Walk - Glenthorne

5.6 miles (9.0 km)

County Gate - EX35 6NQ County Gate

Challenging - Footpaths, tracks, plenty of ascent and descent, some of it steep.

Romans, railways, rhododendrons, Romantic poets, Women's Suffrage, Sherlock Holmes, boar's heads and Latin inscriptions... All this, and stunning coastal scenery, too, with the chance of spotting peregrines and kestrels hovering above the cliffs.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From the County Gate car park, cross the road and follow the footpath signs for the Sugarloaf, and descend down the eastern side to join the Coast Path.

This is one of the finest viewpoints on the Exmoor Coast, giving far-reaching views across the Bristol Channel to the coast of Wales.

  1. Turn left, keeping to the Coast Path, until you cross a small stream.
  2. Turn right, following the sign for the Pinetum and Beach. Take time to admire some of the fine tree specimens, old trout pool and icehouse – all part of the old Glenthorne estate. Continue down to reach the beach. This is a superb spot for lunch.

The country house at Glenthorne was built in 1829-1830 by the Reverend Walter Halliday. It was built in the Tudor Gothic style, with a conservatory and a three-stage service tower, with a carved boar's head above the door and a now-illegible Latin inscription.

Walter Halliday was the younger son of a naval surgeon and banker from a long-established Scottish family, Simon Halliday, who amassed a great fortune during the Napoleonic Wars. As befitted younger sons of the time, whose elder brothers were expected to inherit both wealth and its incumbent responsibilities, Walter had taken holy orders when his sibling died; but nonetheless he took seriously the terms of his inheritance, requiring him to set up a country estate in the family's name, and set about finding the perfect place to do so.

As a great admirer of the Romantic movement, his thoughts followed Coleridge, Wordsworth and Shelley down to this part of the South West coast (see the Porlock Woodland Walk), as did his fortune shortly afterwards, establishing the estate here at Glenthorne.

Walter was childless when he died in 1872, however, and a quirk of inheritance law meant that although Glenthorne passed to his nephew, William Halliday Cosway, the rest of the wealth returned to Scotland, although it remained available to him as a sum which could be invested in capital projects.

Changing his name to William Halliday to match his inheritance (he was Walter's sister's son), he duly set about investing this money in the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. This was in partnership with Sir George Newnes, editor of Strand magazine and, in this role, the original publisher of Sherlock Holmes (see the Hollerday Hill Walk).

  1. Retrace your steps for 200 metres and follow the signs for ‘Ben’s Path’. Please take note of all ‘Private’ signs as Glenthorne house is not open to the public.

Ben was William Halliday's son, who inherited the estate when William died in 1898 (on the same day that the first train arrived in Lynton on the new railway), and he too set about capital improvement at Glenthorne. Although tidal, the sea is deep at Glenthorne, and Ben's idea was to make it possible for ships to bring in coal from South Wales to fuel a power station which would provide an income for local workers.

The ensuing battle between Halliday and Newnes became the stuff of local legend, involving tragedy and romance (see the Hollerday Hill Walk). However, in 1910, Ben Halliday's career moved abruptly into politics, when, with the support of the Luttrell family of Dunster (see the Greenaleigh Farm Walk), he became Liberal MP for Bridgewater. He was one of Lloyd-George's coalition government's key workers for reform, and a leading light of the Women's Suffrage movement, which gave women the vote for the first time in British history.

  1. This will bring you back to the Coast Path at Coscombe.Follow the Coast Path towards Lynmouth, past Sister’s Fountain and along the Glenthorne drive for a short way. A section of heavy rhododendron follows for about 1 mile until you reach Wingate Combe.

This part of the coastline is especially beautiful in spring and early summer, when the gorse flames yellow on the hillside above Wingate Combe as you curve around towards it, and the banks of rhododendron to your right are a delicate lilac against a turquoise sea (if you are lucky with the weather!). There are stone benches and arbours along the way, as well as glimpses of the tree-clad headland beyond, at Desolation Point. Look out, too, for peregrine falcons hovering above the cliffs, and maybe kestrels as well.

Wingate Combe is one of the many combes which seam this part of the coastline. These are gullies carved in the rockface by the streams which carry rainwater down into the from the high ground above (see the Culbone Wood and Six Combes Walk). The moisture encourages plants and trees to grow, and combes are usually lined with ferns and bracken; and much of the Coast Path between Porlock and Trentishoe features ancient sessile oak woods which have spread out from the combes, as does the stretch between Bideford and Clovelly.

The streams tumbling down through the combes often leap some distance down the hillside in bubbling, frothing waterfalls, and there is one towards the bottom of Wingate Combe. Further along the coast, at Martinhoe, Hollow Brook features one of the highest coastal waterfalls in Britain (see the Martinhoe Roman Fortlet Walk).

  1. Turn off the Coast Path and follow the path up Wingate Combe, eventually exiting through a dense pine plantation. 
  2. Follow the sign across the field to Old Burrow – a Roman lookout point. From here turn south, picking up the footpath back to County Gate.

Old Burrow was built around 50 AD, as a lookout point for the Roman army, to enable them to keep an eye on the unruly Silure tribe across the channel, in South Wales (see the Old Burrow Roman Walk). It accommodated some 65-80 soldiers, who are thought to have lived here in tents. No wonder, perhaps, that the site was found to be too exposed for comfort: a matter which they remedied by building a replacement fortlet at Martinhoe, just down the coast (see the Martinhoe Roman Fortlet Walk).

  1. Cross the A39 and walk over the hill to return to your starting point.

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

There are a few buses each day between Lynmouth and Minehead via Porlock, that stop 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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