Walk - Victoria Hotel - Mutter's Moor and Peak Hill
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.
To reach the start of this walk on foot, turn right out of the hotel and follow Peak Hill Road and the South West Coast Path to the top. The Coast Path takes a short cut through the trees when the road veers steeply to the right. When you reach the plateau of Peak Hill turn right and head across the open space to the gate by the road. Cross the road to the carpark.
You can drive, if you wish, up Peak Hill Road and leave your car in the car park. This cuts out a steep ascent and descent of Peak Hill.
- From the car park pick up the track running northwards, along the edge of the forest plantation, and follow it alongside the trees.
This is part of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a nationally protected landscape, designated since 1963, as well as being part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. It is one of Europe's oldest and largest pebblebed heaths and is more than 200 million years old. It is owned by Clinton Devon Estates and maintained by the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust.
The roots of the Clinton Estate can be traced back to the second oldest Barony in Britain, belonging to the Baron of Clinton – a title bestowed in 1299. It was already a large estate in its own right; but in 1822 the marriage between the seventeenth Baron's daughter and Lord Rolle combined it with the Rolle Estate, at the time the largest landholding in Devon, covering nearly 56,000 acres. Much later, the two estates were taken over as a commercial enterprise by Clinton Devon Estates Ltd.
Originally seven separate commons, in 1930 Mutter's Moor was made accessible to the public “for air and exercise” by Lord Clinton, and nowadays the Heritage Coast and the RSPB work with the Clinton Estates and the Pebblebed Trust to maintain it as a unique habitat for many species of wildlife.
Lowland heaths are nationally rare, and careful management is needed to maintain their rich abundance of wildlife. Their poor acidic soils give rise to low vegetation and rough grass, and trees and shrubs need to be kept under control. In summer it is ablaze with colour, the vivid yellow of the gorse flowers and the bright green of the bracken and bilberry contrasting with the purples, pinks and whites of different heathers (bell heather, cross-leaved heather and ling).
The wildflowers attract a wide variety of insects, especially moths and butterflies, and these in turn draw in a lot of different birds. Species found here include Dartford warblers, nightjars and hobbies, all of whom like the dense gorse, as well as stonechats, tree pipits and buzzards. Shy adders and lizards, too, can sometimes be seen basking in the sun.
- The path to the left after about half a mile leads to the former Bronze Age site of the Seven Stones (see below). Ignoring this path, as well as the path to your right through the trees and several others further on, carry on for another mile or so, until you come to the end of the moor. Continue straight ahead, over the top of the golf course, watching out for flying balls!
- Coming to the track below the woods on Bulverton Hill, ahead of you, turn left and follow the path along the edge of the wood for about 150 yards.
- Turn left onto the bridlepath, forking right a moment later to continue back along this wooded edge of Mutter's Moor, again ignoring any paths to right or left.
Mutter's Moor is named after Abraham Mutter, an eighteenth-century log merchant and turf-cutter who supplemented his income with a spot of smuggling, which he carried out as part of the infamous Jack Rattenbury's gang. He must have been particularly adept at hiding his contraband in his donkey cart and keeping his nocturnal identity a secret, because customs men, too, used the moor as a lookout for smugglers down below, but failed to spot him in their midst.
It was used for lookout posts, too, during the Second World War, when barrage balloons were also sited here, and gun emplacements.
There have been human settlements here for perhaps as many as 5000 years. Flint and chert tools have been found on Mutter's Moor going back to Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) times, and it is thought that it was quite densely populated in those days. The tracks on the moor probably date back to then, when the swamps and thick woodlands of the lower ground made it necessary for travellers to stay on the high ground wherever possible.
- When the track bears left after about a mile, bear left with it and stay with the bridlepath as it heads back towards the first track you followed out along the woods.
After about half a mile you come to a path signed to Seven Stones Lane. This is an ancient green lane heading downhill to the road, and well worth a visit for its atmosphere of antiquity, with twisted little trees encrusted with lichen and banks and ditches beside it as it plunges to the road below. If you decide to detour this way, a left turn on the road at the bottom brings you steeply back to the car park.
The Seven Stones were a Bronze Age stone circle up here on the moor, consisting of six stones surrounding a central one, and it is thought to have been a worship site. The stones were plundered in the 1830s by landscapers making the Fern garden in Bicton gardens, where they can still be seen today.
Unless you decide to explore Seven Stones Lane, continue straight ahead, to return to the original track, and turn right at 2, which will bring you back to the car park.
- Before leaving, cross the road and go through the gate onto the open grassy area here.
The path will lead you to a good vantage point on the South West Coast Path, from where you will have magnificent views in every direction. Looking one way, you can see right along the coast to Berry Head at Brixham; looking the other way, the view stretches around Lyme Bay to Portland Bill. Inland, too, great swathes of the countryside are laid out before you.
The National Trust owns and manages the coastal woodland on Peak Hill, to your right, which can be seen for miles around and is an important landmark.
It is also an important prehistoric site, being the remains of what is believed to be one of the earliest Neolithic settlements in southern Britain, dating back to around 3650 BC. Like the other promontory hillforts around the South West Coast Path, however, much of it vanished over the edge of the cliff as the sea eroded the shoreline. It is thought that when this one was being built, it was about a quarter of a mile further inland, in relation to the cliff-edge.
The coastline here is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, and the cliffs on High Peak are a spectacular example of the different rocks found here. The red rocks at its base date back to the Triassic period, some 220 million years ago, when they were formed by flash flooding in a hot dry desert. Above, the layer of Mercia Mudstone is about 20 million years younger and contains fossils of fish, reptiles and amphibians. The Upper Greensand layer above this is from the Cretaceous period, about 80 million years ago, with a topping of flint gravel from a layer of chalk laid down about 65-60 million years ago. You can see this flint rubble scattered around you on the hillside.
- From here, either retrace your steps back to the car park or follow the South West Coast Path back to the Victoria Hotel.