Walk - Mutter's Moor & the Lower Otter Valley
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.
- From Muttersmoor car park, go out onto the road and turn right, to walk steeply downhill for a couple of hundred yards, until you come to the signed path leading through the gate on the right, at the left-hand bend.
This is Seven Stones Lane, which at one time led to a Bronze Age monument of six stones circling a seventh central one (see the Mutter's Moor and Peak Hill Walk).
- Follow Seven Stones Lane uphill, coming out on Mutter's Moor, at the top.
Abraham Mutter was a local woodcutter and turf merchant; but like many another around the coastline, when times were lean he used his legitimate business as a cover for the smuggling he did to supplement his meagre livelihood (see the Hooken Cliffs Walk).
- On Mutter's Moor turn left and follow the path and then the track south-westwards until you come to the edge of the forest, where the track curves sharply rightwards, along the edge of the Otterton Hill Plantation.
- Just after this you will come to a path, on the left, leading downhill through the trees. Walk along this path to where it meets the next track. Turn sharply left here and continue downhill along the track for about 200 yards, to where a path on the right leads you steeply downhill and out of the trees, onto a narrow green lane. Follow the lane down to where it comes out on the road, beside Passaford.
This is Passaford Lane, an ancient 'hollow way' – or a track worn hollow by the passage of hooves, feet and wheels over many centuries (see the Passaford and Pavers Walk).
- Turn left onto the road and walk about a quarter of a mile, until you come to the farm buildings at Burnthouse Farm.
- A footpath on your right runs beside the farm, heading across a field to the River Otter. Cross the river by means of the footbridge, and then take the footpath on your left, which leads southwards along the river bank.
- The path stays beside the river as it meanders along the flat valley. After about a mile you will come to a footbridge by a weir.
- Cross the river and then turn right onto the footpath and follow it past Otterton Mill and into the village of Otterton.
- Turning left when you come to the road, walk along Fore Street, carrying on in the same direction along Bell Street and then bearing left onto Ladram Road, ignoring the two prongs of the fork on your right.
- Coming to the track on your right a short while later, turn onto it, forking left almost immediately, and follow this track (Lower Ladram Road) to the top of the caravan park, turning left and then right here to follow Bay Road around the edge of the park and down to the South West Coast Path above Ladram Bay.
- Turn left onto the Coast Path, and follow it as it makes its way above the cliffs and starts to climb up to High Peak.
High Peak is part of the Jurassic Coast, the World Heritage geology site, and as you walk along the Coast Path a little further on there are glimpses through the bushes of the towering red cliff.
The cliff-face is a fascinating sandwich of geological history, illustrating some 185 million years of geological history.
The layer of rock at the base of the cliffs is the Otter Sandstone Formation and dates back to Triassic times (about 220 million years ago), when it was laid down by flash flooding in a hot, dry desert.
Next up in the sandwich is a layer of the Mercia Mudstone Group, formed some 20 million years later, also Triassic. In these Triassic rocks on High Peak, a number of very rare fossils of fish, amphibians and reptiles have been found.
Above the Mercia Mudstone is a layer of Upper Greensand from the Cretaceous period (a mere 80 million years old); and spread in a thin layer along the top of the sandwich is a flint gravel probably left from a covering of chalk laid down in the Tertiary period, 65 – 60 million years ago. You can see pieces of flint and chalk scattered around in the grass around here.
- The path goes into the woods and continues to rise to the summit, at 157m.
There are earthworks on High Peak which archaeologists believe may have been a causewayed enclosure, a type of settlement which dates from Neolithic (or Late Stone Age) times, and they suggest that the earliest known activity here dates from somewhere around 3650 BC, during this period. Stone axes from this time, as well as pottery fragments, have been found around the ramparts.
However, chert tools have been found on the site of Woodbury Castle, another prehistoric site on the far side of the River Otter, indicating that the area was inhabited during the Mesolithic (or Middle Stone Age) period. On Mutter's Moor, a handaxe was found from the Lower Palaeolithic period, even earlier.
As you would expect of such a strategically important site, with its far-ranging views over land and sea, High Peak continued to play a prominent role in human affairs throughout the centuries. The Seven Stones monument which originally stood on Mutter's Moor shows that people from the Bronze Age were active in this district, and High Peak is believed to have been a defensive hillfort in the Iron Age that followed. It was in use in Roman times, and there have been suggestions that it may have been a coastal trading site during the Dark Ages.
In the surrounding landscape it is possible to see the remnants of Saxon strip farming, with the many ancient trackways crossing between them, and by mediaeval times the area was one of the major rural communities in Devon, thanks to its excellent sea communications, as well as the richness and diversity of its local resources (see the Passaford and Pavers Walk).
- Ignoring the track which joins from the left as you come out of the trees, carry on along the Coast Path as it first descends again and then starts to climb up Peak Hill. When a path branches off leftwards, heading towards the road and the car park, follow it across the open grassland to return to the start of the walk.
In Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Otterton.