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Five fantastic family friendly walks in Devon and Cornwall

Monday, 18 March 2019

Bolt Tail. © Jen and Sim Benson.

With its relatively warm climate, lengthy coastline and atmospheric moorland, the West Country is packed with great walks for families of all ages. Jen and Sim Benson, parents to two free-range children and authors of Day Walks in Devon and Day Walks in Cornwall, as well as the National Trust book Amazing Family Adventures, pick five of their favourites.

1.    Branscombe, Devon

Start/finish: Branscombe Sea Front car park, SY206881
Distance: 2 miles/3.5km
Challenge level: Moderate

Branscombe Marsh. © Jen and Sim Benson.

Nestled at the meeting place of several steep combes, Branscombe – claimed to be the longest village in the country – is a delightful place to explore. Cob and thatch cottages line the narrow lanes that lead down to the sea at Branscombe Mouth. Here the peaceful pebble beach, dotted with interesting boats and lobster pots, is always popular with children.

It’s a short, easy walk from the car park to the beach. Turn left before you reach the sea and East Cliff rises invitingly before you, like a grassy mountain. Climbing the many steps and paths brings you to the open summit of Beer Head and fantastic views of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose cliffs tell the story of 185 million years of the Earth’s history. Look out for buzzards wheeling overhead and dolphins playing in the waves far below.

From here you can turn around and fly all the way back down the way you came or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, drop down to South West Coast Path and amble through the remote tangle of the undercliffs at Under Hooken, eventually emerging back onto the beach at Branscombe.

2.    Bolt Tail, Devon

Start/finish: Outer Hope car park, TQ7 3HJ
Distance: 2.3 miles/3.7km
Difficulty: Easy

Hope Cove from Bolt Tail. © Jen and Sim Benson.

The twin villages of Outer Hope and Inner Hope lie at the westernmost reaches of the South Hams. This rugged, wave-washed stretch of coastline, so different from smart Salcombe, just a few miles to the east, has seen many shipwrecks over the centuries. Following the South West Coast Path south from Outer Hope takes you past the sheltered inlet of Hope Cove, an exciting beach to explore when the tide is out. Continuing along the coast path, up a narrow path that edges the sea, brings you to Bolt Tail, a remote promontory and the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Detour around the Tail before making an enjoyable loop of the grassy headland, turning left at SX 673 391 and heading inland along a footpath. On reaching the outskirts of Inner Hope, either drop down through the village or bear left, wandering through trees to join your outward path above Hope Cove.

For a slightly longer walk, approaching 5 miles, continue along the South West Coast Path to Bolberry Down, turning left at SX 688 385 and following a quiet lane north through Bolberry village to reach fields, turning left to follow a footpath back to Outer Hope.

3.    Hound Tor, Devon

Start/finish: Hound Tor car park, SX 740 792
Distance: 1.9 miles/3km
Difficulty: Easy

Dartmoor ponies near Smallacombe Rocks. © Jen and Sim Benson.

One of Dartmoor’s more popular tors, particularly with families, Hound Tor rises on the moor’s eastern edge, with great views of neighbouring Haytor rocks, the Teign valley and across to the windswept north moor. From the car park at the foot of the tor, inviting paths lead up to the imposing stacked rocks, a great motivator for kids of all ages. There’s lots to explore at the rocks themselves and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable place to spend an afternoon, picnicking, bouldering or making one of the easier ascents right to the top of the main rocks.

Continuing over the hill in a south-easterly direction brings you to the ruined medieval village of Hundatora. Excavated in the 1960s and 1970s, there are four Dartmoor longhouses and several smaller buildings, dating from the thirteenth century. Our children love to explore here, imagining how the houses might have looked long ago.

From the village climb back up the hill to Hound Tor, following one of the many paths that wind around or through the rocks. Or, for a longer walk, head to Haytor by following the obvious bridleway eastwards. Follow this down to Becka Brook, crossing via a traditional granite clapper bridge and continuing up to the ridge at Smallacombe Rocks. Bearing right here brings you to the rocks, quarries and disused granite tramway at Haytor.

4.    Rame Head, Cornwall

Start/finish: Rame Head car park, PL10 1LH
Distance: 2 miles/3.3km
Difficulty: Easy

Views from Rame Head. © Jen and Sim Benson.

Sometimes referred to as Cornwall’s forgotten corner, the Rame peninsula lies at the county’s south-eastern limits, just across the Tamar estuary from Devon. A designated AONB, rolling fields and grassland stretch across an interior edged with sandy beaches, wooded creeks and coastal villages. Rame Head, at the peninsula’s south-western tip, has a wonderful wildness about it, flung out into the Channel towards the Eddystone lighthouse, visible on a clear day some 9 miles to the south. The high headland here has long been used as a lookout point and echoes of millennia of human activity can be seen etched into the hillside, from Iron Age ramparts to the scars of more recent conflicts. 

This short but enjoyable loop follows the South West Coast Path in an anticlockwise direction from the start, climbing the steep, stepped path at halfway to explore St Michael’s Chapel, dating from the late fourteenth century. This is a great place to spot birds of prey, especially in autumn, when hobbies, merlins, peregrines, hen and marsh harriers hunt over the cliffs and grasslands. From the Chapel the walk descends to Ramehead Common, following the coast path along the western edge of the peninsula, a great vantage point from which to watch the many boats coming and going in Plymouth Sound.

5.    Chapel Porth

Start/finish: Chapel Porth car park (National Trust), SW 698 495
Distance: 2.5 miles/4km
Difficulty: Moderate

Caves at Chapel Porth. © Jen and Sim Benson.

Nestled on the rugged north coast of Cornwall, within a former mining landscape, Chapel Porth is a secluded beach, popular with locals. Dotted with rocky stacks for clambering and intriguing caves to explore it’s easy to spend the day here, and there’s a café for refreshments, too. At low tide you can spot the boiler of the steamer SS Eltham, wrecked in a storm in 1928. 
From the start our walk heads south-east, following the steep-sided valley of Chapel Coombe as it rises gently inland, passing Charlotte United engine house, one of many remnants of the area’s lengthy mining history.

The path eventually brings you to a quiet road at Towan Cross; turn right here and follow it as far as the Victory pub, turning right again on a bridleway to Porthtowan, eventually reaching the beach. Pick up the South West Coast Path here and follow it north, up and over the summit of Mulgram Hill, taking in the fine coastal views as you go. The wide track that descends from here back to Chapel Porth was built in 1944 by American troops stationed at St Agnes Head and is known locally as the American Road.


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