The best way to appreciate why the south Devon market town of Kingsbridge has such a long history of seaborne trade – evidenced by a number of fine buildings dating from wealthier times in the 18th and 19th centuries – is to climb high above town. From this walk extensive views over the many-branched estuary clearly show this long-established port’s commanding position.
The early port
Kingsbridge has long been a centre for trade, forming a link between the rural hinterland and the sea. The town flourished thanks to its location at the head of a 5-mile (8km) long navigable estuary at a time when transport inland was difficult and routes frequently impassable. From medieval times – when the town enjoyed healthy trading links with southwest France – until the coming of the railway in 1893, the quays, would have bustled with life. Take a look at the Shambles on Fore Street – a granite-pillared walkway, formerly the site of butchers’ stalls in the heart of the medieval town. Later clippers, schooners and barges were built on the banks of the estuary, and packet steamers came to call. The advent of steel ships which could not access the higher reaches of the estuary – coupled with the arrival of the railway – ended the town’s life as a port. Kingsbridge is now a popular holiday spot.
Just one of many creeks on the estuary, Bowcombe also has a long history of local trade. Slate from a nearby quarry and cider from the farms was shipped out, and there was at one time a mill at the head of the creek. Today it's a haven for birds and wildlife.
From the tourist information centre, use the pedestrian crossing and turn right alongside the creek. Soon turn left up Derby Road, noting Dodbrooke Lodge on your left, once the coach house for Dodbrooke Manor. At the first crossroads turn right down Derby Road, and pass the recreation ground.
Where the lane bears left, keep ahead through a gate on a footpath. Ascend a very steep, rough field and go through a gate onto a lane. Cross over and ascend steps on a footpath through the rugby club car park. Cross a stile and continue along the left edge of a field. Cross a stone stile and reach a footpath junction.
Follow the top edge of the next field, curving left with the hedge. Cross a stile, and where the hedge bears away, bear right past a fence corner and footpath post. Continue steeply downhill, towards a gate and stile by a derelict building. Pass through and bear right to cross a stile onto a lane.
Cross a stile ahead, and follow as the path bears left through a gate in a fence into creekside reed beds. (If you find this stretch too wet return to the lane, turn right, then left at the next junction to join the route by Tunge Field Farm.) Cross the head of the creek on a bridge, and turn left over a stile into a field. Keep along the bottom edge and go through a gate. Continue along the brook, turning right uphill at field end to a stile onto a lane.
Turn left downhill to cross Bowcombe Bridge, then turn left along the lane to pass Bridge Park Cottage.
At the entrance to Tunge Field Farm turn right on a deeply banked green lane – this climbs steeply before levelling off. At a byway junction bear right and descend steadily (good spring flowers) to reach Washabrook Mill in a sheltered combe, once a tidal mill for flour and grist. Pass Washabrook Farm and follow the lane uphill to Washabrook Lane.
Turn left and follow the road uphill. Around 25yds (23m) after passing a bridlepath on your left, turn right on a tarmac path. At gates turn left into the graveyard of St Thomas’s Church, and turn right, then left to pass the church. Round the west end to emerge onto Church Street.
Turn left downhill. Where the road eventually kinks right, bear left along Ebrington Street. Where the street broadens, turn right down an alley to find the pedestrian crossing and return to the car park opposite the tourist information centre.
Fields, green lanes and town lanes, some steep rocky ascents/descents, at times wet underfoot; many stiles
River estuary and rolling farmland
Mostly on lead, and not allowed in churchyard (keep ahead along path)
OS Explorer OL20 South Devon
Car park on Kingsbridge Quay (pay-and-display)
In car park opposite the tourist information centre (TIC)
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
With magnificent coastlines, two historic cities and the world-famous Dartmoor National Park, Devon sums up all that is best about the British landscape. For centuries it has been a fashionable and much loved holiday destination – especially south Devon’s glorious English Riviera.
Close to the English Riviera lies Dartmoor, one of the south-west’s most spectacular landscapes. The National Park, which contains Dartmoor, covers 365 square miles and includes many fascinating geological features – isolated granite tors and two summits exceeding 2,000 feet among them.
Not surprisingly, in Dartmoor the walking opportunities are enormous. Cycling in the two National Parks is also extremely popular and there is a good choice of off-road routes taking you to the heart of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Devon’s towns and cities offer stimulating alternatives to the rigours of the countryside.