- Start: Marine Drive, Woolacombe (grid ref SS455438)
- End: Saunton Sands
- Country: England
- County: Devon
- Type: Beach
- Nearest pub: Café and facilities available at Putsborough, ‘Blue Groove’ in Croyde and various traditional country pubs, Saunton Sands beach café or Saunton Sands Hotel; ‘At One’ restaurant in Braunton for regularly changing menu of fine local produce
- Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 139 or Landranger 180
- Difficulty: Medium
Alex Green completes the second leg of a walk along the South West Coast Path, from Woolacombe to Saunton in North Devon
Continuing along the South West Coast Path, my partner, Andrew, and I were aware that a more fertile and thus densely populated stretch between Woolacombe and Saunton lay ahead. This area is renowned for its surf, sand and an internationally recognised UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at Braunton Burrows thats rich with wildlife.
Its also far less challenging than other sections of Coast Path, so with an extra spring in our step we planned to cover more ground. This is easier said than done when theres three miles of golden sand to tempt you off course.
As we ambled along Marine Drive, picking up the Coast Path leading out of Woolacombe, we gave in to temptation and took a path leading down to the beach. The steep slope of soft sand on the foreshore isnt easy to walk on so its best avoided when the tides high.
We were able to walk on the level sand near the waters edge and were soon back on track when we reached the other end of the beach at Putsborough. Here we stopped for refreshments before joining the path from the car park to walk the headland of Baggy Point.
A short way along, the view is stunning looking back towards Woolacombe and Morte Point. On this hot summers day, we resisted the temptation to dive in to the big expanse of blue sea below and continued our climb. Reaching the far end of the point, we saw that Lundy island hovering on the horizon was now visibly closer to the mainland. Further south the next great headland of Hartland Point juts out into the sea to form the north-western tip of the Devon coast.
Among the sheep grazing on the grassy headland we noticed a well-preserved example of a wreck post standing tall between the path and the sea. This was used to practise rescues from ships when the sea was too rough to launch a lifeboat. The life-saving crew would stay on land and launch a breeches buoy (a harness with a lifebelt) via a rope attached to the post, then pull the sailors to shore one by one.
Rounding the corner, the Coast Path becomes a flat stone surface making it suitable for mobility aids and pushchairs to access the headland. Passing a memorial stone to Henry Williamson, author of the well-known Tarka the Otter, the route soon merges with the village street in Croyde.
Avoiding the right turn marked for the Coast Path and Tarka Trail, we stopped for lunch and admired the pretty thatched cottages in Croyde. Halfway through the village, a public path led us to the far end of the beach and an example of a Second World War pillbox used by American troops training for D-Day.
Next came the first glimpse of Braunton Burrows, and an entirely different landscape presented itself. Braunton Burrows is at the centre of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Set behind Saunton Sands is the largest sand dune system in England and its home to around 500 species of flowering plant, rare birds and butterflies.
Whilst the human impact on the landscape is clearly evident, this extraordinary place remains sensitive to the natural beauty of the environment. With the help of its protected status, this special place can be accessed by all who choose to live here and to visit, for generations to come.
Start: Marine Drive, Woolacombe (grid ref SS455438)
Finish: Saunton Sands
Directions: The path is waymarked with the acorn symbols; simply keep the sea on your right and follow the signs
Maps: OS Explorer 139 or Landranger 180
Distance: 8 miles (shorter option to Croyde 5 miles; or an extra 6 miles to Braunton for a longer route around the Burrows)
Time: 5 hours
Public transport:: First North Devon Service 308 runs between Croyde, Saunton (bus stop a short way past the hotel) and Braunton. Continue to Barnstaple for First Great Western trains to Exeter. Bus service 303 or 31 runs between Braunton and Woolacombe. www.travelinesw.com; 0871 200 22 33
Parking: All-day parking on Marine Drive, Woolacombe, 2 low season 4.50 high
Refreshments: Caf and facilities available at Putsborough, Blue Groove in Croyde and various traditional country pubs, Saunton Sands beach caf or Saunton Sands Hotel; At One restaurant in Braunton for regularly changing menu of fine local produce
Luggage carrying: www.luggagetransfers.co.uk
This section of Coast Path is managed by the National Trust at Baggy Point and the North Devon AONB and Biosphere Service.
Find out more about the
Biosphere Reserve at www.northdevonbiosphere.org.uk. Find out more about National Trust coastal sites in north Devon at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/morte.
For easy access routes and to download a pdf of Baggy Points accessible route map, visit www.southwestcoastpath.com insert Baggy Point in the search box.
The route links in with the Tarka Trail, a 180-mile route from the north coast to Dartmoor. For information about recreational routes in the area call Braunton Tourist information Centre on 01271 816400.
Similar walks can be found along the length of the South West Coast Path and can be searched by specific interest including wildlife, geology, heritage and culture: www.nationatrail.co.uk/southwest coastpath
The North Devon AONB is a stunning coastal area which is nationally protected for the beauty of its landscape. It is made up of several distinct landscapes, each with their own special habitats and geology with many of them receiving extra protection in their own right. The AONB contains many Sites of Special Scientific Interest including Braunton Burrows
This spectacular stretch, which covers some 66 square miles from the boundary of Exmoor National Park at Combe Martin to Marsland Mouth on the Cornish border, was designated as an AONB in 1959.