Walk - Park Hotel - Home Farm Marsh
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Leave the Park Hotel turning right along New Road in a north-westerly direction. Continue along the footpath between the road, Taw Vale. Cross over the River Taw by using Long Bridge (the main bridge over the River Taw).
- Carefully navigate the two busy junctions at the far side of the bridge and keep on the northerly side of the A3125 signposted Bideford. Follow the footpath as it heads between Asda and the A361 before taking the underpass beneath the A361.
- Follow the South West Coast Path/Tarka Trail signs towards Bideford. The path travels alongside the River Taw, with Anchor Woods to your left.
- Reaching Penhill, the riverbank pulls out to Penhill Point, where there is a small beach at low tide, but for this walk continue along the cycle track to Fremington Quay.
Fremington was once known as the busiest port between Bristol and Land's End, as ships carried out ceramics, clay and local produce, bringing in limestone and coal. In 1846 the coming of the railway added to the bustle, as Fremington was connected to Barnstaple at a cost of £20,000.
- Crossing the old railway bridge over Fremington Creek, continue ahead along the tarmac path.
For a more adventurous route take the footpath signed to the right afterwards, past the monument. The path passes a massive lime kiln, barricaded for safety, and travels along the shingly shore, above the tideline. Travelling as far as you can along the path, you cross a tiny stream and come to a barbed wire fence ahead. Turn left here, over the stream, to come back out on the Coast Path.
Follow the Coast Path for about three-quarters of a mile, to the gateway on right, where there is an interpretation panel.
- From here follow the waymarked route out to the estuary and around the edge of Home Farm Marsh, coming back out onto the Coast Path and the Tarka Trail a little way further down.
Home Farm Marsh was formerly an intensive dairy farm with some crop production. It was acquired in 2002 by the Gaia Trust, whose motto is "Bringing Nature and People Together". The Trust is now working with the tenant farmers and conservation volunteers to restore the marsh to its former status as a wetland, particularly important here because Salt Duck Pond and the RSPB's Isley Marsh Reserve (both adjacent to Home Farm Marsh) are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and the Braunton Burrows UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve is just across the water.
The traditional farming methods and habitat restoration have led to a dramatic increase in the number of different species making a home here. This is particularly noticeable with birds like skylarks, lapwings, wheatears, yellowhammers and grey partridges, all species in decline elsewhere but thriving here.
Cattle graze on Monkey Island, and a series of ponds have been created, providing feeding and nesting areas for water birds like moorhens, ducks, snipes and waders. The large field beyond has been turned into a water meadow, and parts of it are very wet in winter and spring. Look out for Canada geese and listen for skylarks overhead.
On the estuary, the shore is lined with feathery tamarisk, a Mediterranean sun-loving plant which thrives on the coast. The hedge is a haven for grasshoppers and other insects. Wildflowers love it here too, including delicate blue pale flax, pink restharrow and vivid yellow-wort.
The fields beyond have been given over to cereal crops and grassland, with one field left fallow to encourage breeding lapwings. A strip of plants has been sown here to provide cover and seeds for birds in winter and spring.
To the east of the gate is a memorial stone to Lady Hilda Macneill who sadly died here in 1904 trying to save a drowning child. To the west of Home Farm Marsh, but not accessible to the public, there are much older stones, in a Bronze Age stone row. Flint implements and arrowheads found on the beach date back to the Middle Stone Age.
At Allen's Rock, stubble from the harvesting of the wheat and barley is left as cover and food for birds, and natural grasses have been planted beyond. Look out for the blaze of red poppies in the summer. Hill's Marsh is another wetland, and reeds, rushes and sedges are being encouraged to spread to provide a habitat for insects, birds and mammals. If you're lucky, you may even spot an egret here: a small white heron which has spread to southern England from Europe in the last 20 years.
For more information see the Gaia Trust website.
- Turn left onto the cycle track and retrace your steps to Fremington Quay.
- From here either turn right onto the footpath before the bridge, to catch a bus at the top, or cross the bridge and walk back to Barnstaple along the cycle track.
A mobility scooter can be hired from Biketrail Cycle Hire in Fremington as part of the Countryside Mobility project, which you can use to do most of this walk (but with a different start point). Visit the Countryside mobility website to find out more details.