Walk - Otter Valley Wildlife 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 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. At the northern end of the car park (away from the sea) take the Coast Path to the right as it heads to the banks of the estuary and then curves to the left to travel inland beside the river.

The Otter Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Extending to 24 hectares (just under 60 acres), the valley consists of salt marsh, reed beds, low-lying meadows and pastureland, and it is very fertile, providing habitats for a rich diversity of wildlife.

The salt marsh vegetation and valuable invertebrate life attract many different species of summer breeding and over-wintering birds. On the eastern side of the pebble ridge it is possible to see cormorants and oystercatchers, while in the seaward and salt marsh areas, wigeon and teal may be seen, along with other migratory ducks, as well as Brent Geese.

Along the lower part of the estuary the richness of wildlife is supported by a variety of important salt marsh plants. These include glasswort, which is exposed at low tide, and the common cord-grass, whose tall flower spikes remain above the water. Further upstream rushes and reeds predominate, while bushes like hawthorn and blackthorn provide a riot of blossom in the spring and are an important supply of berries for the birds in the autumn.

Swans and waders are often seen here, as well as herons and the much smaller white egrets. Out over the sea a wide assortment of gulls can be seen wheeling in search of fish. Upstream you may be lucky enough to catch the blue and orange flash of a kingfisher as it hovers over the water in its hunt for food.

Fish in the river include brown trout, and several sea species like sea trout, grey mullet and even salmon can be seen a long way upstream

  1. When you reach South Farm Road, leave the Coast Path, to cross the road and carry on in the same direction along the footpath which continues beside the river.

Until the sixteenth century the Otter Estuary was navigable even by large vessels for quite a long way inland (see the Passaford and Pavers Walk), and consequently the area had a flourishing maritime trade. Cargoes included wool, salt, fish and wine.

A massive storm in the sixteenth century blocked the mouth of the estuary with a large ridge of shingle and pebbles, however, and the subsequent silting of the river made it much less accessible from the sea. A century or two later, plans were considered to blast a new shipping channel through the pebbles by the lime kiln, but these were abandoned with the arrival of the railway a little further inland.

Before the estuary silted up and created the saltmarshes, the Abbot of Otterton Priory harvested salt here (hence the name Budleigh Salterton, after the 33 salters who made a living out of the trade here). Salt panning in the valley goes back at least as far as Roman times, and possibly further.

Local legend has it that the footpaths were built by Napoleonic prisoners of war, after the marshes had been drained to provide agricultural land (see the East Budleigh walk). However, historical sources claim that this was unlikely.

  1. About three quarters of a mile on from South Farm Road, fork left onto the path which runs alongside the aqueduct and curve around with it until you are heading south, back towards the sea. Stay with this path alongside the stream until you reach South Farm Road.

This is a wonderful open area, with great views across the valley, and in summer it is alight with the vivid colours of the flowers and the butterflies which browse through them.

Birds found along the Otter valley include songbirds like blackbirds and thrushes, as well as finches, warblers, wagtails and pipits. Swallows and swifts make an appearance, too, and their relatives the house martins and sand martins. Overhead, look out for birds of prey like buzzards, peregrine falcons and sparrowhawks, and the ospreys and hobbies which visit in spring and autumn.

The many different species of butterflies to be seen include the clouded yellow, the small tortoiseshell and the painted lady. Around the water you may catch a glimpse of the blue and green wings of the damsel flies and dragonflies which hover above, and the moving circles of the water boatmen as they paddle around on the surface.

  1. Once again cross the road and pick up the path which continues in the same direction beside the stream, ignoring the path to your left. After about three quarters of a mile this will bring you back to the car park where you started the walk.

Before you leave, pause a moment to check out the remains of the lime kiln at the entrance to the car park. This was one of the lime kilns which were used in the seventeenth and eighteenth century to burn limestone, making lime, which was then used by local masons for plastering the cob cottages. It was also an important fertiliser, used to sweeten the acidic soil.

Special flat-bottomed boats were used to bring in coal and limestone (usually from Brixham) to burn in the kilns to make the lime. These would be beached at high tide and their cargoes unloaded at low tide.

    Nearby refreshments

    In Budleigh Salterton or East Budleigh

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