Little Dart Valley Circular
There is plenty of parking at the car park across from the church of St James. There are toilets around the back of the village hall. If you need any provisions the village shop can be found by heading south west along the footpath past the village hall (to your left) that takes you past the school playing fields, turn right at the road and the shop is about 130 yards on your right. This will be the only shop that you will visit, however they are especially accommodating to walkers filling up their water bottles for free, selling warm tea and coffee, snacks and even plasters!
Before you start or at the end of the walk it is worth taking a moment to visit this peaceful church of St James. The first recorded priest of the church was Richard de Grangiis in 1279, only 52 years after the death of Genghis Khan and 20 years before the foundation of the Ottoman Empire. The present building is almost entirely a 15th century structure which was considerably embellished around 1840, the same year Queens Victoria married. Make sure to look out for the enigmatic lychgate’s small ‘lifting gate’.
- To start the walk head south east away from the church with the village hall to your right. After a 70 yards you will cross a road and walk down Blackwells Lane. Walk down to the end of Blackwells Lanes passing cottages to your left and through a metal gate, with a wooden pedestrian gate to its right, into a field. Still heading eastwards keep the hedge close to your right and cross to the other end of the field. Don’t forget to look left to take in the views across the Little Dart Valley. Pass through the metal gate and descend into a wooded area, over a brook crossed by a style, and follow the obvious path ascending through a fern and bracken to the edge of a field under an old oak tree.
- At this point you cross the field to pick up a lane at the other end of the field. The best way to locate the lane is to look up and see where the telephone lines cross the field and, following the path, head approximately 10 yards to the south of where the telephone lines intersect the field boundary. You have now found the lane. Head down the enclosed lane enjoying its peace and take every opportunity to glance through the gates to enjoy the views across the Little Dart Valley to the north and your first views of the ominous hills of Dartmoor to the south. At the end of the lane (approximately 600 yards from the start) you pass a small farmyard to your left and come to a metalled country road.
- At the road, turn right and head up a typically Devon sunken lane, with its high hedgerows. Keep going along this lane for approximately 400 yards until you reach the brow of the hill with a bridleway to the right and a road to the left signposted to East Leigh. This is Coopers Cross. Take a moment to walk left to the gate of the field looking north and look past the foreground hills to the hills far in the background…. they are Exmoor. You are truly in Mid Devon, with far glimpses of Exmoor to the north and views of Dartmoor to the south.
- Turn around and head into the leafy bridleway until you reach the other end and onto the B3042 road. Just before the road you will pass a small farmyard that often has chickens on this bridleway.
- You are now roughly halfway through your walk. You have the option to curtail your walk by turning right and heading directly back to Chawleigh along the B3042 for approximately 800 yards.
- If you wish to continue the walk then also head right along the road but only for 350 yards until you reach Fiddlecot Lane (un-signposted) to your left. Ignoring the signposted footpath head down the quiet metalled Fiddlecot Lane (to the left of the chevron), keeping an eye out for a perfectly formed ash tree to the right of the lane. After about 500 yards the lane abruptly veers to the left and there is a marked bridleway to the right. Follow the bridleway, again for about 500 yards, until you reach Shooting Lane at Southcott Cross. This bridleway can be uneven under foot, but the views across to Dartmoor to your left make up for it.
- Continue on at Southcott Cross to follow the metalled lane signposted to Southcott and Hilltown. You will soon turn right onto a footpath that is easy to miss, so start counting the telegraph poles (including the third one obscured by an oak tree) and turn right over a style just after the fourth pole. Cross the small field into a larger second field following the obvious path past an old corrugate iron shed and through a pleasingly spacious woodland copse. Keep going through a gate into a third field dropping away downhill to a gate at its far left side. This time you have views over the Taw Valley to your left and back to Chawleigh to your right, but keep an eye on your footing as this area can get muddy. The gate takes you into a small thicket of trees, across a bridged brook flanked on the left by bamboo and out via a second gate. You will now follow a red dirt vehicle track uphill emerging on the B3042 road besides Pheasantry Farm. The red fertile soil owes its colour to its high sandstone content laid down between 200 and 280 million years ago, when Britain was a desert environment at the start of the dinosaur age.
- Cross the road and follow the footpath sign keeping to the left of the field heading for a short secluded lane covered by a small canopy of trees. Head through the lane for about 40 yards until you reach the road B3096. Turn right and head into Chawleigh, passing Hollow Tree cottage to your left at Hollow Tree Cross. Take either the left hand road before the shop or the footpath (signed Toilets) past the shops to the car park. Either way you will know exactly where your car is parked as the church tower is visible throughout your approach to Chawleigh.
Thank you to Chawleigh Parish Council for providing the route.