Kit P

Valleys, hillforts and commons - hiking the East Devon Way

Doolallyally (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Valleys, hillforts and commons - hiking the East Devon Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P
3-6 days
3-6 h / day
40.2 mi
3,950 ft
3,950 ft

Devon is well known for its astounding, craggy coastline but I’ve discovered that if you step back from the sea for a moment, you’ll find even more tremendous hiking. Devon’s eastern region starts just outside the Roman city of Exeter and stretches all the way to the Dorset border. Almost the entire region falls within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The East Devon Way spans the East Devon AONB, travelling from coastal Exmouth, up into the green, rolling hills and down again to the Jurassic, beachside glory of Lyme Regis. As its start and end points are on the South West Coast Path, you could double down and hike a full circle.

Partly supported by local councils, this fantastic, 40-mile (64 km) footpath winds through the area’s low lying hills, along chuckling rivers and past ancient churches. It crosses farmland that has barely changed in generations, takes you through fields of donkeys and brings you up to high points with panoramic coastal views. Hiking this path, I found villages and woodlands I never knew existed, despite being a local.

The East Devon Way is very accessible at its start and end points, and a major bus route runs through several other points. Accommodation is plentiful in Exmouth and Lyme Regis but harder to find along the route itself. With a smattering of hotels, inns and self-catering cottages, it is certainly possible to get yourself a cosy bed for the night. Alternatively, you can catch the bus to larger towns and rejoin the trail where you left.

At just under 40 miles (64 km), you can walk this route in anything from two to six days. With almost 4,000 feet (1,200 m) of ascent and descent on this undulating trail, reasonable fitness is required for longer days. Cutting the route into shorter segments, the East Devon Way is highly achievable for those of average fitness and with so many viewpoints, you’ll have plenty of places to rest.

East Devon has a mild climate and far more stable weather than wild Dartmoor to the west. With a mixture of forests, fields and heathland, little of the route is exposed and walking is wonderful all year round. However, I recommend waterproofs and hiking boots as this trail is no stranger to mud and rain.

To hike the East Devon Way in one, multi-day adventure, you’ll need to plan your transport and accommodation carefully. Some accommodations along the route offer transportation and luggage carrying services, which can help greatly in the more remote sections.

You can also hike the trail in either direction. Starting in Exmouth, you can arrive by train, bus or car. The train station lies at the very start of the trail and Exmouth has plenty of supermarkets, cafes and accommodation. At the other end, Lyme Regis is served by the 9A Stagecoach bus from Exeter as well as the X51 and X53 buses from nearby Axminster, which has a mainline train station. Connections to Exeter, Salisbury and London run through here.

It’s possible to end in Lyme Regis and return to Exmouth via two buses or a mixture of buses and trains. The 9A travels along the A3052 and can be caught from two points on the route (and other points a little off the route), allowing you to base yourself more centrally and return to the same accommodation.

I’ve split this west to east hike into four stages with day three as the most challenging. For a more relaxed jaunt, extending your trip to five or six days, or adding in a rest day, isn’t too difficult but you will need to be mindful of accommodation and food options.

For bus time tables, check the X51 (from Dorchester), the X53 (from Weymouth) and the 9A (from Exeter) at bustimes.org

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Intermediate
    04:49
    11.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,000 ft
    525 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This Tour is packed with contrasting landscapes, from the urban Exmouth and its vast estuary to the open common of Woodbury with its abundant birdlife and undulating hills. While there’s nothing too challenging, it is a steady but gentle uphill hike.

    Exmouth, as its name suggests, sits at the mouth of the Exe Estuary and on the English Channel. With RSPB nature reserves, a beach and impressive cliffs, this is a wonderful English seaside town. It’s also a good place to stock up on snacks for the hike.

    The route begins close by the train station, on the edge of the estuary and you’ll find public toilets, a car park and a supermarket right here. The trail is waymarked with two different signs, both pink. One is a pink arrow and the other is a foxglove. You’ll see these straight away and the trail follows a shared foot and cycle path north alongside the estuary before cutting inland to A la Ronde, a National Trust property. While still fairly early, this is a lovely place for a nose around and a slice of cake.

    You’ll then follow lanes to the north of the town before entering the East Devon AONB at Lympstone Common. A broadleaf forest, walk through beautiful trees and along woodland trails. You’ll skirt around Blackhill Quarry which is in the midst of being rewilded, so take a moment to marvel as nature takes back control.

    Continuing to Woodbury Common, the East Devon Way passes close by Woodbury Castle, a spot well worth stopping at. This Iron Age hillfort sits high on the common and is shrouded in trees, particularly, mature beeches.
    Walking across the common onwards, the views open up and you can look south to the Channel. Heathland and views to the Otter Valley dominate from here to the Tour’s end where you’ll meet the A3052.

    This end point is where you’ll find Joney’s Cross car park which is a good pick-up spot if you’ve arranged a lift through your accommodation. Alternatively, you can cross the road and head west on trails to the Halfway Inn or stay on the south side of the road and head east to Goosemoor. The 9A bus stops at both these nearby places and can take you to Exeter or east, to accommodation in Sidmouth.

    You’ll need to bring food and drinks with you for this Tour as there’s nothing available after the optional A La Ronde cake stop. There are self-catering cottages near the Halfway Inn and a couple of options in nearby Newton Poppleford. Accommodation needs to be planned in advance due to its scarcity.

    Intermediate
    03:20
    7.24 mi
    2.2 mph
    775 ft
    1,100 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    A particularly beautiful route through vibrant woods, across thriving commons and up to outstanding viewpoints, you’ll be hiking behind the scenes of some of East Devon’s charming villages. Much of this hike is on level ground but there is a significant climb to Fire Beacon Hill. The views are fantastic all the way up though, so it’s easy to keep pausing for breath.

    Just over seven miles (11 km) long, there are only the shortest of road sections and these are along quiet country lanes and the pretty streets of little Harpford. The rest of the route is off-road with earth footpaths, grassy fields, open commons and gorgeous woodlands. The steep ascent up Fire Beacon Hill is mostly on grass.

    This Tour begins where the East Devon Way crosses the A3052 to Aylesbeare Common. You’ll find Joney’s Cross car park opposite or you can get off the 9A bus at the Halfway Inn and walk through the cornfield behind to reach the common instead.

    Aylesbeare Common is a nature reserve and summer is one of the best times to enjoy its birds and butterflies. Following around the northern edge of the common, you’ll cut along a lane and several fields before reaching the photogenic Redbridge. This narrow footbridge crosses the wonderful River Otter, home to some of England’s newly resident beavers.

    Harpford is secluded and serene, a tiny village possessing the true magic of this Tour; Harpford Wood. A mixture of conifer and broadleaf woodland, the summer months fill this forest with every shade of green whilst ferns unfurl at knee level. With a disused Victorian railway line running high above and a chuckling stream below, this section of the footpath is tremendous. You’ll cut north under the railway line to cross a minor road and begin your Fire Beacon Hill ascent.

    The bottom of this hill is a network of fields owned by the Donkey Sanctuary. As a result, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some of these charming creatures as you head through the gate. Enjoy the viewpoint at the top of this field before continuing up to Fire Beacon’s summit on the common.

    Follow the trail on high but level ground to the White Cross car park viewpoint, before descending to lovely Sidbury where the Tour ends.

    You’ll find the Red Lion Inn at Sidbury, offering food and rooms. Alternatively, it’s a little over a mile (2 km) south to Sidford which has accommodation and restaurants. The 9A bus stops here too seven days a week, allowing you to either return to where you began at Aylesbeare Common or other points such as Exeter.

    As there’s nowhere to buy food on the route, you’ll need to bring all your food and drink with you.

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  • Difficult
    05:30
    12.1 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,250 ft
    1,375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Starting from the sweet little village of Sidbury, this Tour takes you over hills, through woodlands and past farm after farm. It’s an undulating hike with a few steep but short ascents and a beautiful flat river walk to finish. You’ll find mixed terrain on bridle paths and some minor roads but nothing too challenging in good weather.

    Leaving Sidbury, you’ll cut up across pastures, potentially with some well-mannered but very inquisitive cows. Head up the steep, forested hill through Buckley Plantation before enjoying a more level path north. A short road descent leads to another northerly path and you’ll follow this across fields and through patches of dense woodland until you’ll descend into a short valley to Lower Knapp Farm.

    The last steep ascent of the day leads you through the Knapp Copse Nature Reserve and onto Farway Hill. The hiking here is blissful with only small farms dotted around and otherwise entirely peaceful surroundings. Once you reach Money Acre Road, you’ll get to admire the Coly Valley, where you’ll shortly be descending to.

    Church Green sits at the end of this lane and it’s worth stopping by the church here, tucked away from the road. In its yard sit two immense yew trees, one of which could be over 1,000 years old. Make your way to Farway village and Northleigh, along lanes and footpaths. When the road crosses the River Coly, it’s time to head south-east on the Coly river path. This is the flat and final section, a marvellous way to finish a lovely hike, as the river gets wider and late spring sees lambs bouncing around.

    Colyton is a picturesque village with a small variety of pubs, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation. For a few more options, you can also walk a little further to Colyford, around a mile (1.6 km) south. Here you’ll find pubs, accommodation and the 9A bus, which runs seven days a week between Lyme Regis and Exeter. Colyford also has a small general store and an excellent bike shop with a cafe inside.

    Intermediate
    04:24
    9.82 mi
    2.2 mph
    950 ft
    1,000 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike takes you through exquisite East Devon scenery, from river paths to hilltops and eventually down through the most charming of places - Lyme Regis. There’s only one real ascent, but it’s across fields and through woodland, making it a lovely climb. The viewpoint at the top of Musbury Castle is outstanding and well worth any thigh burn. There are no shops along the way so stock up before you arrive or in the small Colyton or Colyford stores.

    You can start this Tour at Colyton or if you’re arriving on the 9A bus, at Colyford and join the trail on Cowhayne Lane. You’ll initially follow the River Axe as it dawdles down to the Channel, just to the south. Crossing through the little village of Musbury, hike through pastures and up to Musbury Castle which is just a few steps off the East Devon Way.

    From here, the views are astounding across the Axe Valley and down to Seaton and Beer Head. The trail heads from farm to farm from here with plenty of undulating hills all around you. When you reach Woodhouse Lane near Holcombe and begin walking down towards Uplyme, look south across the valley to see Cannington Viaduct, a disused railway which stands proudly above the fields.

    Walking through Uplyme, Mill Lane is exceptionally lovely and this is where you’ll begin hiking along the River Lim in earnest. Once here, you’ll struggle to not immediately look up house prices to see if you could afford the move. As the lane turns to a footpath, you’ll find an old watermill which wouldn’t look out of place in a fairytale.

    The East Devon Way, and Devon itself, ends at this watermill and Dorset lies beyond. Since Lyme Regis is stunning and just a short walk onwards, not to mention has a bus, food and accommodation, it makes complete sense to continue. The Lim from here gets ever lovelier and you’ll soon find yourself marvelling at the gorgeous Lynch walkway and the Town Mill, a working watermill.

    Once at Lyme Regis seafront, you can have a well-deserved rest and find all manner of delicious places to eat and drink. This seaside town is famous for its fossils so if you have time, meander along the beach to find your own. There’s plenty of accommodation here if you want to stay longer.

    The 9A bus to Exeter stops in the centre and the X51 and X53 will take you to the mainline train station in Axminster for routes to Salisbury, London and Exeter.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    4
  • Distance
    40.2 mi
  • Duration
    18:03 h
  • Elevation
    3,950 ft3,950 ft
Kit P

Valleys, hillforts and commons - hiking the East Devon Way