Walk - The Avon Estuary

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From the car park walk back to the turning circle by the entrance and turn left to walk down to the quay.
  2. Take the ferry across the river.

Also known as the River Aune, the Avon rises at Aune Head on south Dartmoor, 460 metres above sea level and 23 miles from the estuary mouth at Bantham and Bigbury on Sea. The estuary is tidal as far as the weir at Aveton Gifford and was formed when rising sea levels engulfed a deep river valley as the ice sheets melted after the last Ice Age.

It is an important site for feeding and roosting birds. Swans are often seen, and there is a heronry near Cockleridge. Colonies of seabirds breed in the creek, and shelduck breed here too. During autumn and winter migrating birds such as common sandpiper, little egrets, and greenshank, as well as waders such as curlew, lapwing, widgeon, teal and redshank.

It is also a nursery area for fish such as sea bass, salmon and sea trout, which swim in from the sea to spawn upstream. Sometimes otters can be spotted fishing here.

  1. From the ferry information panel at Cockleridge on the far bank, head inland and up the steps. Follow the edge of the field uphill, turning left at the top and then bearing right to follow the road through the golf course.
  2. At the turning bay with the waymarker on the left, turn right to cross the cattle grid and walk down the drive. Carry on past the houses at Hexdown, bearing right along the footpath beyond.
  3. Turn left at the bottom, to follow the private drive above the estuary. The drive climbs gently around the hillside, curving to the left as it heads inland to Lincombe. From here it turns sharply right and heads towards the road.
  4. Just before you reach the road, turn right into the field to follow the permissive footpath along the hedge.
  5. Halfway across the second field turn right with the path, signed to Milburn Orchard. Bear left at the stile, forking left in the woods to follow the waymarked path through the fields to the road.
  6. LOW TIDE ROUTE: Turn left along the foreshore, turning right beyond to follow the tidal road all the way to Aveton Gifford, meeting the high tide route at the roundabout at 13 (below). 
    Turn left along the foreshore, but instead of turning right onto the tidal road, go straight across the road and onto the public footpath opposite, crossing stepping stones and continuing through the grounds of Milburn Orchard, above the creek. Turn right on the track, bearing right at the fork beyond it to walk to the road.
  7. On the road turn right, bearing right shortly afterwards up the green lane signed to Drunkard's Hill.
  8. At the top of the hill bear right onto the footpath through the field, descending to the trees and on to the lane beyond them.
  9. Turn left along the lane, then sharp right by Skipper's Hill Cottage. Follow this lane through Waterhead to the main road.
  10. Cross the main road and take the path opposite, bearing right onto the path above the road. Turn right at the end to go through the underpass and into the car park. Turn left out of the car park onto the road, rejoining the low tide route at the roundabout.
  11. At the mini-roundabout turn right to cross the river on the main road, using the permissive path alongside the road where there is one.

The ancient route between Modbury and Kingsbridge crossed the Avon between North and South Efford (whose name comes from 'ebb ford'). It reached the river bank via the lane from Waterhead or along what is now the tidal road, and at ebb tide travellers could ford the river here. The bed of the ford is thought to have been paved, and remnants of the old sea wall can be seen in the marshland at South Efford. There was also a ferry here at high tide, and when South Efford House was built it incorporated the old ferryman's cottage. Having crossed the river, the old route followed the way ahead on this walk, along the green lane uphill to Stadbury.

Early in the fifteenth century, a bridge was built here, possibly at the behest of local landowners, the Chichester family, so that they could travel between their manors at Aveton and Stadbury without having to wait for the tide. In 1427 the Rector of Churchstow bequeathed 100 shillings to the project, and a few years later the Bishop granted indulgences in return for contributions to the building and upkeep of the bridge. At this time bridges included some religious feature, such as a chapel, and the arch nearest the village was known as 'Lady Arch' and probably held a statue of the Virgin Mary.

A later rector took it upon himself to defend the bridge during the English Civil War, as the Roundhead army approached Aveton Gifford. Although many around him resented the King's crippling taxes and supported Cromwell, the Reverend William Lane was a staunch Royalist. Realising that the bridge was a key location for someone wishing to halt the Parliamentarians as they marched through, in 1643 he built a small fort at Pittons Hill, on his church lands. Alas, it was too far from the bridge for his musket fire, and Cromwell's men occupied the village regardless.

  1. At Bridge End cross the road to take the lane opposite marked as a no through road. Carry on past South Efford House, turning right on the lane beyond to walk to Higher Stadbury.
  2. Bear left onto the footpath at Higher Stadbury, bearing left again on the next footpath. Follow the path along the right-hand field boundaries, carrying on down between the fences. Turn right through the gate to follow the right-hand hedge, leaving the path just before the next gateway to drop through the field to the left. At the bottom bear right.
  3. Go through two gates and cross Stiddicombe Creek by means of the footbridge on the left. Turning right through the gate, cross the field past the waymarker post and go over the stile into the wood. Follow the waymarked path above the river.
  4. Cross the track, turning right along the next track, after the stile and some steps. Reaching the road, turn right to walk through Bantham, back to the car park.

Nearby refreshments

Fishermen's Rest in Aveton Gifford, Sloop Inn at Bantham, a small coffee shop in Bantham Stores.

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