Walk - Appledore & Northam Burrows
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 Appledore's seafront car park walk along the quay, heading south towards Bideford. Follow the road around to the right, by the shipyard, and turn left onto New Quay Street. Carry on ahead as it turns into Hubbastone Road and then Wooda Road, continuing past the entrance to the shipyard and on to where the South West Coast Path leaves on the left, a short distance beyhond it.
This is the Bidna area of Appledore, which still has traces of field systems dating back to medieval times. Bidna House, now a care home, is a listed building and was built sometime at the end of the eighteenth or the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Appledore was first documented in the fourteenth century, when its name was Tawmutha ('Mouth of the Taw'). Its early origins as a fishing village are shown in the terraced cottages huddled together in its narrow streets. Its later prosperity as a maritime centre with lively trade connections and a busy shipbuilding industry resulted in spacious villas being built along the quay in the early nineteenth century. The quay itself was constructed at the same time, replacing the small jetties that most of the fishermen's cottages had on the shore. It was widened in 1939-40 and a flood defence wall was added in 1997-8. In Tudor times Appledore and Bideford were the country's largest importers of tobacco, thanks no doubt to its connections with seafarers such as Sir Walter Raleigh. In those days tobacco was smoked in clay pipes, whose manufacturers in London and Bristol sourced most of their clay in North Devon (see the Torridge Tarka Trail Walk).
Appledore shipyard was founded in 1855, and its Richmond Dry Dock was built a year later by local businessman William Yeo. The area's shipbuilding tradition goes back many centuries. The earliest recorded vessel was a 250-ton ship built by Bideford shipwrights in 1566 for an Exeter merchant. Appledore's ships were in much demand throughout both world wars and afterwards, when the Torridge was seen as an ideal place for the testing of top secret weapons and equipment (see the Torridge Ships & Shipbuilding Walk). The Appledore Shipbuilders company was founded in 1965, housed in Europe's largest covered yard, built over a massive dry dock. In the next four decades, nearly 200 registered vessels were built here, including tankers, container ships, ocean survey ships and tugs.
- Turning left onto the Coast Path, follow it uphill to a gate. Turn left down the track briefly, and then right through a gap in the wall, taking the green lane down towards the water. As you approach the estuary, the Coast Path splits into two, with the waterside route travelling over the causeway ahead and then turning right inland, while the high-tide route heads right inland before you reach the causeway. If you take the waterside path, turn left when you rejoin the inland route. If you have taken the inland route in the first place, continue ahead when the waterside route merges with yours. Carry on across the field and through some trees to the main road into Appledore.
This junction is known as 'Bloody Corner'. According to local tradition, in AD 892 Hubba the Dane landed at Appledore with a fleet of 33 ships and marched to 'Kenwith Castle' - a Saxon fortified knoll known locally as 'Henni Castle' or 'Henniborough'. Here he met the formidable troops of Odun, Earl of Devon, backed up by Alfred the Great, and in the bloody battle that ensued Hubba and 1000 of his men were killed. They were buried at nearby Bonehill, while Hubba himself was buried in a cairn at Hubbastone. However, some historians claim that the battle at Bloody Corner actually took place in 1069, shortly after the Norman Conquest. Some distance north around the coastline, another local legend has Odun defeating Hubba, not in Appledore but in Countisbury, near Lynmouth, in AD 878 (see the Wester Wood Walk).
To the left is Windmill Hill, where the remains of the windmill still stand. Built at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was about 12m high and had five storeys.
- Crossing the road with care, turn left and walk past J H Taylor Drive on the right and a small lane on the left, to turn right on North Street. Bear right at the T-junction to continue along the narrow street towards the church. In Northam's Square turn right, by the post office, bearing left beyond onto Sandymere Road. Carry on ahead, past the tennis courts and straight on across Northam's Burrows, to the Sandymere car park behind Westward Ho!'s pebble ridge.
The only place whose name boasts an exclamation mark, Westward Ho! was developed as a seaside resort following Charles Kingsley's 1855 novel of the same name (see the Westward Ho! Kingsley & Kipling Walk). Kingsley was born in Holne, on Dartmoor, and spent much of his childhood in Clovelly, where his father was Rector. The author of the famous 'Water Babies' wrote of the pebble ridge: '[it is] where the surges of the bay have defeated their own fury, by rolling up in the course of ages a rampart of grey boulder stones...as cunningly carved, and smoothed, and fitted, as if the work had been done by human hands, which protects from the high tides of spring and autumn a fertile sheet of smooth alluvial turf.' Indeed, for many years the work was carried out by human hands, in the ceremony known locally as 'potwalloping'. Local residents wealthy enough to have two hearths were historically entitled to grazing rights on Northam Burrows; but in return they had to take part in this ridge-building ceremony. Designed to protect the common land on Northam Burrows from spring tides, every Whitsun potwallopers would gather up all the cobbles that had been swept inland by the highest tides and replace them on the ridge.
In prehistoric times, before the melting ice sheets after the last Ice Age drowned the area, Westward Ho!'s shoreline was a forest, and at particularly low tides the remains of fossilised tree stumps and roots are exposed. Hunter gatherers lived here, and shell middens and flint tools have been found that date back to Palaeolithic (Early Stone Age) times.
Kingsley's ’fertile sheet of smooth alluvial turf‘ at Northams Burrows is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. As well as the pebble ridge being recognised as an important landform feature, the 253-hectare site is of particular interest for its wide range of coastal habitats. These include the grassy coastal plain with salt marsh, sand dunes, and unimproved grasslands. Together they support many rare and local plants, as well as overwintering and migratory birds. The unusual plants to be found here include a number of different varieties of fescue, a narrow-leaved tufted grass: red fescue, whose thick tusts make it springy underfoot; sheep fescue, which is a valuable food source for the caterpillars of various moths and butterflies; and dune fescue, which is nationally rare.
In 1965 Devon County Council acquired the freehold of the land at Northam Burrows and challenged the locals' grazing rights. In response, some 450 residents lodged applications for rights under the new Commons Registration Act. After a lengthy enquiry, in 1977 this established ’the right of the inhabitants of the ancient parish of Northam to graze 1200 sheep and 100 horses on the common.'
- In Sandymere car park turn right on either the Coast Path or the beach, bearing right at the mouth of the estuary.
Across the estuary, the National Nature Reserve of Braunton Burrows is the country's largest sand dune system, covering over 2000 acres and internationally renowned for its plant and animal life. The Burrows are at the heart of the UNESCO-designated North Devon Biosphere Reserve, which celebrates man and nature working together in harmony in a peaceful pastoral landscape. As well as featuring the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Biosphere incorporates no fewer than 63 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 671 County Wildlife Sites and 4 Local Nature Reserves (see the Braunton Burrows Walk).
The estuary was an important training area during the Second World War (see the Torridge Tarka Trail Walk). There are still concrete anti-tank blocks along the beach, although the military camp in this area has been built over. There are also the remnants of a small minefield on Northam Burrows, and on the southern fringe of the Burrows there was a Chain radar station.
- At the end of the beach turn right again, carrying on along the Coast Path as it skirts the edge of the tidal mudflats at Skern.
- Crossing the cattle grid at the entrance to the Country Park, turn left to stay with the Coast Path as it carries on past the mudflats and comes to the edge of Appledore. Carry on along the foreshore if the tide permits it to take the slipway past the lifeboat station and on up to Irsha Street. If the tide is too high, turn right up onto Torridge Road and turn left down Jubilee Road to join the waterside route at Irsha Street. Carry on ahead along the street to return to the car park at the start of the walk.
Appledore's long and proud tradition with lifeboats goes back to 1829 - before the RNLI was even formed. There were, at times 3 stations open at once! All of these were manned by the Appledore Crew. Which boat attended a shout was decided by where the casualty was. The Braunton Burrows Boat would go for a casualty anywhere from the North Tail, or Airy point to Saunton or Woolacombe. The Northam Burrows Boat would go for anything from the South Tail down to Westward Ho! And the Appledore Boat was for anything inside Bideford Bar. This continued until the RNLB Jane Hannah MacDonald arrived at the Appledore Boathouse in 1889. In 1944 a Bronze Medal was awarded to Coxswain Sidney Cann for rescuing 7 crew from a concrete harbour unit 10 miles off Morte Point.
Appledore: all facilities; Northam: shops, pub.
Near to the start/end of the walk in Appledore the Seagate Hotel is recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.