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A walk around Broadhembury and the Blackdown Hills

View to the hills surrounding the village (c)  Simone Stanbrook-Byrne
View to the hills surrounding the village (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

Broadhembury, with its thatched houses and soft colours, presents an enchantingly mellow face to the world, even in winter. Much of the village is still owned by the Drewe family (of Castle Drogo association), which helps to preserve the character of this village, nestled in the Blackdown Hills – an area designated an AONB in 1991.

It’s winter in Devon and gloopiness underfoot is to be expected, but although our walk encounters some muddy ways, it also follows well-surfaced paths and quiet lanes, giving respite. There’s the chance of a graceful and lofty overhead encounter on the airfield, and at the end of the outing the warm embrace of The Drewe Arms awaits.

Note: Country walks in winter can be deeply muddy in places – please be prepared: pack spare socks and a sense of humour.

Great British Life: Broadhembury Post Office is a good source of chocolate supplies. Most of the thatched cottages in the village are painted in this lovely mellow cream colour (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneBroadhembury Post Office is a good source of chocolate supplies. Most of the thatched cottages in the village are painted in this lovely mellow cream colour (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

1. Leave the Post Office with a good supply of chocolate and turn right along the road through the village, walking away from The Drewe Arms (for the moment). You pass a grassy triangle followed by The Old Bakery, over on your left and soon reach a bridge spanning the River Tale. Cross it, or negotiate the adjacent ford, and turn right along the road. This bends left within 50m, by a playground with some beautifully crafted facilities.

Stay on the road for 300m, and a short distance after Woodbine Cottage look for the footpath going left, over a stile. Follow the direction of the finger across the open field, and soon you’ll find yourself walking alongside the left-hand hedge, approaching a farmhouse and barn conversions.

Great British Life: Within the Blackdowns AONB, this bare-tree tapestry is a typical wintry landscape viewed from the path above the village (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneWithin the Blackdowns AONB, this bare-tree tapestry is a typical wintry landscape viewed from the path above the village (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

2. Pass through a gate and keep ahead on the well-trodden path, aiming to the left of the buildings.

The path reaches another gate level with the farmhouse; follow the path beyond until it arrives at another stile beside a fingerpost. Bear right in the field, alongside the right-hand hedge, approaching trees. Cross the stile into the copse and follow the clear path through trees, emerging from them via another stile.

Walk across the next field, bearing very slightly right towards the woodland opposite. When you get there you find a blue-arrowed stile that deposits you onto a crossing bridleway.

Great British Life: The bridleway is flanked by a gnarly tree boundary, ancient and upholstered with vegetation (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneThe bridleway is flanked by a gnarly tree boundary, ancient and upholstered with vegetation (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

3. Turn right, walking alongside an ancient, gnarly boundary on your right, with the trees that flank North Hill towering above to the left. Big views open up to the right as you continue.

The path passes through an occasional gate as it travels beneath trees and past gorse thickets – always in bloom, even in winter, for ‘when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season.’

Great British Life: Out for a family amble: the bridlepath runs alongside the airfield of the Devon & Somerset Gliding Club (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneOut for a family amble: the bridlepath runs alongside the airfield of the Devon & Somerset Gliding Club (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

4. Suddenly our way emerges onto the expanse of North Hill, passing beneath a lovely spreading beech tree beside a cautionary notice about walking on an airfield. Wear a tin hat and be ready to duck – and, more importantly, stick to the well-signed onward bridlepath (another comes in from the left here), walking alongside the right-hand fence. Don’t stray out onto the field.

Stay with the bridlepath, keeping straight on as the fence goes right, approaching slumbering gliders and caravans on the edge of the business area of the Devon and Somerset Gliding Club.

Great British Life: Slumbering gliders at the Devon & Somerset Gliding Club (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneSlumbering gliders at the Devon & Somerset Gliding Club (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

This stretch of the walk brought to mind an incident of my youth, when my parents had arranged to meet friends for a camping holiday. They arrived at the campsite and drove through it looking for their friends, surprised and delighted at the friendly waving from lots of people they didn’t know – blissfully unaware that they were driving along the grass runway where a light plane was trying to land.

Follow the bridleway as it heads past the caravans, then meanders through the buildings. The way is now surfaced. It bends left, then soon right, and leads from the gliding club to the road along a tree-lined avenue, where the Blackdown Hills Puppy and Dog Activity Park is over to the right.

Great British Life: Look out for this tree, bedecked with witch's broom (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneLook out for this tree, bedecked with witch's broom (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

5. When you reach the road, pleasingly named Golden Lane, turn right – and now look out for earthbound traffic. Within 200m another bridleway goes right. Take this, passing stables to the right and keeping ahead between fences, through an area of horseyculture. In just over 100m the track reaches gates. Turn left through a wooden bridleway gate and follow the path beyond, mostly downhill, with woodland sloping steeply down to the right. Winter light slants through the woodland, the path thick with the leaves of last autumn.

The way goes through a gate and just after this look out for a tree festooned with witch’s broom, an abnormality, sometimes caused by fungus or virus, which makes the tree’s shoots grow prolifically from a single point. It’s unlikely to kill the tree and makes a good nesting habitat.

The bridleway passes through an open field, still beside the right-hand fence, before entering beneath trees again. Keep going, passing through another gate. The conifers on the slope down to the right are, I believe, larches, our only deciduous conifer – I’m happy to be corrected if anyone knows better.

Stay on this bridleway until you reach the road.

Great British Life: The Parish Church is rather grand inside and embellished with stained glass (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneThe Parish Church is rather grand inside and embellished with stained glass (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

6. It’s now an easy, downhill and mud-free amble along the road, through lovely woodland, carpeted in autumn’s lingering colours. Traffic is sparse, but still keep an eye out. Also look out for the creative wrought-iron gates on the left near a bend, fashioned into a spider’s web.

At Lane End Cross keep on towards Broadhembury – spot the intrepid thatched cat, balancing on the roof ridge nearby.

When you reach the village pop into the church, a rather grand place, warmed by exuberant stained glass and beautifully kept – though the rogue apostrophe on one of the donations boards could do with amendment!

The Drewe Arms is just a few steps further, an enticingly old, 16th century hostelry with old wood-panelled walls and an excellent contemporary menu. It’s Christmas. Indulge.

Great British Life: A warm fireside and conviviality awaits at The Drewe Arms (c) Simone Stanbrook-ByrneA warm fireside and conviviality awaits at The Drewe Arms (c) Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

Compass Points

Start point & parking: on-road in the village, considerately. Grid ref: ST101048; nearby postcode: EX14 3ND

Map: OS Explorer 115 Exmouth & Sidmouth, 1:25 000 (this scale shows greater detail than the map printed here)

Distance: almost 5 miles

Terrain: Field and woodland paths, some rough, some well-surfaced; quiet lanes away from mud

Exertion: moderate – it is steadily uphill between the village and the airfield

Dog data: animals grazing, stiles, road walking. The pub welcomes dogs

Refreshments: The Drewe Arms, Broadhembury, EX14 3NF (01404 841267); Broadhembury PO for chocolate. Four miles away is the lovely café at Heron Farm, Weston, EX14 3NZ (01404 46208)

4 things to do while you’re in the area

1: Unleash your inner pilot. The Devon and Somerset Gliding Club offers taster sessions for those who have the nerve to take off.

2: Heron Farm Vineyard is about four miles away and has an excellent café, where you can try their award-winning wines.

3: Honiton is just five miles away and bristles with independent and antique shops.

4: Hembury Fort is an Iron Age hillfort, with a footpath leading up onto it, just outside Broadhembury. It can be accessed off the road to Honiton. Climb through the Iron Age into Neolithic times...

Look out for:

Light aircraft!

Good views

Historic church

Thatched cat

1000-mile walk

Simone has written a selection of West Country guides including Circular Walks in East Devon. During 2023 she is walking 1000 miles to raise funds for Devon Wildlife Trust. If you’d like to help support this charity and the Big Walk, please visit: justgiving.com/page/simone-stanbrook-byrne-1678009505575



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