*East Devon: Harpford Wood and River Otter (Circular) 5 miles - O/S Explorer 115
Can double its length if you link it to the Ottery St Mary trail blog, or a mile shorter if you miss out the river section. All will be explained.
1967 saw the closure of the railway branch line to Sidmouth. The scar it left through Bowd Woods (officially Harpford Woods} has healed nicely to a lovely bridlepath through tall pines. Well worth a walk on a pleasant day with decent pubs at both Bowd and Tipton St. John. A reason to go now (late February 2021) is to see the startling Scarlet Elf Caps growing there. A fungus and first sighting for me.
Park at the layby just above the Bowd Inn on the A3502. (It’s on the left just after you crest the long hill from Newton Poppleford toward Sidmouth.) Walk toward the Bowd Inn, turning left onto the road to Tipton St. John. Just beyond a B&B on your left, there’s a drive, also on your left, marked private. Just within it you'll see gates to two paths.
Ignore the one on the left signposted to Harpford and take the wider track to its right. This leads to Tipton St John and is the bed of the old railway track. Although the trees here are mainly pine it isn’t regimented like nearby plantations, and that, plus the sheer size and age of them, gives the place bags of atmosphere.
Eventually the wood emerges to fields on the right and stables on the left with keep out, get out, watch it CCTV watching you grrrr, signs (or something like that). The horses are lovely.
Not long after, you come to a lane. You’ve got a choice here: 1. Follow the road right to Tipton St John and then stroll back along the river Otter to Harpford, or, 2. Go left directly to Harpford. How are your feet feeling? There’s only a mile in it.
Assuming you’ve taken the former because you fancy a longer walk and pint at The Golden Lion (Good food and Ales, as has the the Bowd Inn) keep on until a T Junction. Go left. This’ll bring you to the pub and, just beyond, Tipton Garage that always has an interesting selection of vintage cars. Beyond that, turn left onto a footpath immediately after you’ve crossed the bridge over the river Otter (If you're linking this to the Ottery St. Mary walk, this is where it connects). Keeping the river to your left, simply follow it to Harpford and enjoy the views . A footbridge just before the village takes you across and into the village.
Pass the lovely village church and turn left, then right into Knapps Lane. (If you chose option 1 to miss out Tipton St John and the river, Knapps Lane is on your left opposite the church on your right.) A short way up, you’ll find a footpath sign pointing right, marked to Bowd. Follow it, ignoring a gate and footpath to your left. This becomes a narrow path, often muddy and strewn with fallen trees. Take care! (If you prefer to avoid this section, the gate and path I told you to ignore will bring you back to the old railway bed you came down.). This is my favourite section with a stream cut deep to your right. There’s even a small waterfall to enjoy.
After the small waterfall, you’ll come to a fork. A footpath marker points left but go right and continue to follow the stream. Another fork further along, ditto, keeping the stream to your right. This is where we came across those amazing scarlet elf caps. Winter fungus looking like peeling cricket balls.
Eventually you come to another footpath sign. To your right there’s a dicey looking bridge over the stream. Luckily, you don’t want that. Follow the footpath away from the stream and back to the Bowd Inn. If you’re a carvery fan, this is the place for you. With outside play areas, it’s also great for kids. So my grandkids' tell me.