I am often asked to suggest shorter walks through the quiet countryside in Autumn. This is a good walk at any time of the year.
This walk starts from Joney’s Cross, on the A5032, roughly halfway between Exeter and Sidmouth. There is good car parking at Joney’s Cross, and there are a number of buses every day. If you want to start and end nearer to pubs, cafes, and other facilities, you can begin and end the walk at Newton Poppleford (see below). The grid reference for Joney’s Cross is SY058898. The walk is just over 7 miles. As always you do the walk at your own risk.
The pastoral Vale of the Otter
Leave Joney’s Cross car park through the gap in the north west corner. Cross the main road (very carefully) and take the lane marked Woolcomb/East Devon Way on the far side of the road, leading out on to the open heathland. Follow this tarmaced lane for a half mile until it makes its final swing to the left to enter Woolcomb Farm. At this point head right through a gate, continuing downhill.
You have been walking across Aylesbeare and Harpford Commons, important lowland heaths, renowned for their wild life, the home of Nightjars and Dartford Warblers. Note the excellent views over the valley of the River Otter towards Mutters Moor and Fire Beacon.
Continue down the track, which crosses a tiny stream by ford and footbridge, before ascending again up a most attractive green lane. When a tarmaced lane is reached, turn right for a hundred yards, passing a most attractive boarded cottage in the hamlet of Benchams. The lane becomes a footpath soon afterwards. After a hundred yards look for a narrower footpath heading off to the left. Follow this as it winds down through very attractive woodland. The path swings to the left down to a field corner. Turn right here and follow the edge of the field (hedge on your left).
This exits on to a lane just past a group of buildings that once served as a luxury hotel, but which are now private homes. Carry straight on and follow the quiet country lane beyond for a quarter mile. At the next T-junction, turn left for a couple of yards, then right on to a public footpath that climbs steeply up a field, keeping the hedge on your right. Cross the stile at the top of the field, and keep straight on across the next field (part of a fruit farm).
When the far hedge is reached, turn left for a few yards, then hard right down a footpath (signposted as part of the East Devon Way). Follow the path down to a gate with steps. Go through this and at the next junction keep right, following the path as it follows the line of trees. After a quarter mile you pass through an old-style kissing gate, and walk along a surfaced track leading out on to a lane. When this is reached, turn left and follow the lane round until it reaches the main road at Newton Poppleford. Turn right along the main road for a hundred yards, crossing the road and taking the opposite road (Millmoor Road) which goes off at a right angle south of the main road.
Walkers starting from Newton Poppleford begin and end the walk here.
Continue to the end of Millmoor Road. Turn left at the end for just a couple of yards, then right (heading in the same direction) along an enclosed public footpath. This runs past an orchard, and leads through a kissing gate into an open field. Continue following this path, keeping the hedge to your left, through the next four fields. Towards the end of the fourth, just as a cottage comes into view, the path goes left, through a kissing gate and down some steps. The path then swings back to the right. Cross the next field to the obvious gate and fingerpost.
Pass through the gate and turn left down the lane. This was the site of an ancient mill, sadly demolished half a century ago. When you reach the River Otter, do not cross the footbridge, but turn right and follow the river downstream. After 250 yards, the path veers to the right, away from the Otter, entering the trees by some fallen down gates.
Follow the wider track uphill as it veers to the left and enters a field. Continue along the field path, with the hedge to your right. After 250 yards, turn right through a kissing gate, then hard left along the field boundary, with the hedge to your left. After a hundred yards you will come to a path junction. Turn right up a green track until a country lane is reached. Here there is a welcome bench for a rest, with excellent views over the Vale of the Otter. Turn right along the lane and follow this to the junction with a busier road (Newton Poppleford to Budleigh Salterton).
Turn right along the road, staying on the embankment as long as possible, crossing at last (With great care. Please watch out for traffic!) 50 yards on, on the far side of the road, you will see a green lane. Follow this. This is Naps Lane, a beautiful country route, lined with oak, beech and holly. Follow this as it climbs uphill, ignoring all side paths. Look out for the World War Two pillbox in the fields to the left.
Follow Naps Lane for three quarters of a mile. This old route runs through an idyllic pastoral landscape. Eventually, it widens out at a crossroads of paths, with gates into four fields. Keep straight on for another quarter mile until Naps Lane ends at a T-junction by a cottage. Turn right along the lane and then right again at the next road junction.
Continue along the lane for 250 yards. Just past the cottage conversion, still called “The Old Barn”, turn left up a track. This leads to another cottage. Take the path up through the trees to the left of this. The path emerges on to the open heathland of Hawkerland. Walk uphill for just under a half mile, ignoring the several side paths. As you climb, there are wonderful views across much of the East Devon countryside. Eventually, you will approach a road. At this point, swing left back into the Joney’s Cross car park and the end of the walk.
This is a really lovely introduction to the countryside of east Devon, best in autumn I think, but lovely at all times of the year; in Spring when the hedgerows are coloured with primroses and bluebells, on late summer evenings when the call of the Nightjars echo across the heathlands; at harvest time, when the farmers are bringing in their crops, or on cold winters days, when hard frosts make walking an adventure. Enjoy the walk!