Location: On the outskirts of Great Torrington as you head towards Bideford, half a mile north west of the Puffing Billy Public House/Restaurant. It is on the Tarka Trail and is the second point at which the trail crosses the River Torridge when walking from the pub.
Access: Excellent on level, well-surfaced former railway line, suitable for wheelchairs. Parking is in a small, free car park next to the pub, which is also the former Great Torrington railway station.
Wildlife Interest: Otters have been filmed at the weir itself, a grey heron and cormorant seem to be resident there and a family of 7 kingfishers were spotted just under the Tarka Trail bridge (access to the riverbank from the bridge is now restricted) in early August. In late October salmon and sea trout can be seen jumping the weir if the river is in spate. On warm sunny summer days butterflies abound along the trail, including rarer species such as the Silver-washed fritillary. There are buddleia bushes at the former Great Torrington station which attract numerous large and colourful butterfly species in summer, including peacock, red admiral and tortoiseshell.
Alternative attractions: It is always possible that you will see nothing on the day you visit. So why not take advantage of the cycle hire facility at the former station and ride one of the bikes all the way to Fremington between Bideford and Barnstaple? (www.torringtoncyclehire.co.uk) or Tel: 01805 622633) You can also have a coffee at the cycle hire place and enjoy the sight of the restored railway carriages at the station.
BUDE CANAL & MARSHES
Location: Although sections of the Bude Canal can be traced all the way from the sea to Lower Tamar Lake, these notes will concentrate on the 2 mile developed section which stretches from the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) car park at Bude to just above Helebridge, where the A39 Atlantic Highway crosses the canal. There is also a link path from the canal (about half way between Bude and Helebridge) to the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) just north of Widemouth Bay.
Access: Excellent on level, well-surfaced tarmac paths for the most part, suitable for wheelchairs. The SWCP link path is not suitable for wheelchairs and is basically grass track which can become very muddy and tricky to negotiate after rain. Parking is at either end of the canal. At the Bude TIC there is a large public pay-and-display car park. At the Helebridge end there is a small free car park at the entrance to the village just yards from the A39. There is also free car parking for patrons of The Weir Bistro nearby, clearly visible from the A39.
Wildlife Interest: Much birdlife to be seen throughout the year. Mallard, coots and moorhen, frequently with chicks in the Spring/Summer. Long-tailed tits common. Dragonflies and damselflies all along the canal in summer. Rudd in the canal. Curlew and lapwing in the fields towards the Helebridge end between the canal and the National Cycle Route track. Otters have been sighted under the A39 bridge at Helebridge. Tree creepers seen near the first landing stage north of Helebridge and common sandpiper seen south of Helebridge in the residential section of the canal. Kingfishers, sedge and reed warblers are in the marshes nearer the Bude end between the canal and the rugby club. A canal-side bird hide, overlooking the marshes, is open all year and there are good vantage points from pathways and bridges through the marshes.
Alternative attractions: The beach itself at the Bude end is always attractive as is the canal between the beach lock gates and the first road bridge. There are cafes and The Falcon Hotel alongside the canal in this section and rowing boats can be hired. At the Helebridge end the Weir Bistro serves meals and good coffee and has free wifi for those who cannot survive a whole morning or afternoon offline without suffering withdrawal symptoms. More interestingly, half of the bistro has been developed to highlight the local wildlife via interactive displays – great for kids and the young at heart. Also at the Helebridge end, at the end of the residential section of the canal south of the road bridge, are the remains of the first inclined plane which was used to haul the butty boats up to the higher level canal so they could take their sand cargoes further inland for building projects. A noticeboard nearby explains how it all worked.
VIEW OF WIDEMOUTH BAY (BUDE)
Location: Grid ref 199033, free car park on right at the top of the hill, just off the minor road from Bude going south to Widemouth Bay village.
Access: Tarmac surfaced car park with good view of the Bay from car park itself. Easy short walk to another viewpoint at Lower Longbeak. NB – not suitable for wheelchairs.
Wildlife Interest: From car park, mainly Herring gulls and single cormorants from time to time, also waders in winter but the main attraction is the magnificent view of the whole sweep of the Bay, with surfers usually enjoying the waves which can be spectacular in strong winds.
Alternative Attractions: a short walk north towards Bude goes through the small (2 hectares, 5 acre) Phillips Point Nature Reserve, opposite the Elements Hotel. This is Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s smallest reserve, where in summer adders can be seen, lovely wildflowers, spectacular views both north and south and dramatic cliff scenery.
See also the Bude Canal and Marshes item for more natural history interest near Bude.
LYDFORD GORGE EX20 4BH
Location: Take the A386 Okehampton to Tavistock road, and about 7 miles south of the A30, turn right at the Lydford Gorge sign and go through Lydford village and turn right into the National Trust car park.
There is an entrance fee for those who are not N.T. members.
There are both longer walks of approximately two and a half miles or a shorter walk to the nearest part of the river with views of the Devil’s Cauldron where the water boils through some very impressive rock formations.
Access: This walk is for the reasonably fit and mobile. Strong shoes or walking boots are recommended as in wet weather the trail can be muddy and slippery. The trail is very undulating but there is plenty of seating on the way round. The advised route is to follow the trail along the woodland walk to the far end where there is a tearoom and toilets. Then turn down the hill to the Whitelady water-fall walking back along the river trail to the Devil’s Cauldron, before returning to the start point.
Wildlife interest: Many woodland birds can be seen depending on the time of year, and at the entrance there is usually a notice board detailing the recent sightings which is continually up-dated. Otters are known to use the river but of course daylight sightings are very unlikely. Once down on the river path, grey wagtails are often seen and they seem to be used to people passing by, feeding by the water in an unconcerned manner. Brown trout inhabit the river.
Alternative attractions: There is a tea room at both ends of the trail, both serving excellent cream teas and light meals, with the usual N.T. shop at the start. There is a pub in Lydford and Dartmoor is within easy reach via the Granite Way just south of the A30.
This is a lovely walk which never disappoints.
BROWNSHAM, between CLOVELLY and HARTLAND
Location: Grid ref: SS 286 260. Start at the National Trust car park Brownsham.
From the Clovelly roundabout on the A39, head towards Bude and take the B3248 signed for Hartland, after about a mile take the turning on the right signed for the lighthouse. Go over the cross roads and bear right twice, you will pass the N.T. post on the right and the car park is on your left. (Free car park)
Access: Some very steep climbs, uneven paths and woodland tracks, may be muddy in winter. Several walks of up to 3 miles.
Wildlife interest: The woodland is a good mix of broadleaf and in the spring the valleys are a riot of bluebells. You will also find wood sorrel, wood anemone and bugle etc. The trees are covered with mosses and there are some lovely streams and pools. Also nearby is an area of rare culm grassland which is owned and managed by the Trust. Many songbirds may be seen, such as thrushes, wood warblers, goldcrests, treecreepers, blackcaps and spotted flycatchers. My advice is to go to the Explore The Coast website which has a wealth of information.
Alternative Attractions: There are several walks from the car park of varying lengths, the paths will take you up onto the coastal path offering superb sea views out towards Lundy. There is the site of a hill top fort, also a memorial to the crew of an RAF WW2 Wellington bomber which crashed on the cliff. At Mill Mouth, at low tide, you can explore the unique rock formation called “The Blackchurch Rock” before returning through the woodland back to the car park.
RED SQUIRRELS AT ESCOT PARK (Wildwood Escot)
Location: Escot is in East Devon, just off the A30, between Exeter and Honiton, at Fairmile. It is well signed. It is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Access: There is plenty of free parking and all the usual facilities. There is a 100 metre boardwalk in the red squirrel enclosure which is generally level and wheelchair-friendly.
Wildlife Interest: The red squirrels are housed in a walk-through enclosure separate from the main park. As this particular project is Lottery funded there is no charge for entry. The squirrels are currently fed at 1100 and a talk given by Nature Rangers so you should be guaranteed a sighting. This is subject to change but timings can be checked on the website. However, if you visit the enclosure before feeding time – when they are hungry and inquisitive – you may be treated to a more personal encounter with these enchanting creatures.
Apart from the red squirrels, Wildwood Escot offers a collection of native and formerly native wildlife including otters, wild cats, wild boar and termites with plans to introduce wolves and pine martens. At certain times of year there may be birds of prey displays.
Alternative attractions: Wildwood offers interesting walks, an Anglo-Saxon village, a walled garden, woodland playground, maze (not easy to get out of) and gift shop. The Coach House restaurant offers drinks, home-cooked lunches, cream teas and home-made cakes and desserts.
N.B. An admission charge applies for access to the main park. This attraction is under new management and is East Devon’s conservation and wildlife branch of the Wildwood Trust. There is a sister park in Canterbury, Kent. The website wildwoodescot.org gives further, detailed information.
Nearby is Otter Nurseries Garden Centre, also worth a visit.
BRADFORD CHURCH WALK
Location: Start at Bradford Church, grid ref; SS420071
Park in the lane in front of the church making sure that you aren’t blocking the lane.
Access: Uneven ground at times, slightly uphill in places, duration of the walk, about one hour depending on your pace. Distance about one mile, strong footwear recommended.
Walk through the gate into the church yard, the church is usually open and is well worth a look inside. It’s of Norman origin and I think that its location is unusual in that it’s not on a hill. Continue along the path past the church to the gate at the far end of the churchyard and pass through turning right onto the track that runs from the back of Bradford Manor up to Priestacott.
On this rough footpath you will pass farmland and woodland on either side, there are many species of wildflower depending on the time of year. The usual songbirds abound and you might also see a grey squirrel or sparrowhawk or even a roe deer. Ravens and Buzzards are often to be heard calling and can seen overhead.
On exiting the track at the top of the slope, if you have time, the pretty hamlet of Priestacott lies just around the corner to your left. Otherwise, turn right onto the lane and this will bring you to Lana Cross which isn’t a cross but a T junction! Turn right here and this will bring you back to Stone Cross Cottage and the entrance to Bradford church and your starting point.