Walk - Watersmeet
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.
- Starting out on the seafront, pick up the South West Coast Path and follow it around to where it joins the A39 on Countisbury Hill, and then stay with it beside the road as it starts to head towards Foreland Point.
Note the small marker post pointing out the massive ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort up over Wind Hill, to your right. This was also an important battle site in AD 878, when Saxon troops successfully repelled an attacking party of Danes (see the Wester Wood Walk).
The more modern remnants nearby are a gun platform from World War I, and an ammunition shed from the same time.
- Ignore the path leading downhill to your left at the halfway point, staying with the Coast Path until a path leads off to your right towards Countisbury.
There has been human settlement at Countisbury since prehistoric times, and there are many sites of archaeological interest around here, including Bronze Age barrows and much later mediaeval field systems (see the Barna Barrow Walk).
- Turn onto this path and follow it past the church and down to the road, by the pub.
- Cross the road and pick up the path a few yards to the east on the opposite side. Stay with the path between fields until it goes into Horner's Neck Wood and drops downhill to the riverside path. (Ignore the smaller paths leading off to right and left on the way down). Turn right onto the riverside path and follow it around to Watersmeet.
The building at Watersmeet was originally a fishing lodge, erected in 1832 by the Rev Walter Halliday of Glenthorne (see the Glenthorne Walk). Like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley (see the Wood Combe Walk), Halliday fell in love with the romantic nature of the Exmoor coast, and he brought his father's wealth to Glenthorne from Scotland in order to establish here the country estate required by the terms of his inheritance.
There is other evidence around Watersmeet of Halliday's endeavours: shafts from his (largely unsuccessfully) attempts to mine iron ore, limekilns, where limestone was burnt to make a fertiliser (see the Fremington Quay Walk), quarries where he obtained the stone for the buildings.
- Staying on your riverbank, follow the path alongside the river as it turns left, towards the east, and meanders through the woods for a couple of miles, turning southwards as it goes, until you fetch up at the footbridge across the river from the Rockford Inn (signposted).
The woodland around here is noted for its wildlife, with a wide diversity of breeding birds, including ravens, redstarts, pied flycatchers, woodpeckers, herons, dippers and various birds of prey. In the water are trout and salmon, and sometimes the sleek form of an otter can be seen beside the bank. The trees themselves are mostly sessile oaks, but there are also a number of different whitebeams, including the sorbus subcuneata, found only on Exmoor (see the Foreland Point Walk). There are also some rare plant species, like the euphorbia hybema, or Irish splurge, which is found in only one other site in mainland Britain.
The East Lyn is a good river for canoeing, from Watersmeet to Lynmouth, giving some of the hardest paddling around.
- Cross the bridge, and turn right onto the road, travelling steeply uphill with it a short way, until you come to a path leading off to your right, into the woods.
- Stay with this path, ignoring the smaller ones leading off it, as it retraces the course of the river, through Barton Wood and back to Watersmeet, (but this time on the south bank). Do not cross either river, but follow your bank southwards and gently uphill for about half a mile, until you come to Hillsford Bridge.
- Cross the bridge, and the road, following the dogleg of the A39 away from Lynmouth until it doubles back again, to the left this time. Find the footpath on the bend, to your right and heading north, and travel uphill through the woods with it on the Tarka Trail/Two Moors Way. After a while it takes a sharp left turn and pulls out into the open, above the remains of an Iron Age hillfort.
- Fork right at the top and ignore the path which crosses yours a short while later, and walk along Myrtleberry Cleave. Stay with the path as it plunges down the cleave and winds up onto the hillside beyond.
- Ignore the path away to your left at the top, staying with the Two Moors Way/Tarka Trail towards Lynmouth. Again take the right-hand fork towards Lynmouth a short while later.
- As you start downhill into Lyn Cleave, again the path forks, and once more you take the right-hand path, and follow it as it falls gently down through the cleave and into Lynmouth, past the hydroelectric power station in the gorge.
- Reaching the main road through Lynmouth, turn left and return to the seafront.
There are numerous inns, cafés, restaurants and tea rooms in Lynmouth, or there is Watersmeet House or the Rockford Inn, both en route