Walk - Branscombe
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the car park at Branscombe Mouth follow the road towards the beach; but instead of going down onto the beach carry on past the tearooms and pick up the South West Coast Path on the right-hand side beyond them. Cross the field to the gap in the far hedge and follow the Coast Path through the trees above the cliffs.
- Ignore the path heading uphill to the right about half a mile into the walk, and carry on along the Coast Path to the next fork in Church Coppice, signed to Branscombe.
- Turn right onto this path and follow it through the woods to the fields beyond. The path descends steeply to the stream and then climbs to the church.
Branscombe Church is dedicated to St Winifred, a seventh-century Welsh saint who was beheaded by her suitor, Caradoc, when she decided to become a nun. According to legend, her head rolled downhill and a healing spring appeared where it came to rest. Luckily her maternal uncle was a saint himself and was able to rejoin her head and body and restore her to life. At the same time he called down heaven's wrath on Caradoc, and the ground opened and swallowed him.
Since all this took place in Wales, and the saint had no connection with Branscombe, in 1874 the dedication was challenged. Scholars believed it much more likely that the original dedication was to St Winfrid (also known as St Wynfrith, but more famously as St Boniface). Thought to have been born in Crediton at the end of the seventh century, St Winfrid trained as a monk in the Benedictine monastery near Winchester - an industrious centre of learning in the tradition of Aldhelm (see the St Aldhelm's Head Walk). After this he took Christianity into the Frankish empire, subsequently becoming the Patron Saint of Germany.
The church was built in the early twelfth century, but it is thought that there was a Saxon building on the site beforehand. In the 1920s archaeologists uncovered traces of the original stonework, based on a Saxon ground plan. According to Nikolaus Pevsner's 1952 guide, the tower and nave are Norman, the chancel dates from the fourteenth century and the east window and the wagon roof in the nave are from the fifteenth century.
The tombs in the churchyard include that of one John Hurley, 'an active and diligent officer', whose duties as a Custom House Officer led to his death. According to his epitaph: 'As he was endeavouring to extinguish some fire made between Beer and Seaton as a signal to a smuggling boat then off the sea, he fell by some means or other from the top of the cliff to the bottom by which he was unfortunately killed.'
Opposite, the cottage known as 'Church Living' was traditionally associated with the Church, but it was never a vicarage. It is believed to have been a summer residence of the Canons of Exeter Cathedral. Although, like much of Branscombe, it was built in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, parts of it date back to the twelfth century. In the past 200 years it has been known by a number of other names, all connected with the church: ‘The Deans’, ‘The Clergy’, and ‘Priests’ House’.
- Coming out of the churchyard onto the road, turn right. Ignoring the lane on your left after the post office, walk downhill to the village hall, the Forge and the Old Bakery.
The Forge is thought to be the only thatched working forge surviving in Devon and was built between 1700 and 1900. Like many local buildings, there are flints scattered throughout the walls, especially below the eaves and in the central doorway. The Bakery (also thatched) dates from 1767-1800, and provides a superb setting for its traditional cream teas.
- Pick up the Hole House & Edge Barton Walk outside the village hall for a longer walk; but otherwise bear right at the junction and then fork right a moment later to walk along Mill Lane.
- When Mill Lane comes to an end beside Manor Mill, carry on ahead through the gate to take the footpath along the track.
Manor Mill was built in the second half of the eighteenth century, but earlier records mention a grist mill on the same site. As far back as the 1086 Domesday Book, the manor of Branscombe belonged to the See of Exeter; and so Mill Estate, too, belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, until it was sold in the nineteenth century. It continued as a working mill until sometime before the Second World War.
- When the track forks take the right-hand path to go through the gap in the hedge beyond. Carry on along the hedge in the field beyond to the bottom left-hand corner.
- Going through the hedge, turn right with the path and follow it beside the old mill stream, back to the car park at Branscombe Mouth.
On the hill above, to the left, Great Seaside Farmhouse is one of the National Trust's most important vernacular properties in Devon. Built of stone, also with a thatched roof, it developed from a fifteenth-century building, with moulded stone fireplaces added in the next couple of centuries, and panelling in the eighteenth.
Branscombe and Branscombe Mouth