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Three walks for a Summer’s evening

Footpaths, and forgotten byways around Westleigh and Eastleigh

As the summer days get hotter and the daylight hours get longer the prospect of an evening walk has great appeal. When you can combine this with a long cool drink in a local pub why not head for Westleigh. Here in a truly unspoilt location; overlooked by a lovely old church, a mere handful of houses and cottages seem to have tumbled quite naturally into this sheltered hollow. On every bend of the minute winding network of unnamed lanes and alleys, stone walls sprout pink swathes of wild Valerian – regarded by so many as weeds – here they are allowed to flourish. The old cottages owned by the Christie Estate; recognisable by their Green doors; look like images from the Frith photographic archive. Long before the arrival of the Barnstaple to Bideford Turnpike via Instow in 1832 and the Railway line to Bideford in 1855, this tiny community would have been very isolated and only served by a network of narrow inland lanes that run roughly East to West terminating at the banks of the River Torridge. The unsurfaced condition of these rural roads would have been appalling. Hereabouts the lanes would have been deeply rutted by livestock and horse drawn vehicles. The 19th century Tourist would have travelled by Stage-Coach between Barnstaple and Bideford via Eastleigh and in considerable discomfort! The invention of Tarmac transformed major roads for motor cars but many rural byways remained unsurfaced well into the 1920s. Throughout rural England and particularly here around Westleigh and Eastleigh there are still long stretches of these forgotten lanes, today classified as ‘other roads’. To walk along one of these ancient un-surfaced byways today will give one some insight into the travelling conditions of the rural roads of the 19th century, silent now in the 21st century yet strangely resonant with ghostly sounds of past travellers.

Westleigh has numerous footpaths, and several forgotten byways suitable for circular walks, short enough for an evening stroll, longer routes to build up a thirst and right out into the sticks to earn a slap up supper. OS Landranger 180 would be useful.

(1) A small circular walk (locally known as the Island) about 1.5 miles, also crossed by footpaths. Pass the Church on your left and look back at this point for a glimpse of the shimmering river between the old rooftops. Straight on to Blackgate Cross, just keep turning right to arrive back in Westleigh. Hover your mouse over, or click, on the ‘Walk 1’ box below to see your route.

Blackgate Cross Church Old School House Round the “Island”

(3) Now even further out into the sticks. A good long walk of about 8 miles along footpaths, council lanes and some of those forgotten byways.

(2) Now out into the sticks. A long ramble of about 6 miles along country lanes, the famous Tarka Trail, beach and sand dunes.

Along the Tarka Trail to Instow and back via Huish Treyhill Huish Blackgate Cross Signal Box Cricket Pavilion To Gammaton Reservoir   and back

. Leave the village by  walking down to the river road (B3233) and cross over to the entrance to the Tarka Trail to the left of the opposite bus shelter, taking care of the traffic that all too often speeds  on this stretch of road. Turn right and walk on for about ¾ of a mile to Instow, leaving the track at the restored signal box. Turn left along the front and onto the slipway to the beach. Unless the tide is very high you can stroll along the sands, past the sand dunes on the right, all the way to the picturesque thatched Cricket pavilion less than a mile away. Leave the beach , with the pavilion and cricket field to your left and follow the short lane back to he Tarka Trail and turn right back towards  Instow. Leave the Trail  when you reach the old level crossing with the signal box immediately in front. Turn left and then right onto the B3233 (towards Bideford)  for a short distance before crossing (taking care again) to the side road signposted Huish.  Follow the lane past Huish always bearing to the right past Treyhill and downhill to Blackgate Cross. Go straight on past South Lodge and an avenue of Pine trees until the tower of Westleigh Church hoves into sight.