Walk - Beer YH - Seaton Down Hill
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 Beer Youth Hostel walk to the road and turn left to drop down Bovey Lane and onto the road through Townsend, turning left and walking to the end of the road. After the traffic island bear right down the Causeway, turning left on the Square to walk up Long Hill to New Road.
- Turn left and make your way carefully to the track a little way ahead on the opposite side of the road (a public right of way), following the track to Stovar Long Lane, beyond.
- Turn left on the road and take the footpath on the right, opposite the radio mast, keeping left to carry on along the lane ahead. Turn right into the next field and keep straight ahead. Pick up the path to the right of the trees. Bear right with it through the next field to pick up the track to the left of the farm buildings at Couchill.
There is thought to have been a Roman fort at Couchill, with another one just over the hill and across the road, at Honeyditches. During the Iron Age, just before the Romans arrived in the first century AD, there was a settlement of thatched timber roundhouses in the district which the Romans adopted. A century or two later they built some long stone buildings, including a bath house. Tiles were found here bearing the inscription "LEG(IO) II AUG(USTA)", connecting the area to the 2nd Augustine Legion, which built the Roman fortress in Exeter.
Note the chert flint boundary wall beside the track here, probably built using stone from Holyford Woods (see below).
- Carry on past the farm buildings and along the track, going through the field beyond to come out to the right of Gatcombe Farm.
- Turn right with the footpath here, crossing the first track and turning right on the second to walk to the footpath leading off to the right by the hedge just before the road.
- For the short walk, take this path to the right, along the hedge and into the woods, and follow the directions in the second half of 8, below. For the longer walk, carry on ahead to Seaton Down Hill, turning left to walk to the main road. Cross the road and carry on ahead along the footpath opposite, dropping down through the field to go into Holyford Woods Local Nature Reserve.
When its role as the local reservoir came to an end, South West Water sold what is now the Holyford Local Nature Reserve to East Devon District Council. Managed by the Holyford Woodland Trust, it has since been left to develop naturally. The purchase was made possible by intensive fund-raising by the Trust.
The Nature Reserve consists of many different species of native trees. The overhead canopy consists mostly of ash, elm and oak, with an understorey of hazel, birch, holly and hawthorn. Some of the oaks are thought to be over 300 years old. There is evidence of coppicing and the woodland may go back even further in time.
In the thick undergrowth of ground cover beneath the trees, the delicate white nodding heads of wood anemone also testify to the wood's ancient origins. They are flowers that are only found in old woods. Fallen trees have been left to rot where they fell, providing both shelter and food for many grubs and insects, which in turn attract birds. Listen out for the drilling of woodpeckers, and look out for buzzards hunting overhead.
The trees provide homes, too, for many mammals. Squirrels bound through the upper branches, while mice and weasels live among the roots and bats roost in the cracks and crevices. Roe deer live here as well as badgers and foxes.
In spring the wood is carpeted in bluebells, with areas of aromatic wild garlic interspersed with wood sorrel. Later in the year these and the primroses give way to tall stands of foxgloves and cow parsley, with red campions dotted between and tiny blue speedwell flowers winding through them.
In past times timber was taken from the woodland and was sawn and seasoned in a nearby field. Overgrown tracks through the reserve show the route the timber took to get there. An area of Douglas Firs was planted in the 1960s. There are also the remains of old quarry pits used to extract chert flint from the Red Marl mudstone which is the main bedrock. The chert was used as a building material, and many of the local buildings have lime and stone walls.
Running through Holyford Wood is a goyle - a stream flowing through a small ravine - feeding the Stafford Brook, which in turn runs into the Axe Estuary at the Local Nature Reserve on Colyford Common. This important wetland site is regularly flooded by high tides, and the wash of salt water adds to the freshwater flowing down from Holyford, to provide the perfect environment for many rare flora and fauna.
- Fork left and follow the footpath through the woods to where it doubles back on itself.
- Turn right here and follow the path back through the woods, bearing right uphill, to retrace your steps back up to the main road. Cross the road and walk back along Seaton Down Hill. Turn right onto the footpath and then left almost immediately, to follow the next footpath along the hedge and into the woods. Continue ahead along the track, forking left to stay with the main path downhill, out of the trees and onto the road.
- Turn right on the road and follow it down to Beer Road, turning left here and then crossing the road to take Old Beer Road, opposite.
- Turn right on Beer Hill and follow this back to Beer Road, turning right briefly here and then left, bearing right onto Stovar Long Lane to pick up the track on the left, at 3, before the mast. From here retrace your steps through Beer and back to the Youth Hostel.