Welcome to the first in a series of walks and cycle rides around our South West counties.
Part of the Killerton Estate, I discovered Columbjohn via nearby Danes Wood, itself a stunning and quiet place for a stroll, but not really on the scale necessary to satisfy an energetic Labrador.
A public footpath cuts through the land at Columbjohn Farm, mostly fenced off from the beautiful Killerton Limousin cows. On this Sunday visit, there was a warning on the gate about a bull in the field. With no sign of him, we easily got three dogs, who’d been lightly dipped and cooled in the Culm, across towards the chapel where the path is fenced on both sides. We walked alongside what we dubbed “the moo-ternity field” – a meadow full of big, brown beauties, one or two nursing small calves.
Here, if you will excuse a brief descent into toilet talk, you will find one of the best located poo bins in Devon – 10 minutes into a walk, it is perfectly in synch with doggy habits; so much better than one placed right at the start! Formalities dealt with, we press ahead towards Columbjohn Woods.
Devon is blessed with beautiful beaches, but it’s the green and brown rather than the blue and white that really captivates me. It must come from teenage years on the edge of the moors of West Yorkshire; there’s something about the primeval landscape of the moorland and woods that I particularly love. Our rich rural literature from Robin Hood to the Brontës to Hound of the Baskervilles makes it easy to picture how the same view has existed virtually unchanged over five hundred years. I imagine ragged, tunic-clad serfs appearing guiltily from thickets with an armful of stolen firewood while Oberon and Puck watch from behind a sycamore.
But the dogs don’t care about my time travelling visions. There’s plenty to be sniffing and the canopy of the woods means they can frolic and chase even though it’s 24 degrees beyond the shade.
Halfway through the woods, we find an information board. Almost unbelievably, in amongst thick, long established trees, lie the foundations for a grand Palladian house designed by James Wyatt in the early 1770s for Killerton owners, the Acland family. LIDAR imaging taken in 2017 revealed archaeological evidence matching the floor plans for the planned mansion. It seems something went awry, Acland changed his mind and the plot and design were abandoned in favour of the current Killerton House.
As we exit the wood, I had a curious encounter. Striding towards me was a vaguely familiar face, an ex-colleague who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade, here on holiday from the Midlands at the first post-pandemic opportunity for a change of scene. This walk has the makings of a myth! While it is said that you will meet someone you know if you stand on the Champs Élysées long enough, I did not expect the same to be true of Columbjohn Woods.
Moving further on – avoiding the gate into Killerton as we don’t have tickets – a slight descent takes us into Deodar Glen. If I was visualising pilfering peasants before, this name evokes heroic Walter Scott characters. The change of landscape is quite stunning after the cover of the woods. We find ourselves emerging from the shade as the path opens up to a valley surrounded by dark green cedars and peppered with rough ferns and purple blooms, all of which reinforce the Scottish mood. From here, you can walk on through Park Wood to Ellerhayes, but we turn back on ourselves and follow the path along the bottom of the woods until we hit my landmark poo bin.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll be bumping into old friends at Columbjohn, in fact quite the opposite; in spite of excellent signposting, it’s easy to lose yourself in the myriad paths and there is a lot of space to fill. This means that it’s a relatively stress-free place to walk a less sociable pooch. However, you can be sure of encountering natural beauty that makes you want to slow right down, look around, linger and appreciate the magnificence of the natural world. The dog won’t mind – his nose will be sniffing out enchantments of his own.
Duration: around 1 ½ hours
Parking: there is limited roadside parking near Columbjohn Farm or you can park at Ellerhayes Bridge and tackle this walk from the other side.
If you are without dog, take advantage of a visit to Killerton House itself which has ample parking and a café.
Pub grub: The Ruffwell Inn, Thorverton or the Stoke Canon Inn (a community run venture well worth your support).
Livestock: Killerton is a working farm so be wary of dogs around cows and sheep. The woods and the Glen are fine for off-lead walking.