Walk - Sister's Fountain

5.2 miles (8.4 km)

County Gate - EX35 6NQ County Gate

Challenging - Footpaths, tracks, bridleways, quiet lanes

Especially delightful in summer, when the rhododendrons provide riotous colour in the Glenthorne Estate, this is a wonderful walk through stunning scenery, taking in sea views from a dramatic coastline, and then heading over onto Exmoor, with panaromas over wooded valleys and open moorland. In autumn the colourful woodlands are alive with small birds and mammals feasting on the nuts and seeds.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. Crossing the road from the car park at County Gate and turning left (northwards), pick up the path a little way beyond, marked Sisters Fountain and Coast Path. Head downhill with the path to the track beyond the gate at the bottom.
  2. At the bottom turn right, onto the Coat Path and towards the Nature Trail and Glenthorne Beach. At the next sign turn onto the Coast Path towards Lynmouth.

Sister's Fountain is among the trees beside the path. This is a natural spring which was enclosed in the stonework in the nineteenth century and named after the daughter (or daughters, or nieces, depending upon who's telling the tale) of the first owner of the Glenthorne estate.

There is a legend that Jesus drank here, as a youth, when he passed this way with his uncle, the Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea, on their way to Glastonbury. Joseph is said to have struck the ground with his staff, prompting the flowing of the holy water. 

A detour to Glenthorne Beach shows the remains of a boathouse and a coalhouse, both part of the Glenthorne estate (see the Glenthorne walk), and one of the many lime kilns that can be seen along this part of the coastline. The path also leads to a pinetum, with trees planted between 1840 and 1860, some of which are now as tall as 100 feet. There is a trout farm belonging to the estate, and an ice house cut into the banks of a stream and reached by a tunnel.

  1. From Sister's Fountain follow the Coast Path for a couple of miles around the coast and into Wingate Combe.

Note features of the Glenthorne estate along here, including benches and bowers, and cascades of riotous rhododendron blossoms in the summer.

Although the rhododendrons look spectacular in summer, both here and elsewhere along the Coast Path, nonetheless they are posing a serious threat to the ancient hanging woodland which is a feature of this part of the Path.

These shrubs were brought to Britain by the Victorians, whose love of introducing exotic species to their English country gardens led to some inspirational estates - and some devastated habitats in the surrounding areas. Rhododendrons are a big problem on Lundy Island, some 12 miles out in the Atlantic off the North Devon coast, while over in East Devon, Himalayan Balsam is a similarly invasive threat to wildlife. In West Cornwall it is Japanese Knotweed.

The problem with rhododendron is that it flourishes at the expense of other, more delicate, indigenous species. Its branches grow in dense thickets, so that no sunlight can penetrate, preventing other flora from growing nearby; and where they overhang streams, this can also be detrimental to fish. They do not make good fodder, either, so grazing animals are deprived of food as other plants are swamped.

Rhododendrons can also cause 'mad honey disease' in humans, a result of eating honey made from their pollen, giving rise to convulsions and heart disease, sometimes fatally. (The honey is said to be very bitter, however, so no need for alarm!)

    1. The Coast Path doubles back on itself in Wingate Combe, heading out around Desolation Point. Go with it, and follow it around through the next combe (Dogsworthy Combe) and onto the one beyond, where the path splits, with the right-hand fork heading downhill and the Coast Path carrying on above it.
    2. Stay with the Coast Path, travelling left, for about 200 yards, until you come to another path pulling up hill to your left.
    3. Turn left onto this footpath and carry on uphill, picking up the track at Desolate and following it uphill to the gate at the top.
    4. Follow the footpath to the left here for about half a mile, keeping the field boundaries on your left, until you reach the A39.
    5. On the road turn left, and travel about 200 yards to the turning across the road for Leeford and Brendon.
    6. Take this road, and follow it downhill for about half a mile, until you come to a footpath off to the left at the double bend.
    7. Ignoring a small footpath up to Ashton Farm, stay with your path until it forks. Take the left-hand fork here, uphill, and climb steeply with it up towards the top of Cosgate Hill.

Nearby refreshments

The Blue Ball Inn at Countisbury, a few miles to the west along the A39 from the car park, or the Culbone Stables Inn, a few miles to the east

Public transport

Buses run a few times a day between Lynmouth and Minehead via Porlock, and stops at County Gate. For timetable information, zoom in on the interactive map and click on the bus stops, visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.

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