Tipsy and tidal: walk around the South Hams
PUBLISHED: 16:20 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 17:03 23 January 2017
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne enjoys glorious South Hams views, superb birdwatching – and a path for the inebriated
Devon boasts some unusual place names and Aveton Gifford is one of them. A settlement since prehistoric times, the name comes from three sources: the River Avon on which the village lies, the Celtic word ‘ton’ meaning town and the Giffard family who held the manor here from the late 11th century, Walter Giffard having arrived in England with William the Conqueror. Pronunciation is a matter for some debate, some preferring to shorten the first bit to ‘Awton’.
In the raw months at the start of the year this route is bejewelled by snowdrops; enjoy them – but no picking please. The latter stretch, descending towards the estuary, is one of my favourite paths; listen for the haunting cry of curlew, a sound that should be bottled, and the rhythmic pulse of mute swans in flight.
And, vitally, watch the tides times. The tidal road to the village, once a cart track serving nearby farms, a limekiln and a mill, was called the ‘Stakes Road’ due to the posts that mark its passage. At low tide horses could wade across while people used stepping stones. Once the road was constructed with proper drainage it made for easier and safer passage – but it’s not always passable and serves to remind us that Nature is in charge.
Leave the car park at its bottom corner, where a ford crosses the lane. Turn right along the lane, the main body of the River Avon is beyond the grass to your left. Follow the lane for 100m to reach a cottage on the right with two nearby footpaths. The first, going sharply back on yourself, you don’t need. Take the second path, just beyond the wall surrounding the cottage, heading right across a field at 90˚ to the lane. Follow this path as the arrow directs to arrive at a boardwalk in just over 100m.
Here go left, hop across the stepping stones and continue beyond them to a three-way fingerpost. Keep straight on, entering under trees where the path turns right to follow a fence on the left. The clear, yellow-arrowed path goes over two stiles before climbing up to a third beyond which steps rise up to a surfaced track. Go right at the top of the steps along the track for about 150m.
At the brow of a gentle rise a footpath goes left on the Avon Estuary Walk, symbolised by a heron. Follow the direction of the fingerpost, up steps and through the field beyond with rising ground to the right and the boundary to the left. When the boundary on the left swings sharp left a yellow arrow on the corner post directs straight across the field, uphill. Pause as you climb to enjoy the views behind.
This line brings you to another arrowed post. Keep going, now with a hedge to your left again and still in the same field. In the top corner turn right with the boundary to reach a stile a few metres further along. Cross this and bear right across the field towards a substantial stile in the corner; note the intriguing, ivy-clad ruins over to the left.
At the stile the walk joins the curiously named Drunkards’ Hill, go left along this old byway pondering the origins of the name – it’s been called this since at least the mid 19th century.
Follow Drunkards’ Hill for over 500m until it deposits you on a lane. Turn left, following the lane through a pretty hamlet and passing Foxhole Cottage. Climb breathily onwards; the lane trudges uphill for almost ½ mile until you pass Glebe Barn and Old Glebe. A few bends bring you to the buildings of Easton and opposite its main entrance a footpath goes left off the lane into a field. Cross the field towards the tallest telegraph pole in the top boundary, 150m away, beneath which a lovely, old fashioned, metal kissing gate leads out to the lane (I hope it hasn’t been replaced!).
Go right and in about 50m fork left at Bowls Cross, heading for Bigbury. In 220m the lane bends left, soon passing the imposing gateposts of the church, their grandeur softened by ferns and wall pennywort. The lane does a sharp right bend and within 100m, opposite the main entrance of Bigbury Court, a footpath goes left off the lane, up stone steps to a fingerpost.
At the top of the steps ignore the direction of the fingerpost as the path has been unofficially re-routed. Instead, follow the right-hand boundary round the field, entering a second field through a gap not far from houses (to the right). Continue beside the right-hand boundary in this second field, following the perimeter for 500m from the steps until you reach access onto the lane beside a substantial three-way fingerpost.
Here, stay in the field and go left, rejoining the Avon Estuary Walk signed towards Milburn Orchard, 1½ miles away. This clear path crosses the field at 90˚ to the lane to reach a stile with a well-trodden path beyond – there are glimpses of the estuary down to the right. Follow the path as it winds into the trees of Doctor’s Wood. It emerges from the trees and rises up to a wooden kissing gate. After this turn left and follow the fence on the left, walking high above the estuary. When the fence swings sharp left keep straight ahead to gates about 50m away.
Go through the most right-hand of the gates. Beyond here the path starts to descend towards the estuary. Another kissing gate and the view opens up even more; the walking is wonderful along this lofty stretch.
As the left-hand hedge bends left keep straight ahead, descending across the field, estuary down to the right and Aveton Gifford with its 15th century bridge way off in the distance.
This line leads to a stile, continue beyond it as before; if your left leg shorter than the right you’ll feel better. Keep following the well-trodden path over stiles until you reach one beneath a tree with a slithery path beyond it leading to steps down to the edge of the estuary.
Hopefully you’ve judged the tide correctly so you can skirt across the back of the mud, passing attractive water gardens on the left, to reach a fingerpost by an information board.
Go through the gate and turn right along the tidal road, redolent of the Susan Hill novel Woman in Black. Be reassured: there is no Eel Marsh House hereabouts but over to the left there are remains of the old limekiln. Further along the road passes under the shadow of cliffs to the left, trees clinging on precariously. In just over 1km (0.7 miles) you reach the entrance to your car park.
Next month we head for Great Torrington
Start point and parking: Car park near roundabout on edge of Aveton Gifford. Grid ref: SX691472. Nearby postcode: TQ7 4JL
Directions to start: Aveton Gifford is on the A379 in South Devon, nine miles south-east of Ivybridge
Public transport: Buses call on Aveton Gifford – see travelinesw.com
Map: OS Explorer OL20, South Devon, Brixham to Newton Ferrers 1:25 000
Exertion: Moderate but with some longish ascents
Toilets: Near Aveton Gifford post office and shop in centre of village
Distance: almost 4¼ miles/6.8km
Terrain: Footpaths, tracks and quiet lanes. It WILL be wet and muddy so wellies advisable – the lane stretches give respite. At the time of writing there were many stiles (Pandora managed) but these may be replaced by kissing gates in due course
Dog friendliness: Good, but livestock may be grazing
Refreshments: Fisherman’s Rest, Aveton Gifford (01548 550284) and the village shop for chocolate supplies, 01548 550996
** Important** This fabulous walk ends along a tidal road which is impassable at times, so check the tide details on the website (aveton-gifford.co.uk/local-info/weather-tides-surf) before starting out and allow yourself enough time to cover the distance so that you are finishing the walk well away from the time of high tide