Walk - Martinhoe Roman Fortlet

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.

Route Description

  1. From the road outside the Hunter's Inn, take the path to the right-hand (eastern) side of the inn and walk a short way uphill until it forks. Take the left-hand fork and follow it downhill and alongside the river for about three quarters of a mile, until you come to a path to your right, leading uphill through the woods.
  2. Take this path, and follow it as it climbs steeply out of the woods and pulls up the bare hillside beyond. At the headland it turns abruptly to the right and continues eastwards along the coast, around the outcrops at Great Burland Rocks and into the combe at Hollow Brook.

The waterfall at Hollow Brook flows over a distance of some 400 metres in a series of cascades, including two nearly vertical drops of 50 metres, dropping some 200 metres into the sea. It is thought to be the westcountry's highest coastal waterfall, and one of the highest in Britain. Although coastal waterfalls are common in Exmoor and North Devon, however, there are very few elsewhere in Europe, other than in Norway. 

Hollow Brook is also a place of some geological importance. It is on the boundary between the Lynton Beds and the Hangman Sandstone Group, marking the southern shoreline of the Old Red Sandstone continent which lay to the north some 360-400 million years ago. This makes it a key site for demonstrating the transition, during the Lower/Middle Devonian period, from a shallow water marine environment to a littoral (beach) one. 

  1. The path carries on around the cliffs and starts to climb between the outcrops and into the ancient oak woods. Stay with it as it curves around and starts to drop gently into West Woody Bay Wood.
  2. Leave the Coast Path above Martinhoe Manor and take the right-hand fork onto the track which climbs slowly back up towards the lane above.
  3. When you come to the path pulling steeply uphill to your right, towards Martinhoe, turn onto it and make your way up through the heathland and onto the path running along the top.
  4. Turn right onto this path and follow it as it doubles back the way you came, but at the top of the cliffs, back around the curve of Hollow Brook, through some woodland and then once more out onto the green Roman carriageway which winds dramatically around the headlands.

Note the remains of the stone wall along the seaward side of the path, presumably from the Romans' time here, and the occasional hollow in the hillside to your left where the stone was quarried to build it.

  1. High above Great Burland Rocks and a little way beyond, you will come to a tiny path to your left, winding up the grassy hillside above you to the Roman fortlet at The Beacon.

There is little evidence of any substantial Roman presence in South West England. Although roads were an essential part of their occupation, the only one identified as possibly being Roman leads from Barnstaple into mid-Devon. There have been small finds of items like coins on Exmoor, however, and traces of Roman mining and smelting of iron ore, as well as a fort at Dulverton, on the south-eastern edge of the moor.

Nonetheless, the Silure tribe across the Bristol Channel, in South Wales, were enough of a threat for the Romans to need a lookout station on this coast, somewhere with a good vantage point out across the water. 

They built it first at Old Burrow near County Gate (see the Old Burrow Roman Walk). Between 65 and 80 soldiers were stationed there in AD 50; but although they were well-fed, with an elaborate field oven built into the ramparts, accommodation was merely in tents, and the site was soon found to be too exposed; so a second was built here a few years later. 

Lesson learnt, they built two L-shaped timber barrack blocks here, each containing eight cubicles, with one having another three added later. There were a number of clay and timber field ovens, and a second building, which was rectangular and had two rooms, one of had a forge and is thought to have been a smithy or an armoury. Altogether, the site was big enough to house a century (80 men, oddly enough, not a hundred!). 

Clearly this site, too, was rather exposed; because despite the timber buildings, one winter some of the unfortunate Italian soldiers stationed here froze to death.

  1. Returning to the carriage track, stay with it as it winds around the headland, high above the sea, turning twice to your left and dropping gently downhill to the combe at Hill Brook. From here it dog-legs to your right and curls around into the woods, descending all the while, finally fetching up again outside Hunter's Inn.

Nearby refreshments

Hunter's Inn

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