A Circular Walk from Westward Ho! via Abbotsham and Cornborough
Our walk from Westward Ho! follows the route of the old Bideford,Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway to Cornborough Cliffs, where it is often rough underfoot. From beach level we then climb the springy turf towards Abbotsham Court, turning homewards along quiet lanes and the lofty footpaths of Kipling Tors. This walk is probably known to just about everybody in the Bideford area, however some of you may never have ventured off the pebble ridge or the promenade, so give it a whirl! This is a walk with some outstanding panoramas of surf edged coastline and distant views towards Clovelly, Hartland and Lundy. Despite the windswept location there is an abundance of wild flowers in the spring and the summer. Walk here around Easter-time and the old railway cutting on the headland is full of wild Violets. In early summer along the clifftops you will find great cushions of Sea Thrift, Heather and blazing banks of golden Gorse. In late summer remember to take a plastic bag to reap the harvest of Blackberries, Sloes, Samphire and Mushrooms.
Inland away from the wild clifftops there is an abundance of different wild flowers and more free fruits along the narrow lanes for impromptu ref refreshments. The return route heads North and runs parallel to the coast. In the crisp late days of autumn the leafy lanes offer shelter from the fiercer gales until you arrive at the more exposed ridge at Cornborough. On the last lap of the walk you turn seawards and pass down an old footpath to Kipling Tors, you must not miss the views from the top path ! so when the choice arrives turn left and hold on to your hat !. Before descending to the Car Park sit and enjoy the views across the bay.
The Route. In Westward Ho! head towards Merley Rd, pass Braddicks and park in the free Car Park in between the Public Conveniences and Seafield House. To follow the track of the old Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway (1896-1917) step onto the track behind the Car Park and walk Westwards, this sheltered section leads up to the headland and through the cutting onto Cornborough Cliffs. Follow the route of the disused line to the point where it curves away inland and from here descend the clifftop path with care. The pebbly foreshore is a great spot for a picnic. Cross the bridge here and left over the stile. With your back to the sea climb the springy turf uphill to your left the route of the old railway is clearly visible as it curves inland. During the early part of the 20th Century the fields below here were the site of the Abbotsham Racecourse. Supporters came from far and wide by horsedrawn traps and wagonettes, no doubt braving some fairly inclement weather. Keep your back to the sea and follow the footpath inland, over the stile into the lane, bear right, then left onto the Council road. You are now on the inland section. (There is a Pub at Abbotsham and at Pusehill.) Turn first left to Cornborough. At the bottom of the hill don’t miss the fairly concealed old iron gate on the left, behind this was the site of Cornborough Halt. From here the railway crossed the road to descend to Bideford via the Kenwith Valley. Unfortunately this section is not accessible to walkers. Head off uphill. After the Lomax Helicopter Pad the lane bears right onto the ridge along Cornborough Road.
Pass the entrance to Highcliffe Grange and follow the skyline developments to the right hand turning to Pusehill, your footpath lies behind the old wooden gate opposite – the signpost is sited to the left and easy to miss. This is the last lap seawards and many of you will remember this path when it intersected the site of Top Camp now replaced by smart new estates. Regrettably from here you will have to watch your step as the path is often littered with dog’s mess! The path descends through woodland and onto the Kipling Tors.
When the choice arrives turn left and hold on to your hat! (If the weather has turned really horrible and you want a more sheltered walk keep straight on downhill and then either left on to the middle path, which is well sheltered by trees, or follow the bottom path.) From the top path after the short climb – stop! There will be a bench close-by to sit on, this is the perfect vantage point for enjoying views across Bideford Bay and some of the remaining evidence of early tourism.
The views from here, seen by the first speculator, Captain Molesworth, would have been across a remote unspoilt coastline, rough heathland with maybe a scatttered flock of sheep. The only sign of human habitation here would have been the isolated farmstead at Underborough with a wide expanse of saltings and the surf torn Pebbleridge. With only the windswept sounds of crashing surf and the cry of wheeling Gulls it must have been a beautiful spot. One can quite understand why Charles Kingsley shuddered at the prospect of the future developments ahead when Captain Molesworth’s plans took shape in 1863.
Today the earliest Hotels stand like molars above a sea of caravan sites, 20th century bungalows, and now 21st Century developments. By the end of the First World War,tourism was here to stay and the face of Westward Ho! had changed forever. In recent years many old landmarks have vanished and more will certainly disappear to make way for 21st century speculators. Across the sands on a really low tide you may just get a glimpse of the remaining stumps of an ancient submerged forest and of course further seawards the remnants of the old Westward Ho! Pier (1865-1880). Today the Eastward route of the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway can only be imagined. It followed the foreshore to the Bath Hotel into Westward Ho! Station (behind the central Toilets) The route then headed off towards Venton Farm, Underborough Farm and crossed Pimpley Rd into open countryside, following the foreshore from Watertown into Appledore. Enjoy the last moments of your walk, perhaps turn left off the Top Path up to the old Lookout for a wonderful view across the Bay before the steep descent back to the old railway track. If you head off across the grassy clifftop towards the Car Park look out for the remnants of an old raised beach; complete with its pebble ridge; now stranded high above the foreshore close to the clifftop. Charles Kingsley and Rudyard Kipling were both inspired by their different experiences here – maybe you will be as well! Distance about 4 miles.
OS Map Landranger 180
Try your local library for books on local history. To fill in those historical gaps try the following:
- The Appledore,Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway by Stanley C. Jenkins, Oakwood Press 1993
- Two Rivers Meeting by Lois Lamplugh, Wellspring 1998
- The Scenery of the North Devon Coast by Ric Abbott, Ric Abbott 1991