Walk - Buck's Mills & Peppercombe Castle
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the bottom corner of the village car park in Buck's Mills take the short path, by the information board, and follow it to the road. Turn right here to walk through the village and on down the tarmac path to visit the old quay and the beach.
The stream running through the woods and carrying on down the road through the village marks the boundary between two parishes, Woolfardisworthy (Woolsery) to the west and Parkham to the east. Historically it was the division between two estates. The land on the west belonging to the manor of Walland Cary and that on the east to the Pine Coffin family of Portledge. Most of the cottages in the village were built between 1812-1835 to house the workers on the Walland Cary estate, although the Pine Coffins owned most of the buildings to the right of the road.
The settlement dates back to Saxon times when it was known as Buccas Htwise. Over time its name changed through Bokish and Bukish, becoming Buck's Mills in the nineteenth century. There is a corn mill, halfway down the street, and at one time there were a number of other mills powered by the waterfall on the shoreline. These have since been washed away by coastal erosion.
Buck's Mills is the home of the Braund Society, whose membership consists of people with the surname Braund, or those associated with it in some way. At one time, almost every resident of the village was related to the Braunds. Illustrious members of the family include a first fleet convict, who escaped in an open boat to Timor Island; an England cricketer; a conjurer; a royal furniture designer; a clockmaker; two men who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar; two who perished with the Titanic; and an East India Company merchant. It is claimed that the dark hair and eyes typical of the family are a legacy from several Spaniards who washed up here during the Armada (see the Hope Cove, Bolt Tail & Bolberry Walk), but records show that the family existed before the sixteenth century.
'King' of Bucks Mills, Captain James Braund, built King's Cottage in the 1830s, taking advantage of the river rushing through the cottage to use it as a natural flush for his unique 'thunderbox'. Like most of his kinsmen, James was a fisherman, and he was also a pilot in the Torridge estuary, guiding ships over the notorious 'Bar' at the mouth of the estuary. He had a reputation as a bold sailor, and over the years he and his boat, the Grace Darling, saved the lives of no fewer than nine sailors, receiving several commendations for his bravery.
Beside the slipway leading to the beach, The Cabin was once used as a fishermen's store. For almost fifty years it operated as a studio for two local artists, Judith Ackland and Mary Edwards, until Judith died in 1971. It is now owned by the National Trust, who continue its artistic heritage by hosting art projects each year.
The buttressed building above the beach is one of several lime kilns which existed here before the sea washed most of them away. They were used to burn limestone, brought here by boat and burnt with local culm (a soft sooty coal) to make lime to fertilise the fields. Pack ponies carried the limestone to the kilns from the boats used for this, known as 'Appledore muffies' or 'stone hackers'. Although a quay was built here in 1598, this too was washed away by the sea, and skilled sailors were needed to land the boats directly on the beach.
The spit of rocks near where the quay once stood is known as The Gore. According to local legend the devil made it, intending to build a causeway to Lundy Island, but he gave up when his shovel broke.
The steep ground beside the village did not lend itself to agriculture. Most of the produce from Buck's Mills was vegetables, grown in terraces on the hillside, although villagers also kept goats, pigs, chickens, and a few cows. The corn for the mill was brought in from elsewhere, some of it coming from Lundy Island, lying some twelve miles distant in the Bristol Channel. The village has always had strong links with Lundy. When the herring and mackerel shoals declined in the nineteenth century, men commuted daily to the island to work in its quarries.
- Retrace your steps back uphill through the village, to the phone box just before the Old Coastguard Cottage, where the South West Coast Path heads left, signed towards Peppercombe. Bear right up the steps a moment later, and at the junction at the top of the hill turn left to follow the Coast Path on the lower route through the woods towards Peppercombe.
The oak woods along this part of the Coast Path are very old. The remoteness of the location and the steep hillsides meant that they survived the extensive felling which destroyed the greater part of the ancient forests that once covered the whole of Britain. Like the rest of the area's woodland it supports a wide diversity of species. A large range of habitats are provided by the scrub, grassland and marsh elsewhere in the valley. As a result, the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is particularly known for its rare lichens. The abundance of wildflowers, such as early purple orchid and marsh orchid, in turn attract butterflies. Look out for the speckled orange-brown, pearl-bordered fritillary, and the well-camouflaged brown dingy skippe.
- Descending into Peppercombe valley, turn left to follow the path across a field and down to the beach. Retracing your steps, carry on ahead up the main track, crossing the bridge and continuing to where the track forks. Take the right-hand path and follow it past the Old Coastguard Cottages and on to the next junction. Take the right-hand path again, signed to Northway, and follow the steep path up to the road.
Peppercombe Beach is an important geological site. The sandstones and conglomerates of its Red Bed rocks date from the Permo-Triassic period, around 250 million years ago. They were laid down in a desert environment which was subject to flash flooding. Although they are lying on Bude Formation rocks from the earlier Carboniferous period, there was another layer of rock laid down between the two periods. These were eroded away before the Red Bed rocks were formed. Geologists call this phenomenon an 'unconformity'.
Some two thousand years ago there was an Iron Age promontory fort at Peppercombe Castle, although today only the earthen banks remain. The nineteenth-century Peppercombe Castle, built on the cliffside, belonged to the Portledge Estate. It was an impressive gentleman's residence, with crenellations and a flagstaff, as well as a tennis court. Exotic plants such as fig and bamboo can still be seen in Peppercombe, having spread from its formal gardens. Like many a castle on the south west coastline it fell prey to sea erosion, in this case during heavy storms at the turn of the twentieth century, and it had to be abandoned for safety.
- Turn left on the road, turning right just afterwards, by the holiday cottages.
- Just before Sloo Farm, take the footpath on the left for a detour to the Hoops Inn. (Cross the road to the right and follow the footpath signed to Holwell. Bear right after the stile to the pub. On your return, retrace your steps through the pub car park and follow the path to the stile, turning left around the field edge to return to the road at 5). Assuming that you have arrived at 5 without making the detour to the Hoops Inn, carry on ahead (or from the pub path turn left), following the road to the abrupt left-hand bend, where two green lanes make a crossroad with the two legs of the road.
The A39 along the North Devon coast to Cornwall was named the Atlantic Highway in the 1990s. This reflected the coastline's strong ties with the Southern Railway's 'Atlantic Coast Express', which ran daily from London Waterloo between 1926 and 1964. The road itself, travelling between Bideford and Bude, was built long before the arrival of motor vehicles and was the main coaching route into Cornwall from North Devon. The Hoops Inn was one of three coaching inns en route where horses were changed, the other two being the West Country Inn on Bursdon Moor, near Hartland, and in Kilkhampton. It would take all day to travel from Bideford into Bude, and the horses would be returned to the inns on the journey back.
The Hoops Inn is a Grade II listed building for its many seventeenth century features. The original building dates back to the thirteenth century. In Tudor times it was a popular meeting place for seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville. It was also known as a notorious smugglers' haunt.
- Stay on the road to turn sharp left here, following the next sharp left-hand bend as well. Just after this second corner, turn right to follow the footpath fingerpost down the drive to Lower Worthygate. In front of the house turn right to walk through the farm, bearing right up the ramp to follow the footpath down the left-hand side of the barn. Stay with the path as it goes around the field to drop through the woodland beyond. Reaching the road at the end, turn immediately left up the footpath to return to the car park.
Steart, Walland and Loggins Woods were purchased by the Woodland Trust in 1996, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The woods are mostly broadleaved trees, including oak and beech, with some conifers which were planted more recently, mainly larch and sitka spruce. Over time the Trust aims to reduce the number of conifers and return the woodland to broadleaved species, both naturally and through a programme of planting. There are a number of tracks and paths through the woods, created to carry out forestry operations, and the public are welcome to walk along them.
An area of woodland to the left of the path was given over to the Bodgers and Badgers woodland project in October 2000. Two of the ten acres belonging to Lower Worthygate Farm were given over to its Green Wood Project, on land adjacent to the areas of woodland owned by the National Trust and the Woodland Trust. Also funded by the National Lottery, through its Millennium Commission, the project manages its woodland in line with the conservation strategies used in the neighbouring areas. Traditional skills and techniques are employed, such as coppicing, charcoal-burning and hurdle-making, and volunteers help restore neglected areas through tasks like cutting back hazel stools and erecting deer fencing.
The aim is to encourage wildlife, as well as to develop the area as a woodland amenity, and guided walks are given and flora and fauna surveys carried out. The area has been wooded since before 1600, when it was first documented. Since that time its oak trees have been used for producing tannin from the bark, charcoal for smelting and making gunpowder, and timber for pit-props and shipbuilding, and more recently, building and firewood. The practice of coppicing – cutting back new growth for commercial use while leaving the main stem to continue growing – means that a tree may live for several centuries. Some of the wildflowers here are only seen in ancient woodland: look out for the delicate white flowers of wood sorrel, and the clusters of dainty yellow-green leaves of the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Watch out, too, for shy roe deer between the trees.