Daffodils at Steps Bridge - a climb up Heltor Rock en route for Bridford - and a very special church.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Ascent/gradient 393ft (120m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Woodland paths, open fields and country lanes, 7 stiles
Landscape Steeply wooded valleys and undulating farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 110 Torquay & Dawlish
Start/finish SX 804883
Dog friendliness Keep under control in the woods, livestock in some fields
Parking Free car park (and tourist information) at Steps Bridge
Public toilets At car park, Bridford Inn and Steps Bridge café
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1 Cross the road, following the signs to the youth hostel. Turn right up the concrete track, then left. When you reach the youth hostel turn right again, this time following signs for Heltor Farm. The steep path leads uphill through delightful oak, then beech woodland. At a T-junction of paths turn left and up over some wooden steps by the gate into a field.
2 Follow wooden footpath posts straight up the field. Go through the metal gate, then between granite gateposts; look right to see Heltor Rock. Pass signs for Lower Heltor Farm at a metal gate onto a green lane; turn left.
3 Follow the footpath signs left then right round the farmhouse to meet a track. Turn left up the farm drive, which becomes a tarmac lane.
4 At the top of the lane turn left (signs for Bridford). After 200yds (183m) turn left over a stile up the narrow fenced permissive path to Heltor, from where you can enjoy an amazing panorama. Retrace your steps to the road and turn left.
5 The lane eventually bends left, then right, to reach the edge of Bridford. Turn right down a small steep lane signed 'Parish Hall & Church'. Follow the path round the churchyard, down steps and right to find the Bridford Inn.
6 Turn left from the pub and follow the lane through the centre of the village. Take the third lane (Neadon Lane) on the right, by a telephone box. Just past where a bridleway joins (from the left) the lane dips to the right, downhill; take the left fork ahead to pass Westbirch Farm on the right. Turn left at the track to Birch Down Farm. Continue over two stiles by the barn and across the field, keeping the wire fence to your right. Go over the stile and up the right-hand edge of the next field to a stile in the top corner. Then cross over a tumbledown granite wall and carry straight on through an area of gorse bushes, heading towards a footpath signpost. Cross a stile by some beech trees.
7 Continue along the top of the field, through two metal gates and down a green lane to reach Lower Lowton Farm. Turn right to a footpath signpost, and follow the bridleway right (signed 'Woodlands'). Keep to the bridleway past a new looking barn on the left, then turn right through a wooden gate and downhill on a narrow green lane. Cross a track between the fields via two gates, then through a small wooden gate. Continue down the deeply banked green lane until you reach a surfaced lane.
8 Turn left through the middle gate, signed 'Byway to Steps Bridge'. At the edge of Bridford Wood (by the National Trust sign) turn right following the footpath signposts. The path is fairly narrow and quite steep. Go left, then right, to cross a sandy track, keeping downhill. The path then runs to the left, now high above the river to Steps Bridge where it meets the road opposite the café. Turn left here to return to your car.
In early springtime many people travel out to Steps Bridge (built in 1816) to stroll along the River Teign, enjoying the sight of thousands of tiny wild daffodils crowding the riverbanks. But there's a better way to explore this valley, which includes a close look at an example of that most characteristic Dartmoor feature, a tor, and a pint at one of the Teign Valley's best pubs as an added bonus!
Much of the ancient semi-natural woodland and valley meadows around Steps Bridge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and many acres are owned by the National Trust. Dunsford Wood (on the opposite bank of the Teign from the car park) is managed as a nature reserve by the Devon Wildlife Trust. These woodlands are glorious all year round: there are snowdrops in February, daffodils in early spring, wood anenomes and ramsoms; then foxgloves, woodrush and cow-wheat in summer. Look out for the nest of the wood ant by the side of the path, which can be as much as a metre high. If you place your cheek or hand near to a nest you'll get a shock - the ants squirt formic acid from their abdomens in a defensive move, and it stings!
Blackingstone Rock is another outlying tor, 1 mile (1.6km) south west of Heltor Rock. Turn right rather than left at Point 4 and you will soon be aware of its huge, granite mass rising above the lane on the left. You can get to the top by climbing up an almost vertical flight of steps which were added in the 19th century for that purpose. The views of the surrounding countryside are worth the effort.
While you're in Bridford, part way round the walk, it's well worthwhile going inside the church. The original chapel on this site was dedicated by Bishop Bronescombe in 1259, to the murdered Archibishop Thomas à Becket, who died at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. This was still a common practice in many West Country churches during the century following his death. The present building dates from the 15th century, and its most famous feature is the superb eight-bay rood screen, thought to date from 1508. The faces of the richly carved and coloured figures were mutilated by Puritan soldiers during the Civil War, but what survives is still impressive. The doors are also unusual in that they are made in one piece rather than being divided in the middle. These details are often overlooked by the Steps Bridge hordes.
Go and have a look at the three reservoirs near Hennock, on the ridge between the Teign and Wray valleys - Tottiford, Kennick and Trenchford. Constructed over the period from 1860 to 1907 to service the increasing demand for water from Newton Abbot and Torquay, today these beautiful expanses of fresh water, surrounded by coniferous woodland and rhododendron-covered slopes, provide plentiful opportunities for easy walks and peaceful picnics.
The Bridford Inn - appropriately advertised as being 'the middle of nowhere, the centre of the universe' - can be found at the end of the village. It offers great food, holds all sorts of speciality evenings and welcomes families. Another good pub just down the road is the Royal Oak at Dunsford. The Steps Bridge Café is open from 10am-6pm, and offers accommodation.