Kit P

Ancient bridges, serene woodlands and rushing water — Exe Valley Way

Neil Theasby (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Ancient bridges, serene woodlands and rushing water — Exe Valley Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P
4-8 days
3-6 h / day
56.1 mi
4,675 ft
3,800 ft

The Exe Valley Way is a stunning long-distance hiking trail that stretches from the Exe Estuary in the south of Devon, all the way to Exford in the heart of Exmoor National Park. While the River Exe is certainly at the core of this trail, you’ll spend plenty of time alongside its tributaries; in deep wooded valleys with glorious ancient bridges around every bend.

The official route is 52 miles long (84 km) but there are a couple of sights that I couldn’t help but add into this Collection because they’re close by and fantastic; these include the Tarr Steps, an ancient clapper bridge north of Hawkridge. As a result, this Collection totals 56.1 miles (90.2 km). Of course, you can skip my little deviations if you’d prefer.

I’ve planned this Collection to start in the south and work its way upriver but it’ll work just as well in reverse. The first stage from Starcross to Brampford Speke is more or less flat, near-faithfully following the Exe. Each subsequent stage gets hillier as you hike into the Mid Devon and Somerset countryside, with its myriad valleys and steep hills.

I’ve divided the trail into four stages, each averaging 14 miles (22 km), which start and end in settlements with reasonable amenities. You can cover the distance in more or less time if you’d prefer and either way, it’s always best to book accommodation in advance.

Both the Devon and Somerset sections of this walk involve a wonderful blend of riverside paths, winding country lanes and patchwork hills. You’ll pass more rural villages than you can count and a great deal of historic bridges that span the rivers and streams en route. You don’t need anything specific to complete this walk and it works in all seasons. However, some sections can get very muddy in winter.

Starting in Starcross, a little village on the Exe Estuary, you’ll pass the Roman city of Exeter before winding through lovely countryside to the old market town of Tiverton. Then, you’ll head into more rural and remote landscapes, where lanes are empty but for the sound of bleating sheep and the low rumble of tractors. You’re never too far from a local store or a pub though.

Getting to Starcross is easy as it’s served by a mainline train station with connections to Exeter, Bristol, London and the North. Returning from Exford requires slightly more planning; the simplest option is to take the number 467 bus to Dunster which has a rail link to Bristol, or the 198 to Dulverton and then the 25 to Taunton, which has a mainline rail link to Bristol and Exeter.

This trail shares sections with the Two Moors Way so if you’re looking to do a giant loop, returning to the south of the county via this historic trail would make an excellent an adventure: komoot.com/collection/907224/wild-coast-to-coast-over-dartmoor-and-exmoor-two-moors-way

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    05:58
    14.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    350 ft
    250 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage of the Exe Valley Way has a little bit of everything; flat valley floor, soaring views from hilltops and slices of history mixed into it. There’s a steep hill involved in this Tour, beginning as you climb out of Thorverton and rise above the Exe. It’s more than worth the ascent, especially if the weather is clear. Once the trail descends, it stays low for the remainder.

    Starting in Brampford Speke, the trail crosses the river and ambles along through fields near the Exe until crossing back over at Thorverton. This quaint village is hundreds of years old and has an intriguing history, including becoming home to an American battalion during the Second World War.

    From Thorverton, the route leads you steeply up delightfully quiet lanes where you’ll gain fantastic views over the Exe Valley. The patchwork nature of the landscape is truly revealed here, and it’s hard to imagine the thriving city of Exeter is a little way south. The descent is equally steep; passing through a hamlet and flattening as it reaches the river.

    Bickleigh Castle is the next point of interest. This castle has a slightly tumultuous history and was partially destroyed during the English Civil War.

    Past the castle, the route reaches the Fisherman’s Cot pub; Paul Simon stayed here during the 60s and, after seeing the river running under Bickleigh Bridge opposite, is said to have been inspired to write ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.

    Troubled or not, the trail crosses the water too and wanders up the Exe on the eastern side, all the way to Tiverton, where this stage ends. Tiverton is a historic woollen town and is home to a fascinating museum and an impressive castle. The town has plenty of accommodation,as well as supermarkets, cafes and restaurants.

    Difficult
    05:57
    13.7 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,025 ft
    850 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage of the Exe Valley Way has a little bit of everything; flat valley floor, soaring views from hilltops and slices of history mixed into it. There’s a steep hill involved in this Tour, beginning as you climb out of Thorverton and rise above the Exe. It’s more than worth the ascent, especially if the weather is clear, and once the trail descends, it stays low. Until the end of the stage.

    Starting in Brampford Speke, the trail crosses the river and ambles along through fields near the Exe until crossing back over at Thorverton. This quaint village is hundreds of years old and has an intriguing history, including becoming home to an American battalion during the Second World War.

    From Thorverton, the route leads you steeply up delightfully quiet lanes where you’ll gain fantastic views east and south over the Exe Valley. The patchwork nature of the landscape is truly revealed here, and it’s hard to imagine the thriving city of Exeter is just a little way south. The descent is just as steep, passing through a hamlet and flattening out as it reaches the river.

    Bickleigh Castle is the next point of interest, open to the public by appointment for tours and otherwise used as a venue. This castle has a slightly tumultuous history and was partially destroyed during the English Civil War. Past the castle, the route reaches the Fisherman’s Cot pub; Paul Simon stayed here during the 60s and, after seeing the river running under Bickleigh Bridge opposite, is said to have been inspired to write ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.

    Troubled or not, the trail crosses the bridge too and wanders up the Exe on the eastern side, all the way to Tiverton, where this stage ends. Tiverton is a historic woollen town and is home to a fascinating local museum and a rather impressive castle. The town has plenty of accommodation options as well as local supermarkets, cafes and restaurants.

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  • Difficult
    06:09
    13.9 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,300 ft
    1,075 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike leads you north through remote countryside; over hills and through valleys to Somerset. The trail undulates, often hugging the edges of hills and leaves the Exe behind for a stretch. Woods, fields and historic stone bridges are the central themes of this stage.

    The route begins in Tiverton, which has shops to stock up at. There are pubs en route and plenty of beautiful picnic spots, too. This first section keeps the River Exe on your right as you walk upriver, gradually gaining height but experiencing nothing very strenuous.

    This is certainly a hike of lovely bridges and the first one of note is Cove Bridge, complete with a Tolkienesque cottage on one side. Next, climb a steel lane and walk through Holmingham Woods to cross the river at Halfpenny Bridge. The route leaves the Exe here and heads north to the sweet village of Bampton, which is a good place for lunch.

    The next section climbs again and rambles across high fields before dropping you in Exebridge, a hamlet where the River Barle pours into the Exe. The bridge here is gorgeous and marks the boundary between Devon and Somerset. Skirting Hulverton Hill, you’ll soon find yourself in Brushford and then my favourite bridge of the Tour; New Bridge. Not new by any stretch of the imagination, this gloriously old bridge is covered in vines and looks like it’s wandered out of a folktale.

    Having left the Exe behind at Exebridge, it’s the Barle that will lead you to Dulverton. This is one of Exmoor’s gateway towns and has a wonderful sense of community. Here, you’ll find accommodation, cafes and an Exmoor National Park information centre.

    Difficult
    06:33
    14.1 mi
    2.1 mph
    2,025 ft
    1,625 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This final stage is entirely within Exmoor National Park and enjoys both deep, wooded river valleys and excellent views from its high points. The trail feels remote but does pass through a couple of lovely Exmoor villages. With 2,205 feet (617 m) of elevation gain, this is the most strenuous section.

    Starting in Dulverton, on the edge of Exmoor, the route follows the River Barle closely as it meanders through utterly gorgeous woodlands. At Castle Bridge, you’ll leave the river and ascend to Hawkridge Ridge which, although odd to say out loud, offers outstanding views of the rolling hills all around. Hawkridge village has its history cemented in Saxon and Norman times, flourishing during the Victorian era. Today, it’s a serene place with far-reaching panoramas.

    Loosely following the course of the Barle, the trail loops around to the east before heading off north. Here, I’ve included a detour to see the Tarr Steps, an ancient and impressive clapper bridge, that lies a little to the east. This Grade I-listed structure is an Exmoor icon but it’s not actually on the Exe Valley Way and to see it, you’ll have to descend and then re-ascend the hill to rejoin the trail. It adds 1.3 miles (2.2 km) to the hike but involves 361 feet (110 m) of elevation gain to get back up.

    Regardless, the official trail goes on a jaunt across fields and stays relatively high until it reaches the lovely village of Withypool. Out the other side, it continues up Room Hill before meandering down to Exford, the end of the Exe Valley Way.

    Another wonderful little Exmoor town, you’ll find a pub here and bus services to Dunster and Taunton. There’s also accommodation here and options for further adventures. To reach the source of the Exe proper, walk west to Simonsbath. To join the South West Coast Path, head north to the coast.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    4
  • Distance
    56.1 mi
  • Duration
    24:37 h
  • Elevation
    4,675 ft3,800 ft

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Kit P

Ancient bridges, serene woodlands and rushing water — Exe Valley Way