Walk - Steart Farm - Bucks Mill Nature Trail
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.
- Walk down through the campsite to pick up the footpath signed down the steps to the lower terrace of the Burrows camping area following it to the stile at the edge of the woods.
- Having climbed the stile, turn left at the waymarker and follow the path for 250 metres, passing a bench, until you come to a second stile. Do not cross this stile but bear right down a sloping pathway until you reach the bottom of the steps.
Steart Wood, as well as the neighbouring woods at Walland and Loggins, were purchased by the Woodland Trust in 1996, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Consisting mostly of broadleaved trees, including oak and beech, there are also areas of conifers larch and sitka spruce which have been planted more recently. Coniferous trees do not provide a good habitat for wildlife, so the Trust aims to remove these evergreens and let the woodland return to broadleaves. They will allow this to happen naturally as well as by planting new trees. There are two trails waymarked through the woods, but the network of tracks and paths make for a number of interesting walks with an abundance of wildlife.
Between the tall conifers and beneath the oak canopy, there is a thriving understorey of holly, hazel and rowan (mountain ash) bushes, with some hawthorn, willow and sycamore trees as well. Like the other areas of woodland along this part of the coastline, it is rich in lichens, with some rare species festooning the trees. Fallen trees provide a good habitat for insects and other invertebrates, which feed on the moulds and fungi growing on the dead wood. In turn, these provide food for birds and mammals. Listen out for woodpeckers drilling in the trees, as well as the screech of jays and the bursts of song from birds such as robins, blackbirds, wrens, and mistle and song thrushes. Voles, shrews and rabbits dart through the undergrowth. Occasionally you may catch a glimpse of the rust-coloured coat of a shy fox. At dusk badgers come out as bats flit overhead, and sometimes a deer can be seen through the trees.
- Carry on ahead when the path crosses the stream, turning right on the far side to follow it down towards the road.
- Cross the stream again on the footbridge before you reach the road, continuing parallel to the road to come out in the car park.
- Going through the car park to the road, turn right to follow the road down through the village towards the beach.
The stream running through the woods, and carrying on down the road through the village, marks the boundary between two parishes, Woolfardisworthy (Woolsery) to the west and Parkham to the east. Historically it was the division between two estates. The land on the west belonged to the manor of Walland Cary and that on the east to the Pine Coffin family of Portledge. Most of the cottages in the village were built between 1812-1835 to house the workers on the Walland Cary estate, although the Pine Coffins owned most of the buildings to the right of the road.
The settlement dates back to Saxon times, when it was known as Buccas Htwise. Over time its name changed through Bokish and Bukish, becoming Bucks Mills in the nineteenth century. There is a corn mill, halfway down the street, and at one time there were a number of other mills powered by the waterfall on the shoreline, but these have since been washed away by coastal erosion.
The steep ground beside the village did not lend itself to agriculture, and most of the produce from Bucks Mills was vegetables, grown in terraces on the hillside, although villagers also kept goats, pigs, chickens, and a few cows. The corn for the mill was brought in from elsewhere, some of it coming from Lundy Island, lying some twelve miles distant in the Bristol Channel. The village has always had strong links with Lundy, and when, in the nineteenth century, the herring and mackerel shoals declined, men commuted daily to the island to work in its quarries.
- As you approach the beach, the cottage above you on your right is King's Cottage. From here take the steep slipway down to the beach.
Bucks Mills is the home of the Braund Society, whose membership consists of people with the surname Braund, or those associated with it in some way. At one time, almost every resident of the village was related to the Braunds. Illustrious members of the family include a first fleet convict, who escaped in an open boat to Timor Island; an England cricketer; a conjuror; a royal furniture designer; a clockmaker; two men who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar; two who perished with the Titanic; and an East India Company merchant. It is claimed that the dark hair and eyes typical of the family are a legacy from several Spaniards who washed up here during the Armada, but records show that the family existed before the sixteenth century.
'King' of Bucks Mills, Captain James Braund, built King's Cottage in the 1830s, taking advantage of the river rushing through the cottage to use it as a natural flush for his unique 'thunderbox'. Like most of his kinsmen, James was a fisherman, and he was also a pilot in the Torridge estuary, guiding ships over the notorious 'Bar' at the mouth of the estuary. He had a reputation as a bold sailor, and over the years he and his boat, the Grace Darling, saved the lives of no fewer than nine sailors, receiving several commendations for his bravery.
Beside the slipway leading to the beach, The Cabin, once used as a fishermen's store, was used for almost fifty years as a studio by two local artists, Judith Ackland and Mary Edwards, until Judith died in 1971. It is now owned by the National Trust, who continue its artistic heritage by hosting art projects each year.
The buttressed building above the beach is one of several lime kilns which existed here before the sea washed most of them away. They were used to burn limestone, brought here by boat and burnt with local culm (a soft sooty coal) to make lime to fertilise the fields. Pack ponies carried the limestone to the kilns from the boats used for this, known as 'Appledore muffies' or 'stone hackers'. Although a quay was built here in 1598, this too was washed away by the sea, and skilled sailors were needed to land the boats directly on the beach.
The spit of rocks near where the quay once stood is known as The Gore. According to local legend the devil made it, intending to build a causeway to Lundy Island, but he gave up when his shovel broke.
- Retrace your steps up through the village, returning to the car park. In the car park take the path ahead, in the left-hand corner, to climb steeply uphill through the woods. Keep climbing towards Steart Farm when another path leaves from the right, forking left at the top to make way your way back to Steart Farm.
Occasional cream teas in St Anne's Church, June-September.