Devon is full of surprises and we enjoyed one such surprise on the first beautiful sunny day of the New Year. Jo researched and suggested a trip out to Heddon Valley and as always it was an inspired idea. She’s always on the ball with these days out and visits to explore local areas.
Heddon Valley National Trust
Rebuilt in 1906 after fire completely gutted the original, Hunter’s Inn has been a holiday destination for over a century and was bought by the National Trust in 2017. It’s impressive location almost sitting astride the River Heddon as it winds it’s way down to the sea. Being out of season the National Trust shop and cafe was closed but we weren’t there to shop and drink coffee. We were there for a walk!
The circular walk from Hunters Inn takes you down the Heddon Valley alongside the River Heddon all the way to Heddon’s Mouth where the river crashes out into the Bristol Channel.
Wild and Windy Walk
Obviously we wrapped up seriously as even though the sun was out it was still more than a little breezy and fairly cold. Not a problem with gloves and woolly hats though as we set off past Hunters Inn to the rivers edge. The wonderful thing about walking at this time of year is that it is so quiet and you hardly see a soul. On our hours walk down to the beach we only saw one other couple with a couple of small dogs. Just imagine how busy it could be in the height of the summer?
The gravel paths were easy to trek down as we made our way down to Heddon’s Mouth. With the sun beating down on our backs and the view ahead opening up to the sea it was an exhilarating walk.
Reaching the mouth of the river we found an old lime kiln and carefully wandered down the slippy rocks to the beach. The noise of the river cascading over the rocks and thundering into the sea was almost deafening as it crashed rocks and stones against each other like a huge natural mixer. Still very cold and even windier but incredibly impressive, we found ourselves just standing and staring taking in the awesome power of nature.
Hard to believe that this beach and cove was a popular spot for smugglers in days gone by. How on earth would they get anywhere near the beach with the crazy powerful waves breaking over those huge rocks. I suppose it was worth the risk to evade the authorities and make some money but rather them than me.
The most amazing story about Heddon’s Mouth is undoubtedly this though ………….
Captain Martens and the U-Boat
In the mid 1950s a pleasure boat called the Devonia Belle was chartered by a German visitor and sailed from Ilfracombe up along the coast towards Heddons Mouth by it’s skipper Alan Kift and boatman Les Gear. As they neared the beach Les asked the German tourist why he was so specific about the location he wanted to visit. His answer stunned the two Devon seaman.
The tourists name was Captain Martens and ten years earlier he had been a U-Boat captain operating in the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel. He said that he often brought his submarine to the beach to offload his men for fresh water and a break from the confines of the submarine. It was so remote that no locals had a clue that Germans subs were regularly laying up there. Captain Martens added that he only landed at night during the war so wanted to return and see what the beach and cliffs were like in the sunlight. Amazing huh?
Back up the River Heddon
Crossing the river a few yards upstream at a small bridge we headed back to Hunters Inn. In the warmer weather I think it’s possible to cross the river using stepping stones right on the edge of the beach but in January this was a raging torrent best avoided.
Such a beautiful two hour circular walk in the glorious Devon sunshine up through the valley finished as we crossed back into the National Trust centre and found the car. A few more people had arrived and parked up but a lot seemed to be lunching at Hunters Mill rather than walking. They were really missing something special.
Rather than head straight back to Georgeham we decided to pop into the little seaside town of Combe Martin to see what that was like and perhaps take another walk around the beach and harbour area. Bigger than we imagined we managed to park on the front and trekked out across the beach and along a very slippy path between the rocks.
Awesome views ahead between the rocks and cliffs and some lovely views out to sea were slightly impacted by the tired town behind us that seems as though it has seen better days. We weren’t impressed by the town at all but that wasn’t really our reason to visit I suppose. The views out from the beach easily made up for the disappointment. Not sure how we’d feel if we had booked a week in Combe Martin though.
To finish the day in style we headed along to Putsborough Sands for a final stroll and a coffee in the little cafe overlooking the beach. A lovely way to end a fabulous day.