Walk - Barna Barrow History Walk

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From the car park, take the path running northwards around the side of the hill. When it bears left around the wall and heads gently downhill towards the sea, stay with it, ignoring the paths off to the right, until you come to the footpath leading away to the church on your left (but don't turn left).

It was originally thought that the six mounds which had been spotted in this area from aerial photographs of Countisbury Hill were Bronze Age barrows, but subsequent field exploration revealed no traces of these, leading archaeologists to draw the conclusion that the name barrow probably came from the shape of Barna Barrow, rather than from any function as a burial site.

There is a Bronze Age bowl barrow, however, between Barna Barrow and Countisbury Common, beside the A39 and marked on the map as a mound (see point 7, below). There is another on the side of Kipscombe Hill, about a mile to the east and marked on the map as a tumulus. There are standing stones there, too, but these are thought to be much more recent.

Bowl barrows were burial mounds, usually formed of earth, but sometimes stones were used to cover the remains instead. These latter mounds are known as cairns (although many cairns in the landscape are simply piles of stones marking a location, usually a summit or a hill-path). The word cairn comes from the Celtic word 'carn', meaning heap of stones.

Bronze Age remains have been found by archaeologists elsewhere on the northwestern edge of Exmoor, dating back to somewhere around 1200 BC, at Chapman Barrows and Holworthy Farm, both near Parracombe; and there are cairns and barrows of this period further east along the coastline (see the Selworthy Beacon Walk).

  1. Turn sharp right onto the Coast Path here and follow it for about half a mile, until you come to a fork.

The coastal heathland up here is home to a number of interesting species of birds. Look out for buzzards, ravens, stonechats, wheatears.

  1. Turn with the Coast Path along the right-hand fork, travelling on the distinct path downhill to Coddow Combe.

There are extensive remains of mediaeval field systems all over this area, too. In 1086, the Domesday Book showed Countisbury to be a much larger settlement than it is now, the 11th-century population being as many as 75, and the land would have been put to good use in supporting the population.

Along the summit of Foreland Point, however, is a group of four enclosures thought to be prehistoric. Evidence of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, 8000–4000 BC) and Neolithic (New Stone Age, 4000–1500 BC) activity has been found all over the moor, including a Mesolithic flint-working site at Hawkcombe (see the Worthy Wood Walk). The Neolithic period marks the start of the change of lifestyle from hunter-gatherers to farmers, so these enclosures may have been among the first fields to have been instated in Britain.

Elsewhere in the Countisbury area, there are Iron Age monuments (see the Two Cleaves Walk, and the Wester Wood Walk). Along the Coast Path towards Lynmouth, to the south-west of this walk, are the remains of a particularly noteworthy Iron Age hillfort, with massive ramparts extending all the way up Wind Hill (see the Wester Wood Walk). There are plans to develop this further as an important heritage site.

  1. Turn right with the Coast Path onto the road and follow it ass far as the point where it heads off to the left along the path to Kipscombe Combe, but don't turn with it.

The area beyond is Kipscombe Enclosure, while above is Kipscombe Farm, a 17th century farmhouse built on the site of an earlier settlement, suspected to be pre-Conquest, although the earliest written mention of it was in 1249.

    1. Turn sharp right here instead, away from the Coast Path and onto the road which pulls uphill.
    2. Almost at the top, leave the road on a path to the right, signposted Lynmouth 2.

    3. The path heading south-east here, carrying on along the wall to your left, will lead to the Bronze Age bowl barrow mentioned above, just before you reach the wall at the far end if you wish to take a detour this far to see it. Otherwise, unless you want to detour to the trig point at the top of the hill for the spectacular views out across the Bristol Channel and down the coast, turn right from the track onto the path and follow it around Barna Barrow, ignoring the two tracks leading downhill to your right.
    4. After another 300 yards or so, take the next track to the left, and follow it back to the start of the walk in the car park. 

Nearby refreshments

The 13th century Blue Ball Inn at Countisbury.

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