Walk - Lee Meadow- Putsborough via Marine Drive
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.
A walk above Morte Bay with spectacular views from Baggy Point to Morte Point and out to Lundy. The beach stretches for over 2 miles. Woolacombe Sands is over two miles (3km) long and was given to the National Trust in 1909 by Miss Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court in memory of her parents. She was also largely responsible for the creation of the holiday village as we see it today.
If walking to Woolacombe then:
- Leaving Lee Meadow Farm Camping turn right and walk along Shaftsborough Lane. Turn right at the end, over the bridge and then right into the car park. Turn left and join the cycle path heading westwards towards Woolacombe. Keep on the cycle path as it crosses the lane leading to Borough Farm.
- As you reach the B3343, turn right up Mortehoe Station Road, signposted Mortehoe. Just past Pool Lane, turn left down Sandy Lane. Keep left at the next junction and follow the lane past the holiday park and into Woolacombe.
- In Woolacombe bear right but then follow the road that runs between the pub and the beach car park. This is Challacombe Hill Road which runs parallel to the beach in a westward direction. Keep to the pavement on the right hand side of the road until you reach Marine Drive.
If driving to Woolacombe then:
Leaving Lee Meadow Farm Camping turn right and drive along Shaftsborough Lane. Turn right at the junction. At the next junction, the B3343, turn right and follow the twisting main road until you reach Woolacombe. In Woolacombe follow the road to the left and head up Challacombe Hill Road. Look for Marine Drive on your right.
This is a 3.5 mile drive that should take about 10 minutes.
- Park along Marine Drive (fee payable).
The path is wide- except for one stretch above Putsborough Sands where the path (gradient - 1:7 uphill for about 10 metres) narrows to a width of just over a metre.
Below can be seen the dunes of Woolacombe Warren. Erosion is a major problem in these sand dunes. Prior to the Second World War, they were used as a golf course and during the war, they were devastated by defensive works and invasion training. Nowadays, constant use of the paths adds to erosion. In the 1970s, marram grass was planted to stabilise the sand - to great success and grazing by rabbits encourages the growth of plants such as thyme, eyebright and yellow stonecrop. Bee orchids and pyramidal orchids can also be seen, as well as mats of lichens. Rare plants such as Portland spurge, sea holly and sea spurge grow at the Woolacombe end of the sand dunes.
Whatever the season there is spectacular coastal scenery even if you have to turn back at either of the gradients. There are no steps or seats along the route. There are toilets halfway along the Marine Drive car park.
- At Putsborough Beach carpark there is a cafe. The cafe is open every day from April until the end of October and all weekends throughout the winter.
At the beginning of the Second World War, these beaches were protected by barbed wire and guns, with large posts positioned across the beach to stop enemy boats and aircraft landing. In 1943 the beaches were put to a very important and secret purpose - as the training grounds for the US Assault Training Centre. American troops took over the coastline from Morte Point to Appledore in preparation for landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
A fascinating account of local life during the Second World War can be found in the BBC archives. Written by "Woolacombe Girl" it vividly describes how life changed in the area. At one point she writes..." 'My Mother remembers the excitement of seeing the first troops of the London Yeomanry arrive who were sent to defend Woolacombe against invasion. Heading the regiment was Colonel Carr who already conveniently owned a house a Putsborough at the far end of Woolacombe beach. They requisitioned Putsborough Sands & the Woolacombe Bay Hotel for their Headquarters and many other houses and small hotels for the rest of the regiment, one of which was Heatherlea at Putsborough. Heatherlea was burnt to the ground in 1941 resulting in the death of one person, the cook who foolishly went back for her treasured possessions. Locals remember Lady Carr being chauffeur driven along the Marine Drive to do her shopping at Woolacombe.
You can either retrace your steps along Marine Drive or walk along the sands (though NOT suitable for pushchairs) BUT there are dunes with a steep climb for 10 metres before finding a signposted path back to Marine Drive. Drive back to Lee Meadow by reversing your previous car journey.
- If walking back to Lee Meadow keep on the sands until you reach Woolacombe. Walk up through the car park and return along Sandy Lane retracing your steps back to Lee Meadow.