Walk - Otterton Mill
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the Lime Kiln car park in Budleigh Salterton pick up the South West Coast Path as it heads inland beside the river, following the tarmac path to South Farm Road.
The car park is named after the old lime kiln by the entrance. Coal and limestone were brought in (usually from Brixham) on special flat-bottomed boats, which were beached here at high tide and then unloaded at low tide. The limestone was burnt in the kiln to make lime, which was used for fertiliser, and for plastering the walls of the cob cottages.
Budleigh Salterton's name comes from the 33 salters who made a living out of salt panning for the Abbot of Otterton Priory. Salt panning here goes back at least as far as Roman times, and possibly further.
Budleigh Salterton beach was formed almost entirely of cobbles and pebbles which the sea has eroded from the cliffs to the west of the beach. These were formed during the Triassic period, about 240 million years ago. At this time giant rivers flowed through a desert landscape, depositing these pebbles and sand, which subsequently dried out and were compressed into the red cliffswhich you can see beyond the beach.
The pebbles are formed of a hard quartzite which has been found to be identical to one formed in Brittany some 450 million years ago. Budleigh Salterton pebbles have been found as far away as Hastings in Kent, having been swept along the coast by the sea.
The Otter Estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Consisting of salt marsh, reed beds, low-lying meadows and pastureland, it is very fertile, providing habitats for a rich diversity of wildlife. The salt marsh provides invaluable invertebrate life, which attracts many summer breeding and ove-wintering birds. Cormorants and oystercatchers can be seen, as well as Brent Geese, wigeon, teal, and other migratory ducks.
Songbirds abound too: blackbirds and thrushes, as well as finches, warblers, wagtails and pipits. Rushes, reeds, flowering grasses and abundant wildflowers attract insects, including colourful dragonflies and damsel flies, as well as butterflies like the clouded yellow and the painted lady. Swallows, swifts and house and sand martins can be seen pursuing these, while kingfishers hover over the river in pursuit of the trout and salmon in its waters.
- From South Farm Road turn right to cross the river, and then turn left onto the lane which continues inland alongside the other bank of the river, travelling through trees.
The pillars on your right along this lane are associated with the former Otterton Park, part of the Rolle Estate, and date from the mid-19th century, when much building and renovation was going on around the Estate. On your left near the pillars is Clamour Bridge. It is thought to have replaced an earlier bridge formed of a stone slab spanning the River Otter. Such slab bridges were known in Devon as 'clams' or 'clammers', hence the name of the current bridge.
- Carry on past the pillars and Clamour Bridge, to follow the path alongside the river, continuing ahead along the tarmac surface of Park Lane.
- At the T-junction turn left, bearing left shortly afterwards onto Church Hill, following the road to the right around the churchyard and then the church. Turn left on Fore Street, beyond.
In the period after the last Ice Age, rising sea levels caused by the melting ice flooded inland and the fast-flowing rivers kept estuaries from silting up. When the Saxons arrived by sea during the eighth century, they would have considered Otterton a particularly safe place to establish themselves, being far enough inland to provide some protection from the pirates who continually raided coastal settlements, and over the next three centuries it became one of the major rural communities in Devon. The excellent sea communications, as well as the richness and diversity of its local resources, ensured that the community prospered, and Otterton was a bustling port with a thriving wool trade.
Over time, however, shingle and pebbles were washed into the mouth of the river, and a massive storm in the sixteenth century blocked the mouth. Plans to blast a new channel to restore shipping to Otterton came to nothing as the railway arrived in the nineteenth century, and the land was reclaimed for agricultural use, with labour provided by French prisoners of war following the Napoleonic Wars.
When the river started to silt up Otterton turned to agriculture, and as late as in 1945 most of its people were farm labourers or workers in associated trades such as thatchers, forest workers, keepers and masons. Today it is a peaceful, picturesque village of thatched cob cottages, many dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with a working mill.
The mill was mentioned in the Domesday Book, which confirmed it as the largest and most productive of the seventy water mills in the Otter Valley at the time. It is thought that there may have been a mill here even in Roman times, a thousand years before. Although it had fallen into disrepair by the middle of the last century, when it was used as a cattle market and slaughterhouse, it was restored as a watermill in 1977, producing wholemeal flour. Still working, it is open to the public and is free of charge.
- Continuing westwards along Fore Street to cross the river, turn left onto the footpath alongside the river and follow it downstream, passing the Clamour Bridge again.
- Reaching the aqueduct as a path joins from the right, carry on ahead for a few yards and then take the next path to the right, which curves around to the left. Ignore the next path heading to the right, to carry on ahead parallel to the river, passing a road bridge topped with a small windmill on your right and continuing ahead to go through the gate onto the western side of South Farm Road.
- Cross the road and carry on along the path ahead, which will bring you back to the Lime Kiln car park.
Budleigh Salterton and at Otterton Mill.