Walk - Old Burrow Roman 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 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Crossing the road from the car park at County Gate and turning left (northwards), pick up the a little way beyond, marked Sisters Fountain and Coast Path. Head downhill with the path to the track beyond the gate at the bottom.
- At the bottom turn right, onto the Coast Path and towards the Nature Trail and Glenthorne Beach. At the next sign turn onto the Coast Path towards Lynmouth, past Sister's Fountain (see the Sister's Fountain walk), and follow it for a couple of miles around the coast and into Wingate Combe.
Much of the land here is owned by the Glenthorne estate (see the Glenthorne walk). In the early part of the nineteenth century, the second son of a wealthy Scottish landowner inherited his father's wealth, his elder brother having died, and the terms of the will required that he should invest it in founding a country estate in the family's name.
The Reverend Walter Halliday was a great devotee of the romantic poets Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth; and so naturally his thoughts turned to this part of the country when considering where to found the family estate (see the Wood Combe walk). He built the elaborate Tudor Gothic mansion at Glenthorne in 1829-30, and set about his new lifestyle as a “benevolent tyrant”.
- In Wingate Combe there is a very small path leading steeply uphill beside the stream. Follow the yellow footpath markers up through the combe, winding all the way up to the wooded area at the top. There are stunning views back down the hillside and out over the Bristol Channel when you are out onto the open ground, so be sure to stop frequently to appreciate them!
- The path continues through the wood, to emerge on the open ground at the far side of it.
- Here the path turns to the left, and follows the woodland boundary, right the way around the field. Notices on the far side of the site request that walkers should observe the signed footpath to Old Burrow, to protect it from the erosion that would otherwise be caused by the large number of walkers visiting it.
Evidence of Roman occupation in this part of South West England is scanty, and it seems that their presence may not have been extensive. Roads were an essential part of their infrastructure, and there has only been one route identified locally as a possible Roman highway, through mid-Devon to Barnstaple.
There have been a number of finds on the moor which might indicate a Roman presence, and suggestions that some of the iron mining and smelting on Exmoor may have been carried out by them. Other than this, however, and a fort at Dulverton, the only Roman sites in the district are the fortlet here and at Martinhoe, a little further down the coast (see the Martinhoe Roman Fortlet walk).
Both these sites occupy dramatic clifftop positions, giving a good vantage point over the Bristol Channel, possibly in response to the threat of invasion by the Silure tribe in South Wales. It is thought that Old Burrow was built first, around AD 50, to be replaced in use by Martinhoe a few years later when the Old Burrow site was found to be too exposed.
You have to wonder how very uncomfortable it must have been here, when you remember that a number of unfortunate soldiers died of the cold one winter in the fortlet at Martinhoe, even indoors. There were no buildings at Old Burrow, and it is thought that the 65 – 80 soldiers stationed here probably lived in tents, with an elaborate field oven built against the ramparts to provide the catering.
- After visiting the monument and returning to the track, follow the footpath into the next two fields and out over the stile at the bottom onto the track beyond, towards the A39.
- Before you reach the road, there is a Nature Trail path running alongside it, which will take you back to the footpath at the start of the walk. Follow this back to the car park.
The Blue Ball Inn at Countisbury, a few miles to the west along the A39 from the car park, or the Culbone Stables Inn, a few miles to the east