This walk is part of the trek Devon's Coast-to-Coast : Plymouth to Wembury and on to Lynmouth.
Stage 8 takes us into Exmoor National Park and back to some high ground but mostly it's a riverside walk along the River Barle that is a tributary to the River Exe that flows all the way to the south Devon coast at Exmouth. The route goes over Tar Steps near Hawkridge and has the option of finishing at Withypool or continuing to Exford to stay at the YHA.
Calculated time is computed with the distance, the height difference, and an average speed of 2.2 mph. For an intermediate walker, this time includes small breaks.
(D) Leave Knowstone from the church, along the road heading northeast to Owlaborough Lane. Bear left down the lane to gradually descend to the bridge over the Crooked Oak River. Follow the road up the other side to reach Owlaborough and carry straight on to pass Highfield farm. Stay on the lane until it bends sharply right and continue north on a path between fields and over Owlaborough Moor to reach the B 3227, having passed through New Moor Plantation. Here, turn right and then left through a metal gate to pick up a path across the fields to a wooden stile onto another road next to farm buildings. Turn right then left at High Atonhead Cross (indicated Yeo Mill and West Anstey). Follow the road to Yeo Mill. Notice the old railway just before the hamlet, the bridge is no longer spanning the road. Continue straight along the road, past the houses and over the bridge that crosses the River Yeo and on up to Mill House and a crossroads. Bear right (indicated West Anstey and Dulverton) to go down to a holiday cottage and a sharp right hand bend, then up to Lower Wychwood farm. Stay on the road for about 300m past the farm, then take a path off to the left, with a footpath sign next to a couple of big oak trees with ivy growing up the trunks. This will take you over the fields to an old metal gate onto a road. Turn right and head into West Anstey.
(1) It's worth taking a few minutes to venture into West Anstey to visit the church of St Petrock, which dates largely from the 14th and 15th centuries but was heavily restored in 1879 by William White. Then take Badlake lane to get back on the road, heading southeast, round the sharp bend to the left and past Badlake farm all the way to Badlake Moor Cross. Bear left over the cattle grid then immediately right to enter Exmoor National Park, along a track lined by very old hedge trees, across Woodland Common to the Ridge Road. The route goes straight across the road and up to the trig point at West Anstey Barrows. Continue down the hill, bearing left to reach Slade Lane just above a wood. Turn left down the lane to cross the bridge over Dane's Brook. Climb up the hill on the lane past a small farm building to a kink in the road and go through a wooden gate on the right to pick up a path to West Hollowcombe farm through a wooden gate. Head straight down Broad Lane to East Hollowcombe farm, past Rose Cottage and into Hawkridge.
(2) It's worth going a few meters more to visit the 14th century Church of St Giles. Also, there's an interesting workshop in the village, the Exmoor Antler Creations, where they sell some interesting walking sticks. The workshop is opposite the beech tree in the middle of the road junction. From here, head out of the village northwest for about 100m past a red postbox to go through a small wooden gate next to an outbuilding on the right. The path heads north across the fields to Great Cleeve wood, the bears left to Row Down Wood. The path goes through a wooden gate onto a track and continues straight ahead to enter the wood bearing left to reach a stream. After crossing the stream, the path turns right to climb up to Parsonage Farm. Take the path out of the farm heading roughly west above South Barton Wood, then descend to Tarr Steps.
(3) Cross the clapper bridge and turn left to follow the river. This is as good a place as any for lunch, although it does tend to be a popular place in the summer and at weekends. Tarr Farm Inn offers drinks and food if you prefer something substantial. The route now follows the River Barle upstream through Knaplock Wood, Lea Wood, past Great Bradley farm and Oakbeer Wood. Then through Pit Wood, and all the way up to Mill Bridge, where the path joins the road at a small wooden gate. Turn left to go into Withypool (The Royal Oak Inn is a good place for food and drink, and accommodation).
(4) If you are carrying on to Exford, turn right then climb the steps up to the left to join the Exe Valley Way. After weaving through fields the path crosses Room Hill road over a wooden stile then a wooden gate to head north to Road Hill, bearing right to reach Court Copse wood. Here, turn left to enter the wood, then skirt round to the right of the hill, with views down to the right to the River Exe, to reach North Court farm and Court farm. Head along the road past Stable Cottage to finally reach a fork in the road. Bear right and follow the road to reach YHA Exford.(A)
D : mi 0 - alt. 689ft - Knowstone
1 : mi 3.7 - alt. 758ft - West Anstey
2 : mi 6.49 - alt. 971ft - Hawkridge
3 : mi 8.36 - alt. 735ft - Tarr Steps
4 : mi 12.21 - alt. 846ft - Withypool
A : mi 15.1 - alt. 860ft - YHA Exford
The route enters Exmoor but it isn't wild country and there's still a fair bit of agricultural land to get through. Tarr Steps is the obvious lunch stop (helped by the presence of Tarr Farm Inn) but there are plenty of secluded spots for a few minutes rest and maybe some fruit. It's probably best to leave Withypool for the next stage (unless you decide to spend the night there) as the route needs to go through there. That will give you time to reach Exford in good time for a pint in The White Horse Inn or The Crown Hotel. If the YHA isn't your thing, there is accommodation at these two pubs too. Exford also has a few shops around The Crown Hotel. As always, comfortable boots and waterproofs are standard.
Visorando and this author cannot be held responsible in the case of accidents or problems occuring on this walk.
Having a look in at the old churches adds a bit of history to the walk and a chat with the locals can give you and them some extra information. Be careful going through the woods and don't leave any litter. Enjoy the route and look out for wildlife along the way. Don't rush, just enjoy the journey and make the most of the moment.
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