, past the bus shelter, and then take the public footpath a hundred yards up on the opposite side of the road.
This goes down a series of steps and then runs along the edge of a gully until a stile is reached. Cross this and the field beyond, keeping the hedge on your left and passing over the stile on the far side. The path continues down to the left (ignore the path going uphill on your right) towards Combe Farm and comes out through a gate near to the farmyard. Carry straight on along the wide track ahead, ignoring the signposted path on the left, just by a very attractive thatched cottage.
The path runs through a gully and eventually becomes a green lane, climbing for a mile. There are excellent views through the many gateways on both sides of the bridleway and looking gives the rambler an excuse to pause for breath!
Nearing the top, the path narrows and passes through a shooting gate. A little further on a rough crossroads is reached but ignore the side turnings and continue uphill until a country lane is reached.
This is one of the finest viewpoints in East Devon with views over the Vale of the Otter to Ottery and the Blackdown Hills to the North; Aylesbeare and Woodbury Commons to the West in the middle distance, whilst in the far distance – on a clear day – are the Dartmoor heights of Heytor, Saddle Tor and Rippon Tor.
Ignore the footpath on the opposite side and turn left (north) along the lane. After roughly half a mile a bridleway goes downhill to the left and this should be followed, turning right along the lane at its foot. A few hundred yards on, just past Waxway Farm, a track goes off to the left lined with newer houses.
Continue down this, passing over a stile into the green lane beyond. A hundred yards further on leave the green lane and enter a field through the gate on your right (the public footpath sign is hidden inside the field at the time of writing).
Keep the hedge on your right and follow round until a stile is reached. Cross over and head straight across the next field to the wooded hedge on the far side (if the stile here is hard to see as you come across the field, due to summer vegetation, steer slightly left towards the top of the field and then work your way down the hedgerow until the stile is reached.
Crossing the stile fork right downhill down the obvious waymarked path as it runs parallel to the stream, avoiding any side-paths to left or right. This attractive valley is beautifully cared for by a landowner who is planting trees and bushes in complete harmony with nature. After a while a stile is crossed and the way runs a few yards across a field and out through a gate. This leads on to a wider track which arrives at two dutch barns.
Do not pass through the barns, instead take the path on the left which runs alongside the stream. This brings you out on to a lane. Turn left for a few yards and then take the footpath leading into a field on your right.
Follow the hedge around to the left (in practice cut the corner) until a double stile is reached. Cross this and climb straight across the middle of the next field, to the gate halfway up on the far side – out of sight until the slope is breasted. Go through and follow the left hand hedge along the long field beyond, exiting across the stile in the far left hand corner.
Continuing in the same direction, head straight across the field in front aiming for a gap in the far hedgerow. When this is reached go down the short track going right, which leads down to a lane. Pass through the field gate and turn right uphill. After a couple of bends the lane leads to the gateway of Knightstone Manor. Turn in, cross the tiny ford or the bridge, and walk in front of the manor garden and up the track which continues in the same direction
Knightstone Manor was originally a medieval hall-house, remodelled in the sixteenth-century. It has been the home of several eminent Devon families, including the Bonvilles, the Greys and the Shermans.
This long green lane heads straight across the countryside towards Ottery, eventually becoming a tarmacced lane for its last few yards when the houses are reached. When a road is reached turn sharp left along Longboys Lane and follow this road, without deviating, for just under half a mile, passing the County Primary School.
Eventually the lane heads downhill and narrows before reaching a crossroads. Turn right here and head downhill. Keep left at the next junction and then take the next turning on the right. After just few yards take the alley between the shops on the left. Veer right on the road beyond, past the petrol station. This leads back to the starting point.
Ottery St. Mary well deserves a walk around, particularly for fans of English literature. Not only are there many links to Coleridge but also to W. M. Thackeray who used to holiday nearby and featured the town in his novel Pendennis. The poet William Browne, author of Britannia’s Pastorals, lived here for some years until his death in 1645. The church contains a clock dating from around 1340 and many reminders of the Coleridge family and other mementos of Ottery’s long and chequered history.