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Head ranger with the National Trust reveals his favourite woodland and coastal walk

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

  • Mouthmill Please credit Jon Bowen

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Y name is Justin Seedhouse and I am head ranger for Torridge, looking after our places like in Northam, at Westward Ho! and all the way along to Welcombe Mouth, even a place inland called Dunsland near Holsworthy.

This walk through Beckland Woods to the top of Windbury and along the coast is one of my favourites, whatever the time of year and whatever the weather. I still love seeing the bluebells welcoming in the spring, kicking my feet through the leaves every autumn and finding peace on one of the many paths in and around this small secluded valley.

Once at the top of Windbury Head you are greeted by some of the best views on the property: Lundy Island, Bideford Bay, Morte and Baggy Point and, in the distance, Exmoor and the Welsh coast, all framing this beautiful bay.

Porpoises, sunfish and peregrines can often be seen and not forgetting the resident Dartmoor ponies, Danny and Lad, who graze the hill fort helping the many wild flowers to thrive, by helping to keep the advancing scrub under control.

A walk here may take an hour, or half a day if you wish. There's lots of variety from woodland to an Iron Age hill fort and not forgetting the coast. You can hide from the rain and wind in the winter and take shade from the sun on a hot day.

It's the variety and choice that makes this a special place for me.

Walk stats:

Trail Grade: Hard due to terrain.

OS Map: OS Landranger 190.

Time: 1hr 45mins.

Distance: 2 miles, 3.2km.

Terrain: Route can be very muddy when wet with some extremely steep descents and ascents. Keep dogs under control when close to ponies or other livestock.

Start point name and grid reference: National Trust car park at Brownsham SS285 260. Postcode for Sat Nav: EX39 6AN.

How to get there: From Bideford A39 west, just after Clovelly filling station take first right signed Hartland, continue for about two miles then turn right signed Hartland Point and lighthouse. Continue about one mile, then turn right signed Brownsham.

1. Out of car park along path signed "Beckland Woods Coastpath 1 mile", following footpath between hedge bank to left and field fence to right, down into the woods ahead.

2. Go through wooden gate, signed "Beckland Woods". Follow footpath round to three- finger post, turn left signed "Windbury Hill Fort ¾ mile". Follow path down and over wooden bridge where, at three-finger post, go right signed "Windbury Head and Coastpath ¾ mile". In the spring the wood here is filled with bluebells.

3. Follow path along through woods downstream along the stream to your right, to the next three-finger post by a small wooden bridge. Here carry on straight signed "Windbury Hill Fort and Coast Path ¼ mile".

4. At the next three-finger post on your left, go up three steps and then turn left signed again for "Windbury Hill Fort and Coast Path ¼ mile". At next three-finger post carry on straight, signed as before. Climb up through woodland until you see a field gate ahead of you.

5. Just before the gate follow the path to the right where you will see a gate and a small information panel and a sign for "Windbury Hill Fort". Look out for the Dartmoor ponies grazing here.

6. You will be going this way in a moment but before you turn right, go left for about 35yds (30m) to a gate and a stile. Just before the stile is a memorial in memory of the crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed beneath these cliffs on April 13, 1942. The memorial was erected in their honour in 1988. Retrace your steps back to the fingerpost and follow the coast path along the cliffs towards Mouthmill. As you do so you are walking over Windbury Hill Fort.

7. Come out on to hill fort at top of the cliffs, to a three-finger post signed "Mouth Mill to the right, 2 miles".

8. As you are walking along the cliffs look out to sea for a spectacular view – on a clear day you will see the sea platforms below, Lundy Island out to sea and sweeping views along the coast to Baggy and Morte Points. The cliffs are 330m high and on the eastern edge is a large breeding colony of Fulmars, as well as other seabirds.

Follow the path over the top of the fort and stay on it as it descends down through gorse and shrubs into the woodlands below. Go down through gate, closing it behind you. Follow the next three-finger post signed "MouthMill 1.5 miles" straight ahead of you and stay on the path as it zigzags down the side of the valley to the river below.

9. At the next three-finger post turn left signed to "Mouth Mill ¼ miles". Follow path through the woodland. Keep a watchful eye out for deer.

10. Go through the gate and at the river, cross over the bridge and go up the steep, stepped path up the side of the valley.

11. At the top of the steps there is a three-finger post, a gate and a bench. At the post turn right signed "Brownsham ¾ mile". Go over the stile and follow path along the edge of the field, through the gate.

12. Continue walking along the fence line to your right, over the next stile and along the path back into Beckland Woods, following all the signs to Brownsham.

13. At a three-finger signpost and a gate, go straight signed "Brownsham car park" retracing your steps through the gate and along the path back to the car park.

Windbury Hill Fort

Beckland Woods has been looked after by the National Trust since 1976. At the top of the woods, on the cliff top, are the remains of Windbury Hill Fort, an Iron Age enclosure dating back almost 2,000 years. It has well defined earthworks that can easily be explored. It has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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