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History and wildlife on Woodbury Common
The seaward view from Woodbury Common hill fort
Looking towards the sea from the hill fort
Woodbury Common in East Devon has everything - sea and river views, an abundance of wildlife, and an amazing history...Oh, and it's a great place for walking, too!
By: Laura Joint.
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Listen to Laura Joint and BBC Radio Devon's Jo Bishop, as they explore the wildlife and history of Woodbury Common.
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Clinton Devon Estates: Woodbury Common

East Devon Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty

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GETTING THERE

From Exeter, Woodbury Common is reached via the A3052 Sidmouth road.

Then, just past the Halfway Inn on your left, turn right onto the B3180, which becomes the B3179.

At the turn-off, you'll see the 'East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' sign.

After a short drive, you reach the Common, and there are several car parks where you can stop.

We parked in the first car park on the left (550ft above sea level), but it's not sign-posted so drive slowly and keep your eye out for it.

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In a county which boasts gems like Dartmoor and Exmoor (or a part of it, anyway) it's perhaps easy to overlook other equally enchanting places.

Woodbury Common, for example, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) which has a scheduled ancient monument and is home to dozens of important species.

It also has an amazing history, and it's worth knowing how the Common came about before setting out on your walk.

How to get there

The view towards the Dorset coast
The view from the Common towards the Dorset coast
From Exeter, Woodbury Common is reached via the A3052 Sidmouth road.

Then, just past the Halfway Inn, turn right onto the B3180, which becomes the B3179.

At this turn-off, you'll see the 'East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' sign.

After a short drive, you reach the Common, and there are several car parks where you can stop.

We parked in the first car park on the left (550ft above sea level), but it's not sign-posted so drive slowly and keep your eye out for it.


Life's a Beach...

Wherever you go on Woodbury Common, you'll be walking on pebbles. It's just like being at the seaside, yet the Common is miles inland.

It makes for quite tricky walking conditions in places, and it certainly looks a bit incongruous out in the middle of heathland!

The pebble path leading to the fort
The pebbles on the path leading to the fort - the wooded area in the top right corner
In fact, the pebbles have been here since the Triassic era, more than 200 million years ago.

The pebblebeds are thought to have come from an area of desert which stretched across what is now the English Channel to France.

Vast rivers flowed across the basin, dumping layers of pebblebeds as they went - and those pebbles remain.


High road or low road?

One of the great things about Woodbury Common is that there are paths going off in all directions, so you can take your pick.

We headed out of the car park and, with two paths to choose from, we took the right-hand path...the one which leads to the ancient hill fort known as Woodbury Castle.

The path was a bit boggy in places (it was November and it had been raining a lot), so make sure you've got decent footwear.


On your left, there are coastal views and on a clear day you can see Portland Bill. All around you is heathland and other habitat which is home to 70 breeding bird species including the Dartford Warbler and Nightjar.

The Common also has 24 different species of dragonflies and damselflies, and rare butterflies such as High Brown Fritillary and Silver Studded Blue.

A short climb takes you to the hill fort, which is now just a little woodland...but the place has history written all over it!

The fort was built around 500-300 BC, at a time when the whole area was a forest.

The leaves at the fort
The autumn blanket of leaves at the fort
From here, the inhabitants could see for miles around and out to sea.

Nowadays, this isolated clump of trees sticks out like a sore thumb.

Inside the wood, you'll come across what used to be the castle's moat and you can walk through it.

There are some high banks to negotiate in the fort, which can be quite tricky - but great fun for kids and dogs (not to mention overgrown kids!).

In November, there was an autumn blanket of leaves on the ground - reds and oranges everywhere.

We made our way to the other side of the fort and crossed the road, from where there are views across to Exeter on the right and towards the Exe Estuary on the left.

The walk from the car park to the hill fort is a mile, but we took another of the paths back to the car, making the entire walk 2.75 miles.

You can make a walk on Woodbury Common as long or as short as you like. You need to be reasonably fit for some bits, and apart from the very easiest sections, the area isn't really suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs.

Alternatively, you can just park up and take in the views!

* The Common is within Clinton Devon Estates, but was dedicated to the public in 1930 "for the purposes of fresh air and exercise." This allows walking, cycling and horse-riding.

Article published: 30th November 2004.

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