Today I am leaving Porlock, as this is my last walk along the South West Coast path of this visit, as I have walked the coast west from Combe Martin previously (although it was a good few years ago). The first the first direct bus from Lynmouth to Combe Martin is not until after 11am, which makes for a late start, from Combe Martin it is at 10am. I therefore decide to drive to Combe Martin and take the bus from there to Lynmouth in order to start my walk from Lynmouth. I leave Porlock, where I spent the night and head off for the drive over Exmoor to Combe Martin.
I have allowed plenty of time to drive from Porlock to Combe Martin, or so I think. It is an A-road all the way and not near any large towns so I’m not expecting it to be that slow. Immediately of course, I have to drive up Porlock Hill, a steep hill not helped by steep bends along it too. Soon the road becomes less steep and I can enjoy the dramatic views about, although I got a better view on the bus yesterday and didn’t have to concentrate on the driving them. I make reasonable time into Lynmouth and am descending the steep hill into Lynmouth. I’m careful to apply the brakes intermittently as I head down into Lynmouth so they don’t overheat and soon I reach Lynmouth and pass the car park in Lynmouth where the bus stopped yesterday. Here, as a look at the map would have told me, the A39 westbound in fact heads east for a couple of miles, almost parallel to the route I have come along the steep sided river Lyn to Watersmeet. It is beautiful but the road is narrow so I don’t have much chance to look. There is then a steep series of hair-pin bends to rise back up out of the valley and at last I am heading west again. The road becomes gentler and I pass out of Exmoor at Blackmoor Gate, turning right onto the A399, although of course I will be returning to Exmoor later on my walk. A look at the clock and I realise time is getting on and it is getting tight as to whether I will catch the bus.
Thankfully soon I come to the first buildings of Combe Martin. Nearly there or so it seemed – Combe Martin does seem to go on (later I find it claims to have the longest main street of any village, which I can well believe). I soon come across a little car park on the left and nearly park there but I am concerned how far it is to the coast as the bus stop in the bus timetable is listed as “Seaside” and I can’t see the sea. I carry on and thankfully soon come to the coast and there is a large car park here. I park next to the machine, quickly buy a ticket and run to the road, thankfully fining the bus stop. A quick check of my watch and I arrived with a little under 2 minutes to spare, so I hope the bus is not early! Thankfully it arrives, a couple of minutes late. Sadly todays bus is not an open top as on the previous walk, but a minibus which is noisy and bumpy but at least seems to cope better with hills. The views are lovely, as I retrace the road I have just travelled. The bus arrives at Lynton and then takes the more direct, albeit steep, road down to Lynmouth. Sadly from the timetable available now, it appears this bus no longer serves Lynmouth, so you will have to walk down the hill to get to Lynmouth now, or take the cliff railway.
I continue down to Lynmouth, to continue from the same point as yesterday. It is another good day for weather, although a little misty today compared with yesterday. I have a quick look around Lynmouth but since I was here only yesterday I don’t spend long, and soon begin the walk.
There is no escaping the fact that Lynmouth is in a steep valley and therefore every route out is very hilly, and so it proves here.
The coast path initially climbs on a road out of the town and soon meets the Lynton and Lynmouth cliff railway, a water powered railway linking these two towns. I considered taking the railway but decided that would be cheating. The path now zig-zags to climb up, continually going over the track of the cliff railway, which I can watch going up and down the cliff.
Soon I have reached the top and stop for a rest, I hope the rest of the walk is not going to be this steep! The first part of the walk is along a tarmac path, the Victorians idea of a coast path, but it gets quite tiring to walk on tarmac for long distances.
The cliff top here has many goats on it, who make their way up very steep cliffs with a sheer drop nearby. To my left is the steep and jagged cliffs as I approach an area known as The Valley of the Rocks. Soon I round the headland of Hollerday Hill and opens up to a wonderful views over Wringcliff Bay.
It is hard not to be impressed with this stunning scenery and it is not hard to see how this area got it’s name. This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very popular place, so the coast path from Lynton to here was quite busy. The coast path goes to the left of a particularly steep rock, Rugged Jack, and I can see how it got it’s name. The coast path now continues along the road heading west, although there is little traffic. I decide first though to climt to the top of Castle Rock, the last of these steep rocks to enjoy the view. I can see it’s a long way down to Wringcliff Bay below. I return from the cliffs and make my way down to the road to continue my walk.
There is a path signed to “Mother Meldrum’s Cave”, but I decide against visiting this too and continue along the road. Soon I come to the toll gate, as the road ahead is a privately owned toll road. Thankfully there is no charge for pedestrians and the toll seems to put a lot of drivers off, as there is less traffic now. I pass through an imposing gate tower and have a view back to Lee Abbey and pass a particularly informative sign.
The Abbey is now a Christian holiday centre and conference centre.
I can see the beach at Lee Bay below and there is a steep path down to it. I decide to follow this and am glad I did so, it is a beautiful and secluded beach, a mixture of sand shingle and rock with cliffs on either side. There is a stream flowing out to the beach here too, with a small waterfall in places.
Back up the path I then continue west along the road, passing a large camp site, I expect something to do with Lee Abbey since the tents are all the same. Soon I face a choice, since there is a junction ahead with a sign of “Coast Path Along Road” or “Coast Path Woody Bay”, the latter being the more coastal route. Not surprisingly, I opt for the latter, as I’m keen to get off the tarmac of the road. This follows at a low level around Crock Point but soon rejoins the road.
The road soon climbs steepy and enters woodland and get glimpses of Woody Bay far below through the trees that now line the coast. Although the coast path does not descend to the beach there is a wide track, in fact a byway and I decide to follow it down to the beach (I seem to be taking a lot of diversions today!).
Despite the steep nature I’m surprised to see some people have managed to get cars down here. I pass another helpful sign near the bottom (this seems to be becoming a theme of the day) and soon reach the beach, although the tide is high and access to the beach itself is difficult.
It looks lovely though, with a waterfall flowing out onto it. Sadly I have to make my way back up, and it’s a steep and long climb. Soon I return to the coast path and continue west, back into woodland. Soon the woodland ends and I can see the steep scree slopes of The Beacon ahead of me. Out to sea I see an old steamer making it’s way along the coast, almost certainly the Waverley which is a nice site, being the last ocean going paddle steamer. There is a waterfall signed on the map just west of here and I soon come across it – and it is impressive, and refreshing on this hot day.
A look back shows the coast path, a very obvious line along the cliffs. Looking back I can also the see the roller-coaster cliffs I walked over yesterday, although todays walk is proving similarly hard. Soon however the path eases out and becomes fairly flat as it follows the edge of the coast. This doesn’t last however and I can soon see the next valley ahead, Heddon Mouth. I can see the rocky beach far below and what looks like and old lime kiln. I realise, as it usually the way that I have to descend all the way down and then back up the other side of this valley.
I also realise I have to head quite a way in land to cross the river Heddon which flows out to the coast here. Although a bridge is marked closer to the coast than the crossing point I believe it was washed away, so this route is no longer accessible. Instead I descend down the gentle path that heads inland and gradually down hill to the river floor, then cross via the stone bridge. There is a path down to the bridge on the other side of the valley but I am not sure if there is a route back up to the coast path so decide to give this a miss, having already taken a number of diversions. The path climbs steeply back up to the cliff top to Heddons Mouth Cleave, where it levels out.
I can see the path I followed on the other side of the valley, making a scar along the side of the valley. The path here is now surrounded by heather and gorse, a typicaly moorland landscape that has the bonus of being by the sea! I The path rounds East Cleave and offers a wonderful view west over Elwill Bay, with not a building in sight, so Combe Martin must be just out of sight.
I continue over the aptly named High Cliff on the good coast path. Soon I can see the hill of Holdstone Down ahead, which does loom over me.
The path up to it is fairly gentle though and the path surrounded by heather and gorse. The only downside is I don’t have such good views of the sea here as the path is set back a little from the coast. Soon thepath reaches another valley and I can see the hill of Great Hangman looming ahead. This is over 1000ft and is in fact the highest sea cliff in England. Unfortunatly, before that I have a steep climb down to the valley of Sherrycombe, which takes me almost to sea level and then back up the other side – frustrating! I tuck into some chocolate first though, to get some more energy as I’m feeling tired now. I walk slowly back up the other side and after an initially steep climb the climb gets less steep as I then reach the surprinsgly large cairn that marks the summit. Whenever I come to one of these I always think that I should have picked up a stone to add it to, but I never remember until it’s too late! It is so high here I can make out the coast of Wales in the distance too. The heather is beautiful too, being in flower and from here it looks like the going is now largely down hill.
The views inland here are extensive too, with the many rolling fields of Exmoor to be seen. Soon I can make out the smaller hill of Little Hangman below, and Combe Martin below that.
The gentle down hill walk means I am now feeling less tired and pick up the pace a little. Soon I reach Little Hangman, although the coast path slightly cuts off the summit, which is disappointing, but I go and have a look anyway and get a lovely view over Combe Martin ahead. I can also see the coast ahead is rather gentler. Exmoor has been a delight and has finished with the grand finale of Great Hangman. It has been tough yes, but also very beautiful and I am sad to be leaving it.
There is a rocky and pebble beach below the cliffs as I approach Combe Martin, marked as Wild Pear Beach. As I round the beach I get wonderful views back and can see there is in fact quite a bit of sand here and also people on the beach although access looks to be difficult.
Soon I reach Lester Point and follow the path along the track behind it and down to the sea front at Combe Martin. I enjoy the views of the beach here and stop for an ice cream before making the journey home, grateful for the enforced long sit down it will give me!
This has been a wonderful walk and although I am tired it was also very enjoyable and I am pleased with having made it across the coast of Exmoor in the three stages I had planned. It has been a wonderful few days walking the Exmoor coast and I leave determined to come back soon to continue walking the South West Coast Path.
Having parked in Combe Martin I decide to take the road south to Barnstaple and then the A361 rather than the twisty and steep A39 which I think proves a wise move.
The public transport needed for this walk is detailed below.
Route 300 runs at present Saturdays and Sundays only during the winter but runs daily during the summer. It is operated by Filers. Unusually Filers do not publish the timetable online, so you hopefully the links below will work. If not, visit Traveline South West.
- Filers route 300 (to 14th February 2014) : Ilfracombe – Chambercombe – Berrynarbour – Combe Martin – Blackmoor Gate – Lynon
- Filers route 300 (14th February onwards)
If these routes are not running you will have to travel from Combe Martin to Barnstaple and then Barnstaple to Lynton, using these routes.
- Filers 301 – Combe Martin – Ilfracombe – Hele – Barsntaple
- Filers 309 and 310 (until 14th Feb 2014) – Lynton – Lynmouth – Martinhoe – Parracombe – Blackmoor Gate – Bratton Flemming – Goodleigh – Barnstaple
- Filers 309 and 310 (14th February 2014 onwards)