Journey through time across the ancient Pebblebed Heaths before descending through rolling meadows and more rugged heathland towards a tranquil pond teeming with wildlife and the sound of spring in full bloom.
Starts/Finishes: Squabmoor Reservoir Car Park, Nr Woodbury (SY037844)
Distance: Approx 2 miles
Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Terrain: Heathland tracks, gravel-packed fire roads, rooty single track and wooden boardwalks
Parking: Free woodland clearing car park
Locals and visitors alike will be forgiven for having not yet discovered this local nature reserve managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. Hidden away in the heaths between Exmouth and Woodbury lives a huge variety of birds and insects, trees and pools, and a real sense of wild right here on our doorstep.
From the car park, head back to the entrance and follow the track marked public footpath on the opposite side of the road. Follow the footpath sign as the path climbs steadily uphill. The climb is a moderate to strenuous uphill section depending on your level of fitness but rewards you with panoramic views across the heathland.
Once you reach the crossroads, continue straight on and then soon after – once you reach a footpath marker sign – you’ll want to take the left fork (essentially carrying on straight ahead) as the track continues steadily uphill through the tall grass and heathland. This part of the track can be quite wet all year round so suitable footwear is recommended. There is also a man-made boardwalk section to get you around the worst of the wet spots.
Enjoy the sound of birdsong as you amble along the track and marvel at the diverse landscape. With the sun scorching down it’s easy to believe you’ve travelled to a distant part of the globe!
At the top of the track you’ll meet a lane. Turn left here and walk along the lane – there’s not a lot of traffic to worry about – for a few hundred yards before turning left into what used to be the north car park for the Bystock Nature Reserve. Although it’s now closed you can still access the walking route through a kissing gate.
Once through the gate, say hello to any grazing horses before following the path down through the meadow towards a wooden gate at the bottom. This point in the walk really allows you to take in the views as you begin your descent to Bystock Pools and admire the rustic, unforgiving, yet breathtakingly beautiful landscape laid out in front of you.
This area of Pebblebed Heaths is a conservation home to over 140 species of bird, including the Dartford Warbler and long-eared owl – you’ll love hearing their song come together in harmonious chorus!
Go through the gate and follow the path to the left aiming towards a large wooden bar fence to the side. The path will transition into a rooty single track hugging the boundary fence as the foliage thickens around you.
Ignore the gate on your left but take the stepped path down to your right leading to a small wooden bridge. Once over the bridge, turn left and follow the path until you hear the sound of cascading water and you begin to see the glistening Bystock Pools ahead of you.
Cross the bridge and enter into the Bystock Pools where you will see a mosaic of bright lily pads floating atop the water. Here you can slow down the pace by sitting on one of the wooden benches in this tranquil haven whilst looking out over the pools to see what wildlife you can spot.
Dragonflies dart across the surface as great spotted woodpeckers play their springtime song up in the trees. Ducks while their day away under Nightjars who shy away until dusk where they begin to make themselves known.
Once you’re feeling suitably rejuvenated, head back out of this boardwalk area from where you entered (not the main road entrance) but turn right and take the path uphill. To start with the track can be difficult to follow but keep on the well-trodden route and you’ll find yourself meandering across the heathland going steadily uphill – keeping the pools to your right but moving away from them – until you reach a wooden kissing gate.
Go through the gate and turn right onto the track. Follow this track as it meanders through the woodland. You’ll feel like you’re miles from home until you see a road on the right come into view. The path will meet up with this road and you’ll instantly recognise the car park where you first started.
Not ready to go home yet? Take a stroll down to Squabmoor Reservoir to enjoy a relaxing walk around its perimeter, being careful not to disturb any anglers looking for their next catch.
Words & Images: Jake Tucker