Saunter Up Saunton Down

About this route

Saunton Down is a prominent ridge of high land forming a backdrop to the coast in North Devon. It overlooks two very scenic coastal features, Croyde Bay on one side and Saunton Sands on the other, and around much of its base there passes the South West Coast Path.  This walk explores Croyde Bay and passes close to Saunton Sands, joining the two features by crossing the top of Saunton Down and then returning to the start along the Coast Path and Tarka Trail. Perhaps the “saunter” of the title is slightly misleading, since to reach the top of the Down requires a substantial climb, but this is a long, steady climb rather than a steep scramble. In any event, the views from the top of the Down are without doubt among the finest in Devon and repay the effort. Pick a bright day for this walk and reward yourself with some magnificent views of coastline and estuary, of Lundy and Exmoor and of a wide sweep of North Devon, all backed by the open sea.

Getting Around

The walk starts and finishes at Croyde, which is served by a regular bus route from Barnstaple.

All facilities at Croyde; none on route except for large hotel at Saunton Sands.
One long steady climb of nearly 160m/520 feet; a short climb of 40m/130 feet; 4 stiles.
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OS Maps

Explorer (1: 25,000 scale) no. 139 Bideford, Ilfracombe and Barnstaple
Landranger No. (1:50,000 scale) no. 180 Barnstaple and Ilfracombe

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Interesting information

The walk passes the May Cottage Tea Rooms. The cottage, if not as tea rooms, dates back to the 17th Century, as do many of the cottages along this road. Further on is St. Mary’s Church, or more accurately, Chapel. Croyde is not a parish in its own right, being part of the parish of Georgeham. St. Mary’s was built in 1874 as Croyde’s chapel to avoid the need for worshippers to walk inland to Georgeham. Just beyond the chapel is The Manor, now a pub. This originated as Croyde’s Manor House in 1790.

This is an old access road between the valley villages and the pasture on the Down. It may even have originated as a road from Braunton, since the modern coast road was not built until the 1800s.

The walk reaches the summit of Saunton Down, at 159m or 520 feet, and the views are simply stunning. Behind can be seen Woolacombe Sands with Morte Point beyond. Nearer is the village of Georgeham and to the left, sheltering behind Baggy Point, is Croyde.

On the descent to the track, you can see the roofs of Saunton Court. This is an old building, with medieval origins, and was extended in the 1930s by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens.

These are the ruins of Down House Cottages, abandoned in the early 20th Century. The panorama from here over Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands is wonderful. Braunton Burrows forms one of the largest areas of sand dunes in England. The area was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 2002 by UNESCO for its environmental and scientific importance. It is Britain’s first Biosphere Reserve, a designation which gives it world status.

The walk has now joined the main route of the South West Coast Path, waymarked with the National Trail acorn symbol, which here coincides with the line of the Tarka Trail. The last part of the walk, along the track and past the ruined cottages, has also followed an alternative length of the Coast Path, which accounts for the acorn waymarks there. This length avoids use of a stretch of the main road. On the left is the Saunton Sands Hotel. This is a notable landmark in the area, visible from much of the coast from as far as Hartland Point. It was built in 1937 in the so-called “modernistic” style and ranks as a notable design for a hotel of its time.

As the path continues towards the end of the down, the view will include the outline on the horizon of Lundy (as long as the day is reasonably clear). Lundy lies 11 miles/18 km north of Hartland Point and about 18 miles/29 km from here. It is approximately 3 miles/5 km north south and 0.5 mile/0.8 km east-west and reaches a height of 143m/471 feet. Settled by Vikings who named it “lundi-ey”, or puffin island, it has been the haunt of pirates and recluses. Since 1969 it has been owned by the National Trust and administered and maintained by the Landmark Trust. It is important for seabirds, although the puffins have severely declined in numbers, and the seas around form a Marine Conservation Area.

Photo of the view over Saunton Sands beach and sand dune system seen from above, taken from Saunton Down
Saunton Sands from Saunton Down Copyright Tony Atkin

You can explore more in this area

Photo looking down over rocky coastal cliffs towards the sea at Baggy Point

Baggy Point to Saunton

The coastline from Baggy Point south to Saunton Sands is a magnificent sight. The rocks are about 370 million years
Photo looking down over rocky coastal cliffs towards the sea at Baggy Point

Baggy Point to Saunton

The coastline from Baggy Point south to Saunton Sands is a magnificent sight. The rocks are about 370 million years