Walk - Beer YH - Hole House & Edge Barton
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.
If travelling by bus leave the Beer Youth Hostel, turn left down Bovey Lane and on to Townsend. At the main road junction carry on to Beer village centre down Causeway. The bus stop at Beer Cross is on the next corner where Long Hill, Berry Hill and Fore Street meet. Take the Axe Valley Mini-Travel 899 bus that leaves Beer at Beer Cross on Long Hill towards Sidmouth and takes around 20 minutes to travel to Branscombe Village Hall.
If travelling by car to Branscombe leave Beer on the B3174 signposted to Sidmouth and Exeter, then turn left on to the A3052. Any of three turnings signposted to Branscombe can be taken. Park in the Village Hall Car Park.
- From the entrance to the village hall car park in Branscombe turn left and drop down the road to Locksey's Lane, turning left here to walk up to the footpath on the left, ignoring the track to the right before you get there.
- Turn left on the footpath and wind gently downhill, crossing the stream and bearing right along the hedge below Hole House.
It is said that Hole House was built in 1075 by Simon de Holcombe, a Saxon bowman at the Battle of Hastings, after being evicted by the Normans from his former manor at Farringdon. The house stayed in the family for over 500 years. A few generations later, Sir John de Holcombe was knighted by Richard the Lionheart for bravery in the Third Crusade. According to legend, he killed three Turks with one swing of his sword - a feat celebrated in the family coat of arms, which depicts the three heads; but he himself was killed in one of the closing battles. He is buried in one of the country's finest Crusader tombs in Dorchester Abbey, near Oxford.
There are traces of a family chapel built at Hole in the fourteenth century, but the house was extensively remodelled in the late sixteenth century.
- Pick up the track to the right, just beyond the house, and follow it to the first cottage.
- Turn left onto the footpath running alongside the cottage and carry on around the edge of the fields as it follows the stream towards Edge Barton.
The first written mention of Edge Barton was in the early thirteenth century. There is a central spiral staircase of stone which dates from around that time. It is thought that there may have been a barton (or "barley farm") on the site in Saxon times. It is claimed to be one of Britain's oldest continually-inhabited houses, although there are gaps in its documented history and it was said to be derelict in the eighteenth century. There was a substantial chapel on the site, also from the thirteenth century. There is a rose window surviving in the attic from the same period.
Like Hole House, Edge Barton is perched on a ledge above the valley and fortified to defend it from any attack from below. Defensive platforms like this, with pallisaded earthen walls, were used from the earliest times in the steep valleys in this area. It is possible that the site at Edge dates back to prehistoric times.
The house belonged to the Branscombe family for at least two hundred years. In the 1370s they sold it to the Wadhams of North Devon, who lived here for eight generations. Nicholas Wadham, who died in 1609, was the founder of Wadham College, Oxford, and his mother's grave is the finest Elizabethan grave in the church.
According to a Dartmoor legend, thirteenth-century Walter Branscombe, Bishop of Exeter, was riding across the moor one day when a stranger appeared from nowhere and offered him bread and cheese. Before he could take a bite, however, his servant noticed the stranger's cloven hooves and knocked the food from his master's hand. The stranger disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving behind two rocky outcrops known to this day as Branscombe's Loaf and Cheese.
- At the end of the big field turn left onto the track, well before Edge Barton, and follow it uphill, curving left with it above Hole House.
- With Hole House on your left, turn sharply right onto the lane heading up Hole Hill and follow it through the woods and across the field to Northern Lane.
- Cross the lane and carry on ahead along the footpath opposite. Go through the right-hand hedge halfway down the field and stay with the footpath as it winds behind the houses. It then passes alongside them to come out on the road leading to the Branscombe road.
The footpath crosses Branscombe Airfield, a privately-owned airstrip which is sometimes used by light aircraft. Take heed of the notices and walk smartly across the field, looking out for approaching aircraft.
- On the road turn left and walk through the tiny settlement of Street and on to the Fountain Head Inn.
- Opposite the pub, turn left onto the bridleway to Hole Pits. Take the green lane that heads steeply up the hillside and bear left across the field. Follow the waymarkers around the edge of the copse before going into the trees. In the woods bear left on the track, curving right soon afterwards.
There are a number of overgrown pits in the woods along the walk. It is thought to be where chalk was quarried in order to make lime for using as a fertiliser in the fields, and for use as mortar. There is also flint among the chalk, and there is extensive evidence of this being used for tools by the local inhabitants in Neolithic (late Stone Age) times, as much as five thousand years ago.
- Bear right on the next track to drop through the trees and back onto Northern Lane, bearing right to drop downhill to the road in Branscombe.
- A detour to the right will take you to the church, but otherwise turn left to return to the car park.
Parts of St Winifred's Church date from the eleventh century, although its dedication to the seventh-century Welsh saint suggests that there was a holy site here even earlier. The present building is considered to be of particular interest, because it displays a process of continuous development from the eleventh century to the sixteenth.
The name Branscombe derives from "Brannoc's Combe". St Brannoc was also a Welsh saint and is particularly associated with Braunton in North Devon, where he founded a monastery in the sixth century.
Like many of the cottages around it, the thatched forge at Branscombe was built in the sixteenth century. It is one of the oldest working forges in the country. These days, Andrew Hall, who started out as a mechanical engineer before learning both blacksmithing and wrought ironwork, has put both to good use developing his own unique style of metalwork. He has received numerous national and international accolades.
Across the road from the forge is the Old Bakery, the last traditional bakery in Devon before it closed in 1987. The old baking equipment has been preserved in a small museum area, while the rest of the building is a tearoom. Beyond the bakery is Manor Mill, thought to have supplied the flour to the bakery and now restored to full working order.