Devon Coastal Walks - 4

Combe Martin, North Devon

This superb walk traverses atmospheric packhorse routes and strides high cliffs in the far north-western corner of the Exmoor National Park near to Combe Martin. The large village stretches for almost two miles along the valley of the River Umber, the latter named after the pigment quarried on its banks until 1885. Most of the packhorse routes around the village are sunken, cut deep into soft shale and shady with abundant greenery.

Its most famous building (in the main street) is the Pack of Cards pub. Legend has it that it was built for George Ley with winnings from a card game. In celebration he had the house built with four storeys (suits), thirteen doors on each floor (number of cards in each suit) and 52 stairs and 52 windows (cards in a pack).

In the 19th century the village was an industrial slum, polluted with smoke from the chimneys of silver and lead mines, and the smelting works close to the sea. Added to this were the fumes from 18 limekilns, including one on the site of the car park.

The National Trust owns the dramatic coastline, which switchbacks up and down from sea level, over Little Hangman and on to the summit of Great Hangman, where once a gallows stood. Both these massive bluffs dominate Combe Martin - today a delightful seaside village.


Start/finish: Kiln car park beside the bay, grid ref 577474

Distance: 5 miles/8km  Time 3-4 hours   Height gained 1000ft/ 300m

Terrain: Good walking on paths and tracks along the highest sea cliffs in southern England. The packhorse routes are well graded and easy to follow. Some road walking.

Refreshments: Spoilt for choose in the village. Lots of outside tables.

Toilets: In car park

Map: OS Explorers 139 and 9. OS Landranger 180

Transport: Traveline 0871 200 22 33

For further information on the Tarka Trail and the South West Coast Path, click here. To order books and leaflets on Devon paths and trails, click here.

1 Walk out of the back of the car park, with the sea to your left, and take the right branch where the way divides. Continue on, curving right as directed by the signpost, along a good track under hedgerow trees. Take the steps leading on upwards to climb a sunken path. The way goes on up and up, with no glimpse of the sea, under an even darker canopy of vegetation. At a T-junction of paths, bear right to come to a shelter, with bench seats on either side. Pause here, at last, to enjoy a magnificent the view of the sea.

2 Stroll the narrow path with, ahead, the grassy cone of Little Hangman, 716ft/218m. The glorious way continues to a stile. Beyond ignore the path that descends steeply to Wild Pear beach and follow a grassy trod that steadily climbs to Little Hangman. There are two seats on which to pause on your way up and another on the summit. From here you can see your route across the slopes to Great Hangman, 1,044 ft/318m.

3 Descend from the summit of Little Hangman to join the grassy path that runs beside the boundary wall on your right. Eventually you encounter a kissing gate to pass onto a wider track, hedged with gorse. Go on along the waymarked Coast Path, which is reinforced as it passes through gorse and heather, to Great Hangman’s summit cairn, where you will want to pause. Carry on from the top along the clear track that takes you inland towards a wall corner and a four-armed signpost.

4 Here, leave the Coast path and followg the sign for ‘Combe Martin, via the County Road’. Go through a gate and continue with the wall to your left. Stroll through sheep pens, as directed by the notice on the next gate. Head on along the reinforced track, which is lined on one side by beech trees, with grand views down to Combe Martin, and of Little Hangman.

5 On reaching a road, ignore the right turn to a farm and bear slightly left. In a few yards take, on the right, an old packhorse track. Remain on this as it traverses a high ridge, between fields, to come to a narrow road. Turn right downhill. Ignore footpaths on the left and the right and press on to where the road swings sharp left. Here leave the road and go ahead along another glorious path, overhung with hawthorn and branches of oak to come to another road.

6 Cross and descend the signposted track that takes you, between houses, to the main road through the village. Turn right and, where it branches, take the right fork to complete your walk.

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