A fresh cold day with a dilute blue sky over the mid-Devon woods and fields. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The little Tarka Line train rattled away north from Morchard Road station into Henry Williamson country. I was glad to swap the rush of lorries on the Barnstaple road for the call and response of ewes and their new-born lambs in the steep green fields. The farmer had been deep ploughing around Oakview; I stumbled among the ruts, and came down to Middle Yeo Farm with boots as heavy as the Emperor of China’s famed iron shoes.
Beyond Old Mill I threaded a resinous pine plantation and took the stony lane up to Zeal Monachorum, where a feeble spring sun was shining on the thatched roofs and thick cob walls. The village lay tightly stretched along its ridge-top, the sloping lanes full of sparrow twitter and the cooing of ring doves. In the rough lane down to Tucking Mill Bridge, a robin gripped a hawthorn twig six feet away in the hedge and sang quite unafraid into my face. The old tucking or cloth-fulling mill lay among daffodils. and periwinkles just above the two-arched bridge, its tin roof and timbers sliding into a green ruin, the double hoop of the mill wheel still attached to the outside wall.
In the fields at Oak Tree Farm two black-faced lambs bounded for safety in the hedge, their mother’s cracked bellow of a call as throaty and querulous as a gin-soaked duchess. ‘Come hyyyaaaah!’ The farmer at Lower Thorne found me fumbling with a tricky horse-proof gate. ‘Pull it up! If you were a proper walker,’ he teased in a gentle Devon burr, ‘you’d have known that!’ How long had he lived here? ‘Oh, about seventy years. See that old house?’ He pointed at a beautiful thatched cottage across the fields. ‘Lammacott – I was born in that house, so I haven’t travelled far.’
Up at Down St Mary, another ridge-top village, I admired the tympanum carved over the south door of St Mary’s Church, a calmly smiling figure assailed by demonic beasts with palm-frond tails. Seven hundred years old? Eight hundred? The drama, the vigour and humour of the work shine through, now as then – a contact with the medieval stonemason as warm and direct as a handshake across the centuries.
Start: Morchard Road station, EX17 5LR (OS ref SS 750051)
Getting there: Rail (thetrainline.com; railcard.co.uk) to Morchard Road.
Road: Morchard Road station is between Copplestone and Lapford on A377 Crediton-Barnstaple road.
Walk: (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 113): From station cross A377; take B3220 (‘Winkleigh’). In 300m, left through gate (747051, yellow arrow/YA) up Ellicombe Farm drive. Don’t fork left to Ellicombe House. By entrance pillars to red brick house, left through gate (745050, YA); follow fence round to right. Pass house; continue along hedge; through kissing gate to right of tin shed (744050). Right through metal gate (YA); immediately left through another metal gate (YA). Pass a tree (ignore gate on skyline to right here); keep ahead up bottom of shallow valley, rising to go through gate at far end (741049). Left (YA); over stile into lane.
Left for 200m; right up steps, over stile (742047). Down left-hand hedge; cross stile and turn left (741047, YA) along hedge. At end of field through gate (741045); right (YA) along irregular edge of field for 400m, with Oakview house on your left. At end of field, right over stile (737045, YA) over stream and stile beyond. Half left across field to cross 2 stiles in far top left corner (737046, YAs). In 30m, left over stile (YA); follow hedge to Middle Yeo Farm lane (733046). Left to road (733045). Right downhill. Just before bridge at The Old Mill, left through gate (732044, fingerpost), and follow YAs and stiles with river on right for ½ mile. At end of plantation, turn right across river by tall footbridge (726039); follow stony lane opposite uphill to road in Zeal Monachorum (721041).
Left; at phone box by church, left downhill (720040, ‘Bow’). At foot of slope left along ‘No Through Road’ (720038; ‘The Waie Inn’) past Waie Inn and on downhill to cross Tucking Mill Bridge (724035). Right (‘Bridleway’). At cottage, left (YA); in 20m, left up track. In 100m at field entrance, bear left and follow inside edge of wood to cross stile (725034, YA). Cross field; through gates; follow hedge on your right. In 200m, at bottom of dip, right over stile and through gate (729034, YAs); left along hedge, cross stream and go through gate (731033, fingerpost). Cross field, aiming for left-hand of 2 trees ahead. Through gate into lane (733033).
Ignore footpath fingerpost pointing right along lane; go through gate to right of Merrifield drive; diagonally right across field; through gate on far side (735031, YA). Left with hedge on left; at far end of field, descend to go through kissing gate (YA) and cross stream in dell (738032). Keep hedge on right to reach gate into lane at Lower Thorne (741032). Left; in 20m, sharp right (fingerpost) through several gates and farmyard. Continue on path across fields (YAs). In dip, through wood (744032), crossing stream and bearing left downhill to stile. Cross field to bridleway by cottage (736033). Left for ½ mile to road (741040); right uphill through Down St Mary.
Pass church (743045) and on (‘Morchard Road’). In 150m, left over stile (744046, YA, fingerpost). Follow right-hand hedge, then centre of long field downhill to two neighbouring metal and wooden gates. Turn right through wooden gate (744050); retrace steps to Morchard Road station.
Lunch/accommodation: Waie Inn, Zeal Monachorum (01363-82348; waieinn.co.uk); Devonshire Dumpling, Morchard Road (01363-85102; devonshiredumpling.com)
‘Tarka Line Walks’ by Peter Craske (Crimson Publishing) – 60 walks in the locality.
Exmoor Walking Festival: 27 April-6 May (exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk)
Info: Exeter TIC (01392-665700)
visitdevon.co.uk vistengland.com www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk
Click on Facebook “Like” link to share this walk with Facebook friends.