Walk - Heddon's Mouth
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- 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.
It's easy to see why this is every local's favourite walk, and why people will willingly spend longer getting here than on the walk itself. The scenery is breathtaking, starting under huge, mature trees shading a bubbling river, which winds down to the sea through spectacularly plunging hillsides, only a few degrees shallower than the sides of a gorge. There are great swathes of scree across the bracken-clad slopes, as well as banks of gorse and clumps of birches, and sometimes goats or even deer can be spotted in the distance. Buzzards circle overhead, and occasionally there is the glimpse of the fast beating of a kestrel's wings as it hovers over the high heathland, or the dramatic plunge of a peregrine diving after its prey.
The Romantic poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley were all great lovers of this part of the south west (see the Wood Combe Walk), and the rise of tourism around the same time also brought visitors here from afar to admire the stunning scenery. Heddon Valley was especially popular with Oxbridge students, and, spotting a commercial proposition, the Berry family started serving beer from the kitchen of their thatched cottage. Unfortunately this burnt down in 1895; but it was replaced with the building now known as Hunter's Inn, which has quenched many a thirst itself since that time.
The inn owned a lot of the land around the valley before selling it to the National Trust, and at one time it was one of the largest employers in the area.
- Ignore the bridge to your left and the path to the right a little further on, staying by the river as it flows northwards towards the sea.
- Ignoring the next bridge to your left, too, carry on downstream until you come to the beach.
The Exmoor coastline here is of great geological importance, especially at Hollowbrook, just a little way to the east of the dramatic cliffs to your right as you approach the beach (see the Martinhoe Roman Fortlet Walk), where there is a visible boundary between the Lynton Beds and the Hangman Sandstone Group. These cliffs mark the southern shoreline of the Old Red Sandstone continent.
The remoteness of the beach made it a favourite haunt of smugglers; and there are stories, too, of Nazi U-boats putting in here during World War II for supplies of fresh water.
The limekiln on the other side of the beach dates back to Victorian times and is one of several along this part of the coast, as well as in the woods at nearby Watersmeet (see the Watersmeet Walk). Limestone was brought by ship across the Bristol Channel from Wales, along with coal, and it was burnt to produce lime, which was used as an agricultural fertiliser on the acidic soil.
- If the tide is low enough, cross the beach and pick up the path beneath the limekiln and turn back upstream. If the tide is too high, or you have difficulty crossing the boulder-strewn beach, return to the bridge at 3, and cross the river there, again turning upstream to continue southwards, back towards the inn.
- Continue alongside the river, ignoring the bridge to your left, unless you want a slightly shorter route back to the inn.
- Ignore the path to your right, leading up to Heddon's Mouth Cleave through some dramatic patches of scree dotted with clumps of birch. Carry on upstream, following the curve of the river to the road beyond.
- Turn left onto the road and follow it back to the start of the walk.