The more I wander around Devon, the more I realise that seemingly innocuous places of OS maps almost always hold something wonderful. Last Sunday, we chose an unassuming patch of woodland on the very edge of the Blackdown Hills AONB. I suppose the designation should give it away really – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but jeez, half the country seems to hold such a title.
The 10k (6 mile) circular walk doesn’t sound much on paper. It goes mainly through plantation and then spend a reasonable stretch on a country lane but my god, did it deliver a whole lot more than that. It’s got beech trees on precipitous slopes, a rare apple tree, a pause to watch gliders take off up close and a section of breathtaking views. Not bad for an innocuous woodland wander.
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The car park is small and if it’s full, keep driving up the hill and there’s another on the right hand side a short way up.
From the Rhododendron Wood car park, take the bridleway that starts from the back corner and you’ll immediately find yourself in a pretty magnificent patch of forest. After just five minutes of walking, all I could hear was birdsong.
I’m awful at identifying birds from their song alone so if you know who this rather vocal fellow is then let me know in the comments!
This bridleway has a confusing moment when it splits after 1.4 km. Follow the flat path straight ahead, no matter how intrigued you get by the path that heads upwards through the trees. When you reach the road, cross straight over and head up the footpath through more forest until it reaches a very obvious woodland t-junction. Turn right, up the hill and follow the path until you reach another t-junction with baby confiners in a plantation ahead.
If you temporarily forget how to read a map and turn right (ahem, I obviously didn’t do this), you’ll soon end up at a trig point. If this is you, turn around. Instead of making that error, turn left and cross the upcoming boundary line into the woods ahead. There’s a footpath sign here to follow too. We managed to go wrong a second time by following the boundary line southeast by mistake. Either way, you’ll end up on the same track because if you follow the footpath, it will meet a wide track which you’ll turn right onto and follow, taking you across Newcombe Common.
The track turns into a footpath which will spit you out on a road. It’s a lane that had some traffic when we walked it on a Sunday but not too much. It might not be a road you’d want to take small children on, in which case you can take the bridleway just a short way down and on the right hand side, this will lead you to the first bridleway and the car. For those who wish to continue, this lane section is 2.3 km long.
Halfway down the lane you’ll come to Golden Lane Cross, recognisable by the ‘Sheldon’ village sign down the road to the left. On the corner here, you’ll find an old Tom Putts apple tree. No, I don’t have a keen eye for apple varieties, there’s a charming sign telling you what it is and why you might want to care.
At the end of the road section, you’ll come to the Devon and Somerset Gliding Club on your right hand side. Follow this entrance lane all the way until you reach the field. You can’t miss it, it’s full of…well….gliders.
Now, I hadn’t chosen this route because it passed through the gliding club, it hadn’t even occurred to me that anyone would even be there during this Weird Semi-Lockdown Time. However, it being a frankly glorious day and gliding being a rather social distancing-friendly pursuit, the club was in full swing.
We meandered along the club road and stopped to see if any would take off as there were already a few in the sky, gently circling under clouds in hope of gaining altitude. Turning around, we saw a glider streaming down straight towards us, only seemingly at the last moment to steer away and land with a gentle bump onto the field.
A great whoosh and another glider took off, pulled along the grass by a lengthy cable before rising into the air within what looked like ten metres. It flew up and up, releasing the cable as the unseen anchor (transpiring to be a tractor) was almost vertically below it.
We dilly-dallied on the airfield for an hour or so, chatting over a very healthy 6 metres with a club member who explained how gliding worked, how the club owned the field and what a wonderful community they had there with everyone helping out. I must admit, as soon as this situation is over, I’m heading straight there for a go.
So, if you pick a nice day for a walk, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll come across some gliders hurling themselves into the sky in search of thermals.
The footpath passes the club buildings and continues on along the boundary line of the field. If you’re hungry, walk until you find an extraordinary memorial bench to the skilled glider pilot, Mark Wright, with an equally extraordinary view. The perfect place for cracking open the thermos and the sandwich bags and sitting in peace with gliders swooping across the skies above.
Afterwards, carry on following the boundary line west. You’ll soon see a bridleway seductively pointing down to the left – I took this one by mistake. Instead, if you follow the boundary line to the end of the field, it will lead you into a woodland and curve up to the north. However, if you’re too heavily seduced by the first, like I was, you can follow it and get incredible views. It’ll split eventually, with the straight on path leading you properly astray and an unofficial but well-trod path branching upwards to the right. This path will lead you to the path you should be on.
However you choose to get there, the bridleway out the back of the gliding field winds up to the road with a car park on through a peaceful woodland. If you parked at Rhododendron Wood, turn left down the road and the car park will be on your right. If it was full and you parked up the hill, you’ll already be standing next to your car.
Distance: 9.6 km
Time Taken: 3.5 hours including a lot of stoppage
Map Used: 115 Ordnance Survey
Looking for other Devon walking routes? Check out this beautiful circular walk from Kennick Reservoir to Lustleigh.