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The Spectacular Heddon Valley on Exmoor

Hanging oakwoods, rushing rivers, and some of the highest cliffs in England.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 787ft (240m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Wooded tracks, exposed coast path and quiet lanes, 2 stiles

Landscape Deep, wooded river valleys and very high cliffs

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 9 Exmoor

Start/finish SS 655481

Dog friendliness Dogs to be kept under control at all times

Parking National Trust car park at Heddon Gate

Public toilets Opposite car park

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1 Walk towards Hunter's Inn. To the right of the building you will see a wooded track, signed 'Heddon's Mouth' through a gate. Walk down the track, which soon splits; keep left, signed 'Heddon's Mouth beach'. Keep to the gritty path nearest the river. The coast path (unsigned) joins this path from the right.

2 Turn left over a wooden footbridge, then turn right and walk towards the coast to reach the 19th-century lime kiln above the rocky beach. Retrace your steps, keeping the river on your left, to pass two footbridges. Keep going until a coast path sign to Combe Martin directs you right, sharply uphill.

3 A steep zig-zag climb is rewarded with amazing views across the valley and inland. Keep going along the narrow path, which runs parallel to the valley to reach the coast above Heddon's Mouth, then turns left to run towards Peter Rock. The cliffs here are over 650ft (200m) high and sheer, and the path is narrow and exposed - take care. Continue along the path, which runs inland to meet a wall.

4 Turn right, signed to Combe Martin. Follow coast path signs through a gate, then right, along a short wire-fenced section and then over a stile to rejoin the cliff edge. Cross over a stile above Neck Wood, then leave National Trust lands via a stile and kissing gate. The coast path continues straight ahead.

5 Turn left and walk uphill, then left again where the path meets a wide grassy path. Proceed uphill, following the fence, to reach the rough parking area and lane at Holdstone Down Cross, on the edge of Trentishoe Down.

6 Turn left along the narrow lane, following signs for Trentishoe church (the signpost here misleadingly points back the way you have come). Walk along the lane until you see the church above you on the left - this is a good place for a break.

7 Continue downhill below Sevenash Cottage to pass the point where there is an 'Access to coast path' sign pointing left. Walk straight on down Trentishoe Hill (this lane is unsuitable for vehicles) which runs through wooded Trentishoe Cleave.

8 Turn left at the valley bottom by two pretty white cottages. Walk along the lane past a footpath sign to the Heddon Valley on the left, cross over a small river, and then over the Heddon river just before the Hunter's Inn. Turn right to find your car.

Situated within the Exmoor National Park, yet still in Devon, the deeply wooded Heddon Valley, leading to the stark cleft in the coastline at Heddon's Mouth, is one of the most spectacular sights in the county. There is no obvious main route into the valley, which you reach by turning off the A39 between Blackmoor Gate and Lynton, and then winding your way down miles of narrow lanes.

The best and most evocative way in is to go through the pretty village of Parracombe. Stop for a while to have a look at Parracombe old church, where nothing has been changed from the late 18th century when a new church was built nearer the village, then follow the course of the Heddon river as it descends through beautiful oak woodland to reach Heddon Gate. Although only one third of the Exmoor National Park is in Devon, more than half of the National Park coastline lies within the county, and the stretch seen on this walk is the most awe-inspiring section. This walk is not recommended for anyone who suffers from vertigo, and dogs should be kept under tight control on the coast path stretch.

The National Trust owns 2,000 acres (810ha) of land here, much of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The extensive oak woodlands, deep combes, coastal heath and some of the highest cliffs in England combine to produce one of the most magnificent landscape areas in Devon. The land immediately to the west and east of Heddon's Mouth Cleave rises very steeply up scree-covered slopes to a staggering 820ft (250m), and Great Hangman, the highest cliff in southern England at over 1,000ft (305m) lies just beyond Holdstone Down to the west. Exmoor, unlike Dartmoor, runs right up to the coast, and the cliff scenery towards Combe Martin on this walk is superb. There's no access to the sea between Heddon's Mouth and Combe Martin, 5 miles (8km) to the west. The National Trust information centre at Heddon Gate is excellent, and includes a very effective relief model of the area.

There is a huge amount of wildlife interest here. The West Exmoor coastline holds one of only two colonies of razorbill, guillemot and kittiwake in North Devon. In the oak woodland you can expect to see green and lesser spotted woodpeckers, pied flycatchers, wood warblers and nuthatches, among others. The Heddon Valley is managed by English Nature to encourage the right plants for butterflies, in particular the rare high brown fritillary, and dark green and silver washed fritillaries.

Where to eat and drink

The Fox and Goose Inn at Parracombe is an interesting building, with good food. The Hunter's Inn, built in 1904 on the site of the original thatched inn, which was destroyed by fire in 1895, is a free house, with accommodation. Ice creams are available at the National Trust shop.

What to look for

On the path from Point 4 you'll find an information board about the Exmoor pony. Of all the native breeds, this is the nearest to a truly wild equine. There are very few pure-breds left and attempts are being made to increase their numbers. They're used on Little Hangman, near Combe Martin, to encourage the regeneration of the heather moorland.

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