Discover the disused 19th century railway line from Feniton to Sidmouth before taking in dramatic views of East Devon and the Sidmouth coastline from Fire Beacon Hill.
The route starts from the East Devon village of Harpford where you can find a small amount of parking near the church and village hall. Turn left at the church and then turn right along Knapp’s Lane. You’ll come to a fork where you need to take the sign-posted lane on the right towards the Bowd Inn.
As you continue down the path, stop and say hello to the field of friendly sheep and lambs before the lane narrows into a singletrack footpath. Continue on this trail and take the gate continuing straight ahead taking you steadily upwards through the woods.
You’ll soon begin to hear running water as you head towards a huge, moss-covered fallen tree spanning the width of the path. Don’t worry – there’s plenty of room to walk underneath with just a little duck of the head required. It’s also at this point that you’ll see a brick built foot tunnel that now serves as a way of diverting water from the opposite side of the railway path into the stream.
As you continue up, notice how the path cuts through the rock and admire the small, naturally formed waterfall on your right. At the fork, you can continue along the full route using the path on the right or, for a shorter route, you can take the path on the left towards the large brick tunnel with steps leading up onto the disused railway line and continue following the route instructions from there.
Continuing along the lower right path, you will come to another fork. Here you can either take the lower uneven path alongside the stream or the higher path along the railway line as it steadily makes its way uphill to the picturesque Bowd Inn on Sidmouth Road. Take a break here and enjoy some food and drink inside the recently renovated interior or enjoy the sun in the extensive beer garden.
Once refreshed and ready to go, head back along the Sidmouth Road the way you came and turn right onto Fire Beacon Lane and follow the road uphill and around to the left, getting increasingly steeper as you go. Keep your ears pricked for the sound of donkeys as you make your way to Woods Farm – an 80 hectare farm owned by the Donkey Sanctuary. Take a break a well-earned break here to watch the donkeys graze.
Opposite this field, take the gravel path on your right going further uphill towards Fire Beacon Hill Nature Reserve. Feel free to explore the heathland of the nature reserve, looking out for the nationally scarce Dartford Warblers skulking in low growing bushes.
Otherwise, take the track on your left and enjoy glimpses of rolling East Devon countryside on your left. The track will turn to the left and go downhill before meeting the road again. Stop at the high fence for striking views over Harpford Woods and beyond, as well as the Sidmouth coastline.
Go right along the road for 100 yards before taking the public footpath on the left and down 10-15 fairly steep steps into a large, open field with uninterrupted views. Look out for donkeys which can be found grazing freely in this field too! Continue along the beaten path to the gate at the bottom right corner of the field and then through the following field to the gate leading out onto Sidmouth road once again.
Take care crossing the road and re-enter Harpford Woods on the footpath, keeping right and heading back down towards the disused railway line. You will reach the large brick tunnel under the railway line where you need to take the steps up to the right to get on top and continue along the path. Those taking the shorter route will continue from here.
Follow the disused railway line path as it gently meanders through the trees and imagine what life was like travelling by train along this route before the lines eventually closed in 1967. When you reach the next brick tunnel, bear right along the track that takes you onto the top. Turn left and the path will take you back to Knapp’s Lane where you started.
Starts/Finishes: Harpford Village Hall
Terrain: Footpaths and country lanes – often muddy so suitable footwear required
Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
Parking: Limited but free!
Words: Jake Tucker