Walk - Avocet Line: Lympstone to Lympstone Common
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.
- Taking the walkway at the end of the platform at Lympstone Station, walk uphill to the railway bridge, turning right to cross it. Carry on along the lane ahead to come out on Burgmanns Hill. Turn left on the road and walk around the right-hand bend to the footpath on the left-hand bend beyond it.
People lived on the high ground above the Exe Estuary in prehistoric times, and a Roman coin was found in Lympstone itself, dating back to the third century. By Saxon times there was a settlement here, and the large houses on either side of the railway bridge are thought to be built on the site of these Saxon dwellings. Later, the Norman Domesday Book of 1086 mentions three manors – Leveneston (which became Lympstone), Notteswille (Nutwell) and Sowden, which had become part of Nutwell by 1357.
In the twelfth century Lympstone Manor belonged to William de Tracey, one of the four knights to murder Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. De Tracey had to give away most of property in penance, but he held onto Lympstone Manor, which in 1174 passed via his daughter Eva to William de Courtenay.
Cliff Field, to the left as you walk up to the railway bridge, was a key site for cannon in the English Civil War, when the Prideaux family of Lympstone supported the Parliamentarians, while the Courtenay family – in Powderham Castle, across the river, since 1391 – fought for the King. In 1645 the Parliamentarians set their sights on capturing Powderham Castle in order to stop provisions travelling up the river and reaching the Royalist army under siege in Exeter. On approaching the castle, they found it far better defended than they had been expecting and they holed up overnight in the church, setting about fortifying it the next day. The Royalists in Exeter sent down 500 men to reinforce the 200 already in the castle, and it was the Roundheads who found themselves under siege, in the church, although the castle fell to them the following month.
- Turn right on the footpath and follow it through Candy's Field, going past the playground, the tennis courts and the primary school, taking School Hill down to Church Road.
- Turn left past the church and walk to the crossroads, turning left along Strawberry Hill. Carry on to the end of the road by the thatched cottage, turning right on Meeting Lane to walk to the main road.
The Church of St. Mary is thought to have been built in 1409 using the stone from earlier churches on the site, and some of the decorations in the interior date from that time. It was enlarged in 1830 and partially rebuilt in 1864, with an organ purchased by public subscription in 1845.
- Cross the main road to continue ahead along Harefield Road.
- Just beyond St Peter's School a footpath heads off along a lane on the right. Take this footpath and follow it to the end of the lane, turning left and following the waymarkers to walk along the right-hand hedge of the field. Going through into the next field on the right, turn left to follow the other side of the same hedge, crossing a stile to come out on a road beyond.
Harefield House, now home to St Peter's School, was built in the 1830s and was a private residence until 1882, when the Reverend Alfred Wren of Exmouth established the school with about a dozen pupils, naming it after Peterhouse, the Cambridge college where he was an undergraduate.
The edge of the fields where the footpath skirts the school are littered with pinkish pebbles resembling potatoes. On the high ground aboveare the East Devon Pebblebed Heathlands. They are part of a swathe of land stretching from Yorkshire and Cheshire through Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire to Devon and Dorset, where coarse pebbles of 2-10cm diameter are embedded in a reddish-coloured sand, to a depth of some 30 metres in places. They are thought to have been deposited during the Triassic period, 240 million years ago, when a large and turbulent river swept them through from Brittany. Geologists have named it the Budleighensis River, after nearby Budleigh Salterton, where the pebble beds were first found. Pebblebed Heathlands are a rare habitat, supporting a number of unusual species, including 30 different kinds of butterflies, 21 species of damselflies, unusual plants such as sundew and pale butterwort, and many birds including the Dartford warbler.
These fields are being carefully managed to provide winter seed for rare cirl buntings. Please stay on the footpath and keep your dog on a short lead.
- Turn briefly right on this road and take the stony lane on the left a moment later, dropping down through a valley to cross the stream on a footbridge and climb the other side, following the lane to the right and then left to carry on up to Exe View Road.
- Turn right on the road and walk to the T-junction, ignoring Wotton Lane on the right before it.
During Saxon times there were frequent Viking raids on the riverside settlement, and families had to flee with cattle up Wotton Lane and Summer Lane, ahead, to the safety of the high ground at Woodbury Common. There was a lot of piracy off the Devon coast during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, too, with Turkish and Algerian brigands capturing English ships and selling their crew members as slaves along the notorious Barbary Coast. In 1678 the Lympstone ship Speedwell was captured by an Algerian rover, and Mary Taylor, wife of the ship's master, was held to ransom for £120.
- On the main road turn right, carrying on past Dinan Way on the left to take the next turning right (Summer Lane). Carry on to the main road (Hulham Road).
In Summer Lane, the Point-in-View chapel, the Manse and the almshouses are all part of a 'ferme ornée' ('ornamental farm') associated with the National Trust property at À La Ronde, which is open to the public. This Regency house – with sixteen sides, diamond windows that featured in the last Harry Potter film, and interior décor that includes a feather frieze and a gallery of 25,000 shells – was built in the eighteenth century by two cousins who decided to set up home together when they returned from their Grand Tour of Europe in 1795. At first they were regular attendants at the Glenorchy Chapel in Exmouth, but as they got older they commissioned a chapel on their own estate – the Point-in-View, built in 1811 (the year the older Miss Parminter died). There was also a school for six girls, almshouses for four maiden ladies over fifty, and accommodation for a minister.
- Cross the road, carrying on ahead along Courtlands Lane, and take the footpath on the right a moment later. Follow the right-hand hedge of the first two fields, turning left at the end of the second to travel along the far hedge to the corner. Continuing ahead down the left-hand hedge of the next field, turn right along the bottom boundary, turning left at the end to follow the right-hand hedge in the field beyond, carrying on in the same direction in the last field to come out on Longbrook Lane.
Here you are following the East Devon Way. Travelling along footpaths, bridleways and quiet country lanes, this long-distance footpath is a 38-mile route from Exmouth to Lyme Regis, waymarked with a foxglove motif. Linking with both the South West Coat Path and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, the trail crosses open heathland and winds through ancient woodland, passing prehistoric hillforts, Saxon villages and medieval manors, in an area whose rich geological foundations support a wealth of wildlife.
- Carry straight on ahead on the footpath along Clay Lane, until it turns sharp left. Turn right on the footpath here and follow it around the field, turning right onto the lane halfway down the right-hand hedge. When a path joins from the right and a road leaves on the left, carry on ahead along the footpath, to come out on Church Road. Turn left here, bearing left along the Strand and going under the railway bridge to return to the station.