South West Coast Path: Lynton to Combe Martin

In which: I risk being accused of stalking ● it is another t-shirt day ● goats graze the cliff slopes  ● the Valley of Rocks is found slightly disappointing ● there is more glorious cliff scenery ● I ponder noise pollution ● I reach the highest point on the Coast Path

Date: 12 April 2009
Time of walk: 0900 to 1615
Today’s walking: 22.1 km
Progress along SWCP: 21.3 km
Estimated ascent: 1350 metres

After a decent breakfast, I set off a few steps behind another couple who’d put on their walking boots at the same time as me. They may have thought I was stalking them when I went into the same shop as them, and stopped to fiddle with my rucksack when they stopped, then continued to follow them. I was glad when they continued down to Lynmouth while I began the South West Coast Path today along the route signposted intriguingly to the Valley of the Rocks.

This was obviously a route that would be popular were it not so early in the morning, as the properly rural coast path as it clung to the cliff edge was tarmacked. I passed goats grazing on the steep slope, and later a group of four, two of them fighting. The Castle Rock was quite attractive, but otherwise I was rather uninspired by the Valley of the Rocks which seems to owe much to marketing. 

Looking down part of the zigzag path to Lynmouth (with the couple who I’d been following making their way down), with the steep river valley that brought so much devastation in 1952.
Goats grazing on the steep hillside
Me looking out to sea, with Castle Rock behind me
More goats, two of them fighting

From here the route of the Coast Path follows a quiet road which becomes another toll road, past the Christian conference centre at Lee Abbey. As I descended the hill, loud amplified music was being played, and I couldn’t quite decide whether to be annoyed at the sound pollution of the countryside on such a lovely sunny day or to enjoy the wonderful soulful echoes.

The start of the toll road (toll payable for vehicles only)
Looking down to Lee Bay, surrounded by the amplified music of Lee Abbey
The Lee Abbey Christian centre

Above Lee Bay there is an alternative route of the Coast Path to Crock Point. Although there was a brief moment when I could get a nice photo of Woody Bay, on the whole it wasn’t really a worthwhile diversion as it was largely a walk around field margins, with a huge thick hedge shutting off all views of the sea.

The view of Woody Bay from the alternative permissive route round Crock Point
Descending through the woodlands below Inkerman Bridge, The woodlands above Woody Bay before climbing through the alliterative West Woodybay Wood.
An attractive waterfall as Hollow Brook makes its way to the sea
Me in single t-shirt again, admiring the view
Steep heather-clad slopes descend to the sea

I stopped for lunch above Highveer Point, looking across the 500 metres or so to Peter Rock, but to reach which a long descent into and ascent out of the valley of Heddon’s Mouth was called for. The path around here was busy on a glorious Easter Sunday, some heading for the beach at Heddon’s Mouth and others for Hunter’s Inn. I lay back in the sunshine and just soaked up the atmosphere for a little while, before heading downhill to the river.

The view of Heddon’s Mouth from Highveer Point: to reach to the other side (where the path is visible towards the top) took 35 minutes of descent and ascent.
Looking down on Heddon’s Mouth Beach, with its lime kiln, left.
Crossing the River Heddon
A rather hazy Lundy
North of Trentishoe, the path takes the seaward side of what are very traditional Devon field edges along the cliffs, with high walls on the seaward side but nothing (except a modern fence) on the landward side.
Crossing through one of those impressive stone walls
Ascending the slopes of Trentishoe Down with the cliffs back to East Cleave behind me.
On Trentishoe Down the path takes to more open country, passing Bronze Age hut circles and impressive ancient field boundaries.
Skirting Holdstone Down, the attention is drawn ahead to Great Hangman, at 318 metres the highest point on the South West Coast Path.
Trees on an old field boundary
This stone wall has become a real haven for heather, gorse and other plants

The feeling of height to gain to reach the summit of Great Hangman, towards the end of a long walk, is emphasised by the steep descent first into Sherrycombe. Part way down I stopped to gain energy and remove grit from my boots. I was passed by a couple who’d first passed me before Heddon’s Mouth. At the bottom of this hill, I passed them again, paddling in the stream, which looked very inviting but I didn’t want to invade their space. A steep ascent soon brought me onto Great Hangman where I stopped again for the view, setting off again just as that same couple approached again.

The summit of Great Hangman, which is 318 metres high with a cliff face of 244 metres. It is the highest sea cliff in England and the highest point on the South West Coast Path. Incidentally, the name has nothing to do with nooses, “hang” deriving from the Celtic for slope, and “man” ultimately from the Sanskrit for hill.
Looking across Exmoor from the summit. As the path enters Combe Martin, it leaves the Exmoor National Park which it has been in since Minehead. Tomorrow I must make do merely with the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The path skirted Little Hangman, and although the summit looked inviting, my right knee by now was giving me quite a bit of discomfort, so I continued along the route, admiring the impressive views of Wild Pear Beach from Lester Cliff, then a narrow enclosed descent into Combe Martin, with lots of holidaymakers on the beach.

The conical Little Hangman: in the hollow and mostly out of sight, and running to the left, is the long village of Combe Martin
Looking down on Wild Pear Beach from the slopes of Little Hangman
Combe Martin
The beach at Combe Martin
The Coast Path follows the road up that hill, where my guesthouse for the night lies.
Looking down a narrow alley to the sea: this area around the beach was charming, but otherwise I can’t say I was particularly impressed with the place.

The directions to the B&B were a bit confusing as they said it was on the Coast Path and the A339, but having reached the point that the two diverge, I phoned, and found that I needed to go further along the main road.

The guesthouse was pleasant, with another sea view from my bedroom to add to my collection. I went out and explored Combe Martin. I ate an ice cream and then had fish and chips on the beach. I returned to the guesthouse where I spent much of the evening taking advantage of their wifi connection to start the write-up of this walk.

The view from my bedroom window.


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