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The River Coly and the Umborne Brook

The tranquil East Devon town of Colyton has a chequered history.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Fields and country lanes, one narrow boggy track, 9 stiles

Landscape Level river meadows and rolling farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 116 Lyme Regis & Bridport

Start/finish SY 245940

Dog friendliness Livestock in some fields

Parking Paying car park in centre of Colyton (Dolphin Street)

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park turn right, then first left into Lower Church Street. Turn left again at the Gerrard Arms into Rosemary Lane, then right into Vicarage Street. Go right, towards the river, and cross the bridge.

2 Turn left through a kissing gate and along the riverbank on the East Devon Way (EDW). Follow the path through two kissing gates. Ignore the next footpath sign right, but go straight ahead through another two kissing gates, following the river bank.

3 At the junction of footpaths at the end of that field keep the river left and take the kissing gate in the corner ahead onto a concrete walkway. Go through a kissing gate and across a field, aiming for two kissing gates and a footbridge below three big oaks. Cross another footbridge/gate to reach a bridge over the river on the left.

4 Turn right (leaving EDW), through a gate onto a lane and turn right. After 400yds (366m) at Cadhayne Farm (right) turn left through the gate opposite the farmyard (the footpath sign may be overgrown). Walk steadily uphill, through the gate at the top and straight on. This green lane soon veers sharp left; turn right along a narrow, muddy path, ending at a tarmac road signed 'Tritchayne'.

5 Cross over and walk downhill along Watery Lane. At Tritchmarsh the lane becomes a grassy track; follow the footpath sign right on a wooden walkway. Go sharp left to a gate and left round the field. Ignore the next stile left; take the small gate/bridge/gate to the right and cross the paddock and the Umborne Brook via a gate and concrete walkway to Lexhayne Mill. The path runs between the house and yard to a kissing gate; over the stile in the wire fence (the main line railway is ahead). Cross over the next stile, then head diagonally right for the drive to Lexhayne Farm. Go left, then right (signed) through a hedge gap.

6 Cross diagonally down the field towards the bottom corner, over a double gate/bridge and the big footbridge over the brook. Walk left; over a stile, then across the brook via a double gate/footbridge with Colyton church ahead.

7 Aim for the stile in the fence ahead right. Go straight on to cross the brook via a double gate/bridge, then left. Cross a stile and two stiles/footbridges then diagonally across the upper part of the next field. Cross a stile, go downhill and over a stile onto the road.

8 Turn left; pass the picnic area/playground at Road Green, then over the bridge. Take the first left (Vicarage Street) and go straight on to pass the church (left), through the town centre and down Silver Street to the car park.

In some ways the pretty East Devon town of Colyton is a rather misleading place. Situated in rolling countryside on the banks of the River Coly, the town has more than once won 'the prettiest village in Devonshire' accolade. The narrow, winding streets, attractive cottages, with hanging baskets and colourful gardens, give no clues as to why Colyton was once dubbed 'most rebellious town in Devon'. For this we must go back to the 1600s. The town supported Parliament in the Civil War in 1643, and was the scene of many skirmishes against Royalists based at Axminster. It also played a part in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, when over 100 Colyton men - more than anywhere else in Devon - joined the Duke of Monmouth's army. Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis with 80 followers, managed to raise an army of 3,000, but was defeated by James II's army at Sedgemoor near Bridgwater in Somerset. In the trials that followed, the 'Bloody Assizes', 17 Colyton men were hanged, and 18 were transported to the West Indies. Only two of the latter made it back to Devon.

But Colyton's history hasn't always been so colourful. There is evidence of prehistoric occupation - a Pleistocene flint axe as well as Bronze and Iron Age remains have been found locally. The Romans were here from around ad 70, but Colyton is essentially a Saxon town. Egbert, King of Wessex, held a parliament here in ad 827 and a fine restored 9th-century cross can be seen in the church. The town developed into one of Devon's major commercial centres, its wealth based on weaving cloth, silk and serge, and lacemaking. Many of the farms you'll pass on this walk have the suffix hayne, meaning 'enclosure', implying that they date from the 13th and 14th centuries; and in the great wool days of the 15th-century Colyton was one of the three wealthiest towns in the county.

The parish church is prominent in the view of Colyton towards the end of the walk. It also reflects the prosperous side of the town. There has been a church here since ad 700, but the current building is based on a Norman church from the mid-12th century. The most unusual feature is the distinctive and rare octagonal lantern, set on the square Norman tower in the 15th century. This is thought to have been inspired by similar towers seen in Flanders by the town's wool merchants. There is a merchant's mark (representing a 'stapler' or wool merchant) on the floor slate marking the grave of Hugh Buckland in the chancel.

While you're there

It's worth going to have a look at Blackberry Camp Iron Age hillfort, an English Heritage site signposted from the A3052 Colyton to Sidford road. Probably occupied by a cattle farming community between the 1st and 2nd centuries ad, this D-shaped enclosure, defended by a single bank and ditch, is a wonderfully peaceful spot for a picnic. It's best seen at bluebell time in May.

Where to eat and drink

The Old Court House tea shop and restaurant in Queen Square has a courtyard garden today, concealing a somewhat infamous past - Judge Jeffreys tried many locals here during the Bloody Assize in 1685. The Gerrard Arms (Point a) is a free house with an attractive garden, a skittle alley and a range of bar food. There is also a tea room at Colyton Station and several other pubs and cafés in the village.

What to look for

Take a trip in an open-top tramcar beside the River Axe on the Seaton Tramway, which runs for 3 miles (4.8km) from Colyton to Seaton via Colyford. You should see a wide range of birds, including grey herons, kingfishers, oystercatchers, curlews and egrets. More than 50 different species have been spotted from the tram in one day! The tram line, the first section of which opened in 1970, utilises part of the old Seaton branch railway, which was axed by Dr Beeching and closed in 1966. The extension to Colyton opened in 1980. Trams depart every twenty minutes throughout the season (early April to the end of October), with weekend opening during November and December.

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