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Fall in Love with Autumn: 5 Breathtaking Walks in North Devon

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

A couple walking in the woods in autumn

You’d be forgiven to think that North Devon is mostly a summer holiday destination. After all, the area is well-known for its golden sandy beaches of Woolacombe, Saunton and Croyde. A true surfer’s paradise now that it’s been crowned the UK’s First World Surfing Reserve. Naturally, one associates summer sun with this.

But North Devon can be truly magical too in autumn, especially when there is the prospect of an Indian Summer. The change of season turns the leaves a riot of reds and golds and the air takes on a refreshing crispness. An ideal opportunity to grab those hiking boots and your waterproofs (because this IS Britain and you can never be too prepared for the weather!) for unforgettable autumn walking adventures.

Whether you enjoy coastal walks and dramatic landscapes or spotting rutting stags and Exmoor ponies, there is something for everyone – from leisurely strolls to something more challenging (dare we even say a little nail biting for those less keen on heights).

Here are 5 breathtaking autumn walks not far from HARTA retreat , a stone's throw from Exmoor national Park and the South West Coastal Path.

Conquer the Exmoor Rooftop

This is a classic Exmoor moorland walk, where you can encounter rutting stags and wild ponies. Here, the terrain varies from rolling heathland to ancient woodlands. Climb up to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor (and the highest point in the South of England, outside Dartmoor). Standing at 519m, you can see for miles in every direction – simply jaw-dropping especially as the landscape turns into a symphony of gold, amber and mauve. A pretty hefty trek you might think ! But it is a surprisingly accessible peak via a relatively short walk – park at Dunkery Gate and it’s a 1.2km route to the top. For those avid walkers there are plenty of other longer, circular routes too. Certainly worth exploring! And a fantastic place to watch both the sunrise and the sunset. Don’t forget your camera and your trusty thermos of hot cocoa !

Tales of Smugglers and U-boats

Beautiful Heddon’s Valley – another of North Devon’s jewels with many signed circular rambles to choose from to explore this stunning part of Exmoor from The Hunters Inn pub. Tucked away in a hidden valley it’s the perfect place for an autumn walk rain or shine, through moss covered trees by babbling streams and the river to the sea. As you approach Heddon’s Mouth you’ll hear the sounds of the Atlantic Ocean. The space begins to open out to high steep-sided rocky slopes that dominate the landscape. Wander a bit further to the pebbly beach, where the river cascades over the stones and the waves crash onto the rocks. The remoteness of the beach made it a favourite place for smugglers and there are stories of U-boats putting into the bay during WWII for supplies of fresh water. But on a wild winter or autumnal day when the waves are crashing down it seems a rather risky undertaking !

Autumn Magic by the Riverside

A picturesque valley where the East Lyn River meets the Hoar Oak Water (hence the name Watersmeet), surrounded by woodland and wildflowers. Lovely all year round, but at its most magical in autumn as the trees are donning their crimson and gold attire and the rivers have an extra touch of energy. Ambling through this valley you’ll encounter an abundance of nature. Towering oak trees will serenade you with rustling leaves, storks might grace you with their presence and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of salmon leaping up the river this time of year. Not to forget the impressive waterfall adding a touch of drama to the scene and the money tree that might picque your interest. Watersmeet is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, and even Julia Bradbury has mentioned it as one of her cherished walks. You can start your journey from Lynmouth and follow the riverside route to Watersmeet House, where a scrumptious cream tea awaits as a sweet reward . Then you can return via the woodland walk to end at the Ancient Mariner in Lynmouth in front of a cozy fire with your favourite tipple in hand. For those who crave more miles to wander, you can extend your walk to Rockford, where a hearty pub lunch can replenish your energy. If you’re in the mood for a more challenging trek then the path to Countisbury Hill beckons, with a lunch stop at the Blue Ball Inn before you make your way down to Lynmouth.

A Beachside Stroll in Autumn Splendor

Autumn is the secret season to visit the beach. The crowds have disappeared, and the shoreline is pretty much yours. Start your journey in Woolacombe, where you can relish the wide-open sands and impressive surf. Follow the beach to Putsborough and let the waves serenade you while the fall sun paints the sky in hues of pink and gold. Half way along the beach above the dunes sits the Porthole Café – a peaceful spot with views over the dune and the sea to Lundy Island.

Where the Wild Meets the Windswept

This is easily said one of the most thrilling walks in North Devon and certainly not for the faint-hearted with its rugged cliff edges. A walk that takes you on an adventure with a touch of wild, and which will leave you breathless, both from the walk and the views !

Lying on the coastal boundary of Exmoor National Park, just around the corner from the twin coastal villages of Lynton-Lynmouth, the River Lyn was said to have created this enigmatic Valley. There are many routes to choose from to experience Valley of Rocks and one thing is for sure: along all of them you’ll find craggy peaks, dramatic cliffs and expansive sea views. And a few feral goats along the way too. It seems these have been nimbly scaling the slopes and adding to the mountainous character of the area for hundreds of years, even being mentioned in the Domesday book. There’s so much to see and explore: from the iconic Castle Rock and Wringcliff Bay (a beautiful secluded cove with shingle and sand beach – another ideal spot for a picnic lunch) to the White Lady and the Devil’s Cheese Ring. It’s easy to see how this enchanting yet sometimes eerie valley has inspired many writers including William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and R D Blackmore.

(photo credit above from left to right: Richard Brannen, Annie Spratt and Oscar Sutton, Unsplash)

These walks may take you off the beaten path, but they’re well worth the effort, especially when Mother Nature puts on one of her most colourful shows. You may be a little breathless from the walk and certainly from the scenery, but you’ll undoubtedly be inspired and you’ll discover that falling in love with autumn in this corner of England is as easy as strolling through the leaves. Your autumn adventure awaits !

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