TUCKED away above the Exe Valley, Stoodleigh is reached by a winding country lane known locally as ‘The Drive’. This harks back to the time when the road was the immensely long private drive to Stoodleigh Manor. The estate was broken up and sold in 1925 and in 1928 the house was bought by Ravenswood School, which relocated here from Paignton. In 1992 the school closed, though it very much lives on in the memory of its pupils! Stoodleigh Court, as it is known today, now serves as a wedding venue. The walk enjoys wonderful, far-reaching views, but to achieve them there are some mighty ascents-so be prepared. Lovely, wildlife-rich woodland will help take your mind off the tough bits.
From the church, with the tower behind you, follow the path flanked by topiaried yews. Don’t take the small path to the right but continue to the main gate. Cross the lane and continue through another gate along the hedged footpath opposite, soon passing the home of Stoodleigh Cricket Club on the left. At the lane turn left for 120m. At appealingly-named Kissing Gate Cross head over towards some stables and prior to their entrance is a stile on the right. Cross this and walkthrough the field for 75m until a yellow arrow directs through the hedge. Beyond this continue in the same line, now with the hedge on your right. In the corner of the field leave over a stile and turn immediately right along a track.
Follow this track (don’t veer into the farm) until, just before it meets the lane, a footpath goes left along another track. Take this, walking along the edge of Ash Hill Plantation with the hedged boundary on your right. Keep on this woodland-edge path until you meet a yellow-arrowed metal gate. Pass through and continue ahead in the same line through a field. The trees of Marshlade Plantation are to your right with expansive views ahead towards Stoodleigh Beacon. As the trees to your right end, continue ahead through the field to the gate at the bottom. Pass through and go straight across the junction at Ash Cross, following the lane towards Aldridge Mill and Spurway Mill. In 150m you reach a bridleway on the left, also the drive to Wheatland Farm.
Go down here and in about 200m you see a house on the right. Just beyond this look for the bridleway gate on the left. Take this, following the fenced path down the field with the hedge to your left. At the bottom, cross the stream on the small bridge and follow the direction of the blue arrow to bear right beyond the bridge on the track. The stream is now down to your right, hedgerow to your left. Wheatland Farm is up to the right. At the end of this small field pass through a gap – still directed by arrows – and continue with the hedge to your left and the slope down to your right. In the next field you are directed diagonally right through the field on a clear path which begins to slope steeply down.
At the bottom go through a gate, cross the stream on abridge and bear left. Follow this delightful, well-signed path through a few bridleway gates. There is an ancient, treed boundary to your right and the stream is down to your left. Soon the arrows direct you diagonally left down to the babbling stream, a lovely stretch of walking. Follow the clear path until it eventually wades across the stream, through a gate and onto the lane. On the lane turn right, follow it as it bends left and look for a bridleway on the left in less than 100m. Leave the lane and join the narrow bridleway (don’t fork immediately left into a private garden).
The path very soon emerges in front of Rifton Lodge. Cross the stream and pass the lodge on your right – please respect the privacy of the occupants. Beyond here a post with a blue arrow directs you right up through the trees to a bridleway gate about 50m above and behind the Lodge. Go through the gate and walk straight up through the trees of Rifton Wood in the direction of the arrow on the gate.
About 150m from the gate is another reassuring blue arrow on a tree trunk, just to confirm that you’re on the right path. Keep ahead up through the trees, ignoring any deviating paths to left or right. It can be heavy going underfoot. Eventually the path levels out. Beyond the boundary to your right is an open field; the woodland becomes fenced and slopes down to the left. Stick with the bridleway as it winds along and nearly mile from Rifton Lodge, you reach the end of the woodland with a field ahead of you as well as to the right.
Here a post with blue arrows indicates that the bridleway goes right. There is a temptation to take a short cut but the public right of way goes right for about 200m until you find a footpath on the left into a field. Go through here and follow the left boundary through two fields back towards the woods, re-entering them through a metal gate about 40m from where the bridleway went right. From this gatedrop steeply down through the trees to a wooden footbridge across a stream, about 300m below.
Beyond the bridge continue up the field ahead, hedge over to the right – a good, steep, lung-clearer of a climb. At the top right corner of the field go through the yellow-arrowed gate ahead then continue uphill for about 30m before going right, through another arrowed gate. After this turn left, uphill between fences. This short track emerges into an open field across which bear slightly right towards the left-hand end of the copse which you can see up ahead. In front of the copse a kissing gate leads onto the lane. Turn right along the lane to West End Cross then keep going towards Washfield and Tiverton until you reach Washfield Post Cross.
Go left here and in 160m turn left on the track to Slade Farm. Pass the farmhouse on your left and turn immediately left to walk between the end of the house and barns. Yellow arrows guide you beyond the house, along a track with a hedge on your left and further barns to your right.
At the end of these barns another arrow directs across to a farm gate. Beyond this continue through the field, boundary to your left. Walkthrough a second field in the same line; as the hedge ends keep in the same direction and a fence comes in to meet you on the left. The tower of Stoodieigh church peeps over the hilltop to the left. Keep going down, following the left fence to the bottom left-hand comer of the field (when we came through there was a tangle of temporary fencing to pass through on the way down.)
At the bottom, cross the stream on a plank bridge and swiftly after this a double stile. Beyond here walk through the bottom of the next field, stream to the left, and just over 100m from the stiles bear left to cross the stream and pass through a bridleway gate. After this head uphill to another gate and beyond this continue up in the same line, to find yet another gate at the top of the hill. Go through and bear left as directed, down the field towards the stream. Cross the stile next to the gate, followed by a couple of small streams, then bear right as the arrow directs, following the path through trees. This is a rough, increasingly steep, uphill path. Pause to enjoy the views and when you reach the lane turn left, following it back to the church, just over a third of a mile away.