Lee House: Valley of Rocks to Heddon’s Mouth
This walk has had my name on it for a while now and thanks (?) to lockdown I had loads of time and bags of energy to complete it! I did attempt it a couple of years ago but managed to get lost, somewhere around Woody Bay – had I persevered then I would have found that I was just minutes from the path I needed to take to salvation!
If you are familiar with Lynton & Lynmouth you will understand that to walk anywhere around here requires a degree of fitness and stamina. I thought I possessed a little of both attributes, but when completing a (to me anyway) pretty substantial distance I started to think again. I don’t believe that there is anywhere locally that might be considered flat! The beautifully level and sandy beaches of Woolacombe and Saunton Sands were in my thoughts as I persevered with Exmoor’s wonderfully craggy, but mostly uphill paths. Of course, what goes up must come down, right? Why was it that I seemed to spend more time climbing uphill than down?
If I had known of the staggeringly beautiful landscape and phenomenal coastal views a couple of years ago, I would have persisted; this stretch of the South West Coast Path surely has be one of the most impressive and well worth the effort.
Starting at the Valley of Rocks then, take the tarmacked road up the hill towards Lee Abbey then, an easy, brisk walk down to Lee Bay. Don’t go down to the beach, but take the gated path, on the left, next to the little house. The path is rocky but easily passable, very shortly you’ll come across a narrow wooden footbridge – cross this and keep right, working your way up the hill and along towards the ridge at the top where the view of Lee Bay is much better.
A fallen tree was laying across the path – very easy to climb over but think it has been there a while.
You will spot a 4-way signpost – surely very useful to some, I followed the direction for America!
The path continues along, beneath a canopy of gnarled, moss-covered trees, before dropping down to a small waterfall – the water is shallow enough to cross without any dramas. Continuing up the other side and along the path, it’s at this point that the coastline comes into view; you can understand how smugglers were reputedly rife along here, with the secluded coves and darkly shadowed inlets, though how they got their contraband up the cliffs must have, in itself been death-defying. Up above, the safe path winds along – there’s an ideal spot for a quick break; flat, tiered rocks jut out from the hillside and are perfect to sit upon to take in the views. There is another of these rest points a little further along.
A final push along the path, which at this point has become very open and you’re at the top of Hedden’s Mouth. Another set of tiered rocks and ledges afford a safe, wide viewpoint across the channel but also down through the valley. From the top the small inlet is tiny, but you get a bird’s eye view of the rock formations and the relics of the 19th century lime kiln at the mouth of the bay. Although limestone was quarried locally, larger quantities were shipped from nearby South Wales. The lime was used to fertilise the acidic soil of Exmoor and this kiln was restored in 1982 and a new boulder wall, built in 1991, now protects the kiln at high tides and during storms.
The last leg of the walk takes you down an open but twisting path to the floor of the valley. At the bottom, turn let to explore the valley and towards Hunters Inn, a great place to stop for refreshment. Or turn right and follow the path to Hedden’s Mouth. Incidentally, the path from the car park at Hunter Inn, down to the lime kiln is suitable for wheelchair users.
On the beach, the water from the Hedden River ripples down in between large boulders and the whole area is very peaceful. Platforms of flat, smooth rocks lend themselves to more resting places, perfect for eating a packed lunch.
Once you’ve had your fill of this rugged but very prepossessing area you can trek back up the hillside and along to Lee Bay or take the short walk to the Inn, where you can call a taxi from!
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