Walk - Bantham & the Avon
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 Bantham Sands car park walk back up the road towards the turning circle, detouring left before it for a circuit of Bantham Ham. Otherwise carry on past the path down to the ferry, to the road junction ahead.
Bantham Ham was the site of a prehistoric settlement even as long ago as the Neolithic (Late Stone Age) period, and archaeologists have found extensive evidence of people living and working here throughout history since that time (see the Bantham & Thurlestone Walk). The Danes are reputed to have landed here in the ninth century, only to be slaughtered in the battle that followed.
- Bear left past the fourteenth-century Sloop Inn, turning left on the private road a little way beyond to pick up the Avon Estuary Way. Follow the lane through fields above the estuary to where it forks in some trees. Take the left fork, crossing the track a moment later to bear left along another track and into fields. Stay beside the right-hand hedge to walk through Stiddicombe Wood to the head of the creek.
Nestling in the oak woodland across the water, the Tuscan-style Villa Crusoe is named for its Daniel Defoe connections and, like the nearby Burgh Island Hotel, was built in the art deco era (see the Burgh Island Walk).
The ten acres of Stiddicombe Wood were planted around the turn of the twentieth century and consist mainly of sweet chestnut, sycamore and sessile oak. A survey carried out in 2002 counted almost 60 different plant species in the wood, including the bluebells, celandines and wild garlic that carpet it in spring, and the delicate white nodding bells of wood anemone. In summer it rings with birdsong and the high-speed drilling of woodpeckers, while shelducks breed down on the creek and swans and egrets can be seen out on the main estuary. See the Aune Conservation Association website for details of the conservation work that has been carried out in the wood.
On the banks of the creek, another conservation project was the old granite limekiln, once used for burning limestone to make fertiliser. The Avon waterway was for many centuries an important means of transporting goods and supplies, and there were three quays between Bantham Sand and Aveton Gifford, as well as another limekiln at Milburn Orchard.
Upstream there is an important area of saltmarsh, a rare and precious habitat supporting plants specifically adapted to survive being swamped with salt water and then being left exposed to the air when the tide goes out. The mudflats, too, are a very valuable source of food for specially-adapted invertebrates, including worms, snails and shellfish, with vast armies of bacteria breaking down organic material for them. In turn, these invertebrates provide food for huge numbers of birds. Look out for cormorants, herons, or the bright flash of a kingfisher.
- Bear right above the creek and then take the path on the right, leaving the Avon Estuary Way to walk uphill to the lane above. On the lane turn right to walk back through Higher and Lower Aunemouth, ignoring the lane on either side to each. Carry on ahead along the road to Aunemouth Cross.
- At Aunemouth Cross continue straight ahead on the road as it descends to West Buckland, ignoring the lane that crosses the road.
- At the crossroads in West Buckland cross the road to take the one opposite, signed to Thurlestone. Carry on downhill past the roads to left and right at the next junction. Follow the road to the right at Langmans Quarry, after the stream, climbing gently to Thurlestone. This very quiet road is also very narrow, so listen for traffic and be ready to pull into the hedge.
- In Thurlestone, carry on past Seaview Terrace and the small lanes on either side of the road to walk to the T-junction at Rockhill Corner. Turn right to walk downhill past the thatched cottages and on along the leafy lane. Ignoring Parkfield, on your right, carry on past the hotel, the church and the memorial, to take the footpath at the end of the churchyard, signed to the beach and the Coast Path. At the end of the lane follow the footpath straight ahead across the golf course, watching out for flying golf balls!
In Saxon times the land around Thurlestone was divided into holdings and was part of the South Hams estate, granted by King Aethelwulf to himself in a charter dated AD 847. The 1086 Domesday Book refers to the manor of Thurlestone as 'Torlestan'. Sometime during the medieval period, it was merged with the smaller manor of Buckland to form the ecclesiastical parish of Thurlestone, and it remained part of the Earl of Devon's South Hams holdings until the middle of the nineteenth century.
The rock arch of Thurlestone Rock is thought to be the Saxon boundary stone, the 'Thyrelan Stane', mentioned in the 847 charter. The name comes from the word 'thirled', meaning 'pierced'. In the Bronze Age, almost 4000 years ago, the beach by the Thurlestone Rock was wooded. When winter storms in 1998 revealed a peat deposit below the shoreline, archaeologists found a small area of tree stumps that had been felled by settlers clearing the forest to make way for pastureland.
- Turn right on the Coast Path and follow it along the edge of the golf course to walk to Bantham Sand. Turn right above the dunes to walk back to the car park.
In Bantham and Thurlestone