Walk - Bay Valley of Rocks, Wester Wood
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.
The walk starts at a layby on the inland side of A39 going up Countisbury Hill - EX35 6ND
To get to the start of this walk a car is definitely preferable! Leave the Hotel and drive down Castle Hill passing the Church on your left. At the bottom of Castle Hill, take a very sharp left onto the B3234 down towards Lynmouth. After a hairpin turn the road crosses the bridge over the River Lyn. Keep on the A39 main road signposted Porlock and Minehead, as it veers left and then heads uphill between the trees. Emerging from the trees let the passengers look for a small layby on the right allowing the driver to concentrate on the ascent. If you reach Countisbury, you have travelled way too far. Alternatively park in the main car park at the bottom of the hill in Lynmouth.
- From the layby on the right-hand side of the road, cross the road and find the path opposite which drops a little way down the hillside and joins the Coast Path. Turn right onto the Coast Path. Ignoring the path leading away to the left halfway along, stay with the Coast Path for about a mile as it travels between the sea and the road.
The path to the left en route leads to Sillery Sands, now rather more shingle than sand, but an exciting place to explore for those of an adventurous bent. There are interesting rock formations and mineral deposits on the rocks. Be sure to check out the tide tables first, however, as the beach can be quickly cut off by the tide, making escape possible only for those with climbing experience and equipment. Storms sometimes damage the steps at the bottom of the path, too, so take particular care if you decide to venture down.
The building ahead and above, on Butter Hill, is a former maritime lookout post, used to observe commercial shipping in the Bristol Channel.
The church below the lookout post is the St John the Evangelist Church at Countisbury. In 1086 the settlement of Countisbury was recorded in the Domesday Book as having a population of about 75, with a sizeable acreage of woodland and pasture land, putting it in the middle range of wealth at the time. Just over a century later, around 1200, Henry III gave the manor, along with that of Lynton, to Ford Abbey.
- About 300 yards after the Coast Path starts to pull seawards, away from the road, take the path leading sharply uphill to your right, heading for the road, and beyond it to Wind Hill.
The name Countisbury is thought to derive from a Saxon word meaning 'camp on the headland', referring to the Iron Age hillfort which was on Wind Hill. You will notice the marker to your right on the Coast Path. Its enormous ramparts extend from below you on the path all the way up the hill to the mound at the top, and it was a prominent site during the Iron Age. In addition, there are two smaller Iron Age sites on the far side of the hill (see below).
Wind Hill is also said to be the location for a battle in AD 878, when a Saxon army led by Odda defeated a party of Viking invaders led by Hubba the Dane. This was a battle of some consequence, being a notable defeat of Danish invaders by an army led by someone other than King Alfred. However, other places also claim the battle as their own, including Northam, further down the coast near Appledore.
- Cross the road and pick up the left-hand one of the two paths beyond, following it downhill and into the woods.
- When you come to the fork in the paths, take the right-hand one and follow it along above the river for about two miles, ignoring all the paths heading away on both sides (although there are wonderful spots for a picnic beside the river if you want to do a detour to the left for this purpose).
The thickly-wooded hills shadowing the river here on the opposite bank are known as 'The Cleaves', cleave being a steep-sided valley whose name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'cleof' meaning cliff. There is another Iron Age fort on Myrtle Cleave, and a dramatic summit with spectacular views at Oxen Tor, between this and Lyn Tor.
This is the East Lyn River, notorious for the part it played in the tragic flooding of Lynmouth in 1952, when 34 people lost their lives.
- About 250 yards after the path runs onto the road, take the road to your right, pulling sharply uphill towards the Countisbury Lodge Hotel. Zig-zag up the hill, passing the hotel, and keep going to the top, where you emerge once more onto the A39 on Countisbury Hill.
- Cross the road and join the Coast Path as it snakes along the bank at the side of the road, until you return to the layby at the start of the walk.
Dogs are allowed on Lynmouth Beach throughout the year.
Return to the Hotel reversing the travel directions at the start of the walk