I am often asked to suggest shorter walks through the quiet countryside of East Devon. This is another of my favourites.
This walk starts from East Budleigh car park, just below the parish church. The grid reference is SY066848. The walk is just under 7 miles. As always you do the walk at your own risk. East Budleigh is on the bus service between Exeter and Budleigh Salterton.
Turn right on leaving the car park and follow the lane for a quarter mile, passing on the way the delightful thatched house of Vicar’s Mead, where Sir Walter Raleigh (who was born nearby at Hayes Barton) had his first education. The house was once the vicarage of Ambrose Stapleton who, like the fictional Doctor Syn in Russell Thorndike’s marvellous novels, occupied the posts of local vicar and leader of a smuggling gang.
After a quarter of a mile take the green lane uphill to your left (opposite a rather ugly electricity substation). This climbs steeply for 150 yards, levels out, then descends for fifty yards until it reaches a stile and footpath to the right. Follow the obvious track beyond for three quarters of a mile as it climbs uphill towards the distant Hayes Wood, dominating the skyline.
At the top of the hill the track arrives at a double gate with a stile. Looking back from here are excellent views over the Vale of the Otter, with the villages of East Budleigh and Otterton far below, and the distant heights of Mutter’s Moor and High Peak. Cross the stile and turn right along Hayes Lane, a Hollow Way that has probably been in use for thousands of years. This part of the walk is a delight, as you are far below the surface of the present fields – it is almost a tunnel at times. To your right is Hayes Wood, where the young Raleigh possibly discovered his love of exploration.
Follow Hayes Lane downhill for a half mile, ignoring a path going off to the right into Hayes Wood. Eventually the lane arrives at an open junction of paths amid the trees. Ignore the enclosed path to your left, and the path climbing to your right a few yards on. Take the left hand fork that runs near to the edge of the trees, eventually with open fields to your left.
Keep on the obvious path as it climbs gradually, ignoring any side paths. After nearly a half mile, the path levels off on to more open heathland. 50 yards further take the very sandy path going downhill to your left, it widens and then narrows again after 200 yards. Turn right at the next T-junction. Continue uphill for 50 yards into a stand of pines. Look for a path through the trees to the left, indistinct at first, but then clearer as it continues hard left. Follow this down to Squabmoor Reservoir, a rather picturesque stretch of water and a haven for birdlife in the early months of the year.
Keep on the left side of the reservoir (although a circuit is very pleasant if you wish to extend the walk). When the dam is reached, continue on the broad track heading up the hillside half left. Follow this very clear and wide track for a half mile, as it climbs, levels, then descends to a country lane, near to the entrance of Dalditch Farm. Keep left along the lane, noticing the pebbled wall – a feature of this area – on the way. After passing the modern building called Dalditch Apiary, look for a green lane to your left, between that building and the neighbouring Brookside Cottage.
This climbs quite steeply for a quarter mile and then swings to the left, ascending for another 200 yards. The brow of the hill is reached, and the path begins to descend. After 50 yards, at the first bend, a footpath heads into the trees on your right. After a few yards it forks. Turn left up a wooded slope, then on to the more open ground of Shortwood Common, where, in old times, the Gypsies would camp with their horses and vardos.
Go straight across the cross paths, near to the far hedge line, and cross the stile in the hedge into the field beyond. Follow the field path with the hedge to your right, pass through a farm gate and a kissing gate a little further on. This brings you back to Hayes Lane. Turn right and follow the lane downhill (ignore the turning off to the right after a quarter mile). The lane exits through a farmyard, and out on to an approach lane into East Budleigh. Turn left back into the picturesque centre of the village with its long terraces of thatched cottages. The parish church is worth visiting, for its Raleigh associations and the excellent views from the churchyard.