Walk - Budleigh Salterton to Otterton

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.

Route Description

  1. Begin the walk at the Lime Kiln Car Park.This can be found at the eastern end of the esplanade down Salting Hill.

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. These 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.

From the eighth century when the Saxons first arrived here, until Tudor times, the harbour was at Otterton, which was known then as Oterey Haven. 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 of it altogether. Plans to blast a new channel in it to restore shipping to Otterton were scuppered by the arrival of the railway in the nineteenth century. The land was reclaimed for agricultural use, with labour provided by French prisoners of war following the Napoleonic Wars. 

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 earlier. 

Budleigh Salterton beach was formed almost entirely of the cobbles and pebbles which the sea eroded from the cliffs to the west of the beach. The cliffs were formed during the Triassic period, about 240 million years ago. Then giant rivers flowed through a desert landscape, depositing pebbles and sand, which subsequently dried out and were compressed into the surrounding red cliffs.

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.

  1. Carry on along the South West Coast Path as it runs inland beside the river from the car park.

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. These attract many summer breeding and over-wintering birds. Cormorants and osytercatchers can be seen, as well as Brent Geese, wigeon, teal, and other migratory ducks.

Songbirds abound such as 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.

  1. Arriving at South Farm Road, turn right to cross the river and right once more to head seawards again. This is still the Coast Path which provides a tremendous vantage point over the mouth of the estuary. Birdwatching hides have been provided along here.

As you round the point above Otterton Ledge you will be able to see below you a small headland of the red Triassic sandstone. Looking across the mouth of the river through the trees, you will see the same rock in the face of West Cliff.

Continuing around the coast, the names of the rock features below give a clue to the activities which have taken place here for centuries: Coal Beach, Brandy Head, Crab Ledge, Danger Point. The area was a popular place with smugglers, including the infamous Jack Rattenbury of Beer. His right-hand man, the highly successful Abraham Mutter, hid his contraband under the perfectly respectable cover of selling logs and turves for fuel (see the Mutter's Moor Walk).

There were several signal stations around the coast during the Napoleonic Wars. When the danger from French ships was past, they turned to looking out for smugglers instead. If goods were seized as a result of information passed on by a signal station, that station would receive a share of the booty in reward.

A little further on, above Brandy Head, there is a concrete observation hut from a later date with a rather different function. It was used during World War II to test new aircraft-mounted cannon and gun sights. Opened in July 1940, the range was used by the RAF Gunnery Research Unit, based at Exeter Airport, to test turret-mounted guns, as well as wing-mounted cannon and later nose-mounted ones. Targets such as flags and steel structures were placed out in the bay, and aircraft such as Typhoons, Hurricanes and Spitfires used them to test their weapons.

  1. About a mile beyond Brandy Head there is a path inland, heading towards Otterton. Turn left onto it, and follow it up to the road.

To the right of this path is Monk's Wall, built from the remains of Otterton Priory, which was built in the twelfth century but pulled down in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

  1. On the road turn right and continue into Otterton. Ignore the roads to right and left just before you come into the village. Turn left beyond them, onto Bell Street, which will lead you into the village.

In medieval times Otterton was a bustling port with a thriving wool industry. When the river started to silt up the village turned to agriculture. In 1945 most of its people were still 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 with a working mill which is open to the public. Take time to see the mill at work and browse through its gallery and craft and food shops, and its bakery.

  1. Take the bus back to Budleigh Salterton, or if you are still feeling energetic, stroll back along the river.

Nearby refreshments

Teashop at Otterton Mill, pub at Otterton.

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