25. East Devon: *Ottery St Mary - Otter River (Circular) - 6 miles - OS Explorer 115
A lovely walk through copses, fields, tracks and riverside. Walk can be extended to 7.5 miles if you include Tipton St John, and it also links with the Harpford Wood trail (no. 29, if you're itchy for more.
Start the walk at St Saviours Bridge (B3174) over the Otter in Ottery St Mary. From the western end of the bridge, looking south toward Tipton St John, you’ll see a footbridge and a ‘Coleridge Link’ footpath marker pointing right and left. To the right leads to the footbridge. Take the left option along a raised bank.
As you pass the footbridge to your right, the path begins to curve toward the river and a dirt path dips away to your left. Follow this and, where you come across diverging paths, keep right. You'll end up in a field, then through a metal gate back into woods above the river. The gate also has the Coleridge Link symbol, which proves he wasn't always stuck at home scribbling epic poems.
This takes you back into the trees with the river below to your right. A curious cave on your left had a couple of friendly drinkers in when I passed. It's only a small affair but who knows, it may have been the inspiration for 'Caverns measureless to man,' from Kubla Khan. I asked the drinkers but couldn't quite catch the something ending in '- off.'
The path soon comes to another gate, through which you go left alongside a field fenced off with barbed wire. Can be very muddy. At the end, it diverges. To the right it follows the river. Go left instead, up a
farm track that emerges at Sidmouth Road. Across the road, dog-legged to your right, is a lane.
Up this lane, passing the drive to Knightstone Farm on your left, you'll shortly come to a footpath sign on your right by a farm gate. There are two options. Take the left one. This path may be overgrown and impossible to see, so take note of the direction marker at each gate or stile. Lovely rolling country here. Eventually you’ll see Cawley’s Farm ahead. Head diagonally left to the far corner of this field, to a gate onto a lane.
Go left here for a few metres until you see a gate and footpath sign on your right. Follow this past farm buildings onto a curious wood overlooking Putt’s Farm and its impressively tended grounds. The wood shows signs of these green fingers intruding, with garden shrubs amongst the wild.
Emerging to a gate and through to a field, again take note of the direction marker if the path isn’t obvious. It’ll bring you to yet another gate, this time to a rutted farm track just below Waxway House.
Turn right. This track leads to a field and, ultimately, to a yard and farm buildings. Entering the yard and keeping the buildings to your left, you’ll see a footpath sign directly ahead. Follow it and, a short distance later where it diverges, turn right toward Lancercombe Farm.This brings you back to Sidmouth Road. Turn right. A few meters along, across the road, there’s a footpath sign. Take this to the River Otter.
You're on the less trampled side of the river here. A great spot to get out the corned beef, mayo and squashed chip sandwiches and gawp at the herons, ducks and cormorants doing their stuff. The older I get, the more they take my attention. Maybe I’m a closet twitcher? If you prefer doggies, there's an endless parade on the opposite bank to enjoy.
When ready, turn south, keeping the river to your right and follow the path to Baters storage yard and on to an old mill, semi derelict and charming.
Before then mill, just after Bater's yard, you'll hear a thrashing sound and see a little brick engine house over a leat. Rather than the water turning a wheel, it turns a massive screw. More impressive than a circuit board, it's worth a peek.
At the mill, go through the gate and across the yard to a footbridge at the far end. This takes you across the river, which you can follow back (north) for about 1.5 miles to Ottery and your car.
If, on the other hand, you fed the ducks your delicious squashed chip sarnies and are hungry, you could ignore the footbridge, stay on the east side of the river and soldier on to the Golden Lion at Tipton St. John. A fine, well run pub. It'll add about a mile and a half to your total journey. To get back to Ottery from here, turn left when you leave the pub, passing a garage on your left with vintage cars (another treat), before crossing a bridge over the river. Further along, past the school and a road to West Hill, you'll see the footpath to your right leading to the opposite bank of the Otter. That's your way back to Ottery St. Mary. Don't attempt to walk back on the Mill side of the river, it doesn't go all the way.
If you have time check out Ottery St Mary Church. It is a miniature version of Exeter Cathedral. But where Exeter Cathedral has lost its stumpy steeples on the towers, Ottery has kept its. I think they look rather good and Exeter should restore theirs. My cousin, a lovely - in that abrasive way of outdoor men - was the head mason at Lincoln Cathedral for decades. On his retirement he did some work on Exeter Cathedral and, after a few beers we'd argue that point. He died recently. I'll miss him.