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Bickleigh Castle and the Exe Valley Way

Leave the crowds behind at Bickleigh Bridge and explore the lovely Exe Valley.

Distance 4.3 miles (7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 509ft (155m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Country lanes, one long, steep, muddy track

Landscape Steeply wooded hillsides and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 114 Exeter & the Exe Valley

Start/finish SX 939075

Dog friendliness Keep on lead

Parking Bickleigh Mill just off A396 at Bickleigh Bridge

Public toilets Trout Inn - available to public during opening hours

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1 From the public parking area at the edge of Bickleigh Mill go back, with care, to the A396 and cross the bridge. Turn left down the A3072, following the brown tourist sign for Bickleigh Castle. Take the first lane left, running along the edge of the flood plain on the Exe Valley Way (EVW). Bickleigh Castle will soon be found on the right. Go straight on past Way Farm.

2 Just after the buildings of Way Farm turn right to leave the Exe Valley Way, roughly signposted 'Lee Cross & Perry Farm'. Take care, this is a very narrow lane, carrying busy traffic from local farms. Keep along the lane as it climbs steeply uphill and after 700yds (640m) brings you to the farm at Lee Cross.

3 Immediately after the house keep straight ahead along the road. Pass Perry Farm and continue until you reach a T-junction; turn left on to a green lane. Continue on this lane until you reach another T-junction. Turn right. The lane now levels off and becomes easier.

4 Where the green lane meets the tarmac lane turn left and proceed steeply downhill (EVW). The views over the River Exe, and to Silverton church beyond, are glorious. Follow the lane down until you see Tray Mill Farm on the right.

5 The way home is straight on along the lane, but it's worth doing a small detour to the river here. Turn right through the farmyard (no sign) and pass through a metal gate onto a concrete standing. Ahead you will see a suspension bridge over the river; cross it and go straight on to reach the dismantled railway track. Do not turn left along the track - although it would take you straight back to your car- it is privately owned and has no public right of way.

6 The path goes straight on here to meet the A369. You can do that, turn left, then eventually right to walk through Bickleigh village back to the mill, but it is a busy road and you would be better advised to retrace your steps to Tray Mill Farm and take the quieter route back to Bickleigh Mill.

7 Back on the lane by Tray Mill Farm, turn right and walk straight along the lane, past Bickleigh Castle, turning right at the A3072, and right again over the bridge to return to your car.

The honeypot area round Bickleigh Bridge, 4 miles (6.4km) south of Tiverton, may be too crowded for many people, and I, for one, am always tempted to drive straight through to escape the mass of visitors and cars. But dozens of people do stop here to take a picture of the Bickleigh Cottage Country Hotel, the picturesque thatched building just above the bridge, instantly recognisable from many 'Beautiful Britain' calendars, and which must be one of the most photographed scenes in Devon. But if it's all too much for you there is a quieter side to this part of the Exe Valley, and within a few minutes' walk from the bridge you will feel as if you are miles from anywhere.

Bickleigh Mill, at the beginning of the walk, is a good place to entertain the family, with craft, gift and workshops, and a working mill. There's a children's pet area, and the Devon Railway Centre, centred on the Victorian Great Western Railway station, with train rides and model railways. Footpaths lead us to the unspoilt village of Bickleigh, with pretty thatched cottages, the 14th-century church of St Mary the Virgin and a graceful Regency vicarage.

Bickleigh Castle is in a peaceful backwater on the banks of the River Exe. The walk approaches it along a quiet lane, shaded by huge oak, ash and beech trees. An interesting mixture of Norman, medieval and 17th-century architecture, it's a thatched, moated manor house, rather than a castle, and is still lived in. It passed to the de Bickleigh family after the Norman Conquest and was recorded in the Domesday Book. The chapel was built in the 11th century. In the 15th century it belonged to the Courtenays, Earls of Devon, and later to the Carews. Much of the castle was destroyed during the Civil War, and rebuilt in a more homely style. The pink sandstone three-storey gatehouse and moated garden, visible from the lane, are both quite beautiful. There are limited opening hours (the castle is never open on Saturdays) - but it's worth finding out when you can have a proper look round.

While you're there

Visit Yearlstone Vineyard, signed left off the A396 just north of Bickleigh Bridge. The vineyard is the oldest in Devon, and one of the best in the region. Situated on a steep, south-facing slope above the confluence of the River Exe and the River Dart, it commands great views. The vineyard is open from 11am to 5pm, Friday to Monday, April to October.

Where to eat and drink

The Fisherman's Cot lies just below Bickleigh Bridge, and has an attractive riverside garden, from which you get a really good view of the beautiful 16th-century five-arched bridge over the Exe. It's not a particularly cosy or personal pub, but can cater for large numbers at any time. The 17th-century Trout Inn, just a little upriver, also provides good food and welcomes families. There is a licensed café/bar and restaurant at Bickleigh Mill.

What to look for

Watch the salmon leaping up the weir just below the bridge. This stretch of the Exe is very popular with game fishermen, but the fishing rights are privately owned. Salmon and sea trout fishing licences are available from the Environment Agency, and the season on the Exe runs from mid-February to the end of September. There are strict conservation measures in force to protect spring salmon. The record on the Exe is a fish of over 30lbs (13.6kg) in weight, caught by a man who had never fished for salmon before!

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