Loxdown Cross is now just a picnic site off the A386 mid way between Bideford and Torrington, but it hides a legacy of travel from pre-history to the present day.
Long before there was any pathway up the valley of the Torridge, when the river meandered through dense forest and swamp where boats couldn’t reach beyond the tideway at Weare Giffard and pack-bearing animals couldn’t make their way through the mud and undergrowth, travellers from Bideford used tracks over the hills to trade with the inland town of Torrington.
The western route passed along high ground through Monkleigh where it joined an east-west route linking the ecclesiastical centres of Hartland and Barnstaple with the priory at Frithelstock. From Monkleigh a trail led down to the Torridge, using the valley of a little stream to make a way down the cliffs before fording the river to reach Weare Giffard. It is said that at one time a stack of old boots was kept each side of the river so that travellers could cross over keeping their own boots dry.
After many centuries, the pack horse trails were upgraded where possible, to allow wheeled carts to pass, but steep hills and deep mud remained a hazard until Macadam invented the graded stone road surface (later tarmac.)The first road up the Torridge valley was built in the 1820s, at the same time as Lord Rolle built his canal to carry heavy and bulky goods easily inland for the first time. This Bideford Turnpike road crossed the trail from Monkleigh to Weare Giffard at the side of the valley below Downes farm on the West and Locks Beam farm on the hill to the east, which could be why the spot was named Loxdown Cross.
The canal was replaced by the railway which in turn became the Tarka Trail, while a sharp bend in the main road was straightened leaving the lay-by that is now the picnic site and a useful place to park a car and walk down the old trail, which is still officially a highway, to the ford which no vehicle has crossed for many years.
You can explore this little bit of history with a guide to show the way on Sunday afternoon, July 10th. Starting at 2:30pm. The walk is organised by the Rolle Canal Society, who would appreciate a donation of £2 towards their work, and it takes in not only the road, railway and canal, but also the Aqueduct, roving bridge, Beam Weir and the birthplace of Tarka the Otter. Thus, in a gentle walk of under two miles, we combine history, wildlife, literature and agriculture. Agriculture? Oh yes, no dogs allowed, as we mustn’t frighten the bull in the river meadow; (but if the bull frightens us we don’t need to go through the meadow.)
For further details (or reassurance) ‘phone 01237 425357 or e-mail <[email protected]>
Chris Hassall 09/06/2011