Geology

Geology to see in Northern Devon and Exmoor

   31.  Lynmouth area
   32.  Combe Martin Bay to Hele Bay
   33.  Woolacombe to Ilfracombe
   34.  Lundy
   35.  Baggy Point to Saunton
   36.  Braunton Burrows
   37.  Westward Ho! Cliffs & Northam Burrows
   38.  Codden Hill Viewpoint
   39.  Hartland Point to Hartland Quay
   40.  Barley Grove & Torrington Common

31. Lynmouth area

Nearest town: Lynton
OS grid reference: SS723495
Status: SSSI, National Park
Management: National Trust, Exmoor National Park & private landowners

National Trust - logo
Park & private landowners - logo

This area on the beautiful coast of Exmoor National Park is home to a number of fascinating geological features.

To the west of Lynton is the famous Valley of the Rocks.The site has excellent exposures of the Lynton Beds that are rich in fossils and are some of the oldest Devonian rocks in the north Devon – Somerset area. However, it is perhaps the topography of the site that is most dramatic, with many classic landforms on show. These include a dry valley and a number of periglacial features demonstrating the effects of the freezing temperatures present here during the Ice Age when glaciers reached as far south as the north Devon coast.

To the east, at Lynmouth, a large boulder fan can be seen extending into the Bristol Channel from the mouth of the East and West Lyn rivers. This bears witness to major flooding over thousands of

© NTPL/David Noton
© NTPL/David Noton

years and in particular to the disaster of August 1952 following a period of very heavy rainfall. Water flowed in sheets over the surrounding open moors and the resulting volume of water estimated to be the equivalent of three months discharge of the River Thames - moved over 50,000 tonnes of boulders, some of more than 10 tonnes each. Many of these boulders can still be seen in the river beds and other features associated with the flood, such as boulder field deposits, can still be observed in the upper valleys.

Facilities:
Lynmouth and Lynton are popular tourist spots and a range of facilities are available. Information on the floods can be found in the Power of Water Exhibition at Glen Lyn Gorge.

Access:
Foot:
The South West Coast Path runs through Lynmouth and Lynton. Bus: A number of services are available from nearby towns, including Barnstaple, Ilfracombe and Combe Martin. Road: Follow the A399 from Ilfracombe and Combe Martin,or north from the A361.Then take the A39 towards Lynton and Lynmouth.

For further details on the geology of this area please view www.devon.gov.uk/geo-wec image - PDF icon (481KB - pdf help) and www.devon.gov.uk/geo-rll image - PDF icon (313KB - pdf help).

32. Combe Martin Bay to Hele Bay

Nearest town: Ilfracombe
OS grid reference: SS 536479 – SS 586484
Status: VMCA,AONB, SSSI, National Park
Management: National Trust, private landowners and Combe Martin Parish Council.
National Trust - logo

Commencing within Exmoor National Park, this beautiful stretch of coastline reveals some dramatic geology of the Devonian age.There are a number of very good exposures of sandstones and mudstones, and within these can be found a number of limestone bands, especially prominent at Rillage. These bands of limestone contain fossils, including corals, fish fragments and brachiopods (marine invertebrates) suggesting they were laid down in a shallow marine environment.

A particularly impressive feature of the coastline is the large number of folds that can be seen in the rock. They clearly indicate the tremendous pressures that were once at play here and are the result of the tectonic plate collision. Some of the bedding dips at angles of between 35° and 40° but other examples are almost vertical.

Combe Martin once mined silver for the Crown, as well as lead; iron ore was also worked. Part of a mine adit can be seen in the cliffs on the northeastern side of the beach. Lime burning was also practised, Combe Martin having more kilns than any other north Devon parish.

Facilities:
Parking is available at both Combe Martin Bay and Hele Bay. There is a small geology display at the Tourist Information Centre, near Kiln Car Park. There is also a museum in Combe Martin.

Access:
Foot:
There is access to both beaches (Hele Bay and Combe Martin Bay) as well as access to smaller secluded beaches such as Broadstrand and Watermouth. However, there is no access to much of the foreshore along the coastline and the dangers of falling from the cliff or getting cut off by incoming tides are high. The site can be best viewed from the beaches at low tide or from the South West Coast Path. Please also refer to the safety guidance at the start of this booklet. Road: Take the A399 from Ilfracombe and follow signs to Combe Martin Bay. Bus: There are regular services between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin and Hele Bay. Bicycle: There are signed on-road cycle routes between Ilfracombe, Combe Martin Bay and Hele Bay.

For further information please view www.devon.gov.uk/geo-hsc image - PDF icon (445KB - pdf help).

33. Woolacombe to Ilfracombe

Nearest town: Ilfracombe
OS grid reference: SS 457439 – SS 511476
Status:VMCA,AONB, SSSI
Management: National Trust & private landowners
National Trust - logo

Devon’s coastline shows some spectacular geology and this is certainly true between Woolacombe to Ilfracombe.

Woolacombe itself is home to an impressive series of sand dunes.A short way to the north is Barricane Beach. Here, slates deposited in a shallow marine environment during the Upper Devonian are well exposed and are very rich in fossils.

From here the South West Coast Path passes through the wonderful Morte Point, with cliffs of slate rising from 50m to 100m, and on through some of the most spectacular of Devon’s coastline to Ilfracombe.

The same tremendous forces that have caused rocks to be heaved up and folded in other parts of South West England caused similar deformation along this coast.The rocks were caught between two converging tectonic plates, were compressed and their minerals re-crystallised and re-orientated.This resulted in the more mud-rich rocks developing the ability to easily split (this is known as ‘slaty cleavage’).

Good examples of slaty cleavage can be seen with care from the cliffs at Windy Cove on Morte Point and further along in the cliffs of Tunnel Beach at Ilfracombe.As the name suggests,Tunnel Beach is reached through a tunnel which branches to the left and right.The left branch leads to ‘Gent’s Beach’ whilst the right branch takes you to ‘Lady’s Beach’, a reminder of the days when trips to the seaside were undertaken with a sense of decorum and modesty in mind.

Facilities:
The Devon Wildlife Trust organises guided rock pool adventures and other organised events.There are mini-marine centres at Ilfracombe Museum, Mortehoe Heritage Centre and Braunton

© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006
© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006

Countryside Centre.The National Trust organises many guided walks and events, including tractor/trailer rides to see the seals at Morte Point. In Ilfracombe there is an Aquarium. There is a small geology display at the Mortehoe Heritage Centre/Museum. Northern Devon and Exmoor.

Access:
Foot:
The South West Coast Path runs the entire length of the North Devon VMCA. Please take care and refer to the safety guidance at the start of this booklet. Road: From Barnstaple follow the A361 to Ilfracombe (Woolacombe is a turning off the A361 onto the B3343). Bus: There is a regular service from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe and from Barnstaple to Woolacombe (with a change in Trimstone). Bicycle: There is a National Cycle Route (on and off road) inland between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe connecting to Barnstaple.

To find out more about the North Devon VMCA please telephone 01271 812777 or view www.devonwildlifetrust.org. Also, www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

34. Lundy Admission charge applies

Nearest towns: Bideford & Ilfracombe
OS grid reference: SS 135460
Status: SSSI, MNR, SAC
Management: The Landmark Trust (owned by the National Trust)

Lundy is an island in the Bristol Channel, lying only 18 kilometres from mainland Devon. It is just five and a half kilometres long and less than a kilometre wide, and has been designated England’s first Marine Nature Reserve.A visit to the island is a unique and worthwhile experience.

Some of the rocks that make up Lundy began to form 380 million years ago when shallow marine muds were laid down and then compressed and heated to form slates.These ‘Morte Slates’ crop out in the extreme south-east of the island near the quay. However, most of Lundy is composed of granite, though not the same 280 million year old granite seen at Dartmoor. Instead it is a mere 60 million years old. It was injected into the Morte Slates during a period of volcanic activity connected with the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.

© Paul Glendell/Natural England
© Paul Glendell/Natural England

Unlike mainland Devon, Lundy was covered by glaciers during the Ice Age and this had a profound effect upon the shape of the island. It originally took the form of a cone but the ice decapitated this, leaving the flat topped island we see today.

Facilities:
Open all year.The ferry operates from late March to late October and a helicopter service operates thought the winter months for staying visitors.A Landrover can be provided at the jetty for disabled visitors.There is a pub and shop, and accommodation (book in advance).

Access:
Ferry:
From Bideford or Ilfracombe. Train and Bus: Frequent services from Barnstaple train station to Bideford or Ilfracombe.

For further details please view www.lundyisland.co.uk or www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

35. Baggy Point to Saunton Easy access routes available

Nearest town: Barnstaple
OS grid reference: SS 445407 to SS 446378 Status:VMCA,AONB, SSSI
Management: National Trust & private landowners
National Trust - logo

© Sarah Firth
© Sarah Firth

The coastline from Baggy Point south to Saunton Sands is a magnificent sight.The rocks are about 370 million years old (Devonian) and include a wide range of sedimentary rock types such as sandstones,shales,slates and limestones.The bulk of these were probably laid down in shallow marine or brackish waters.Today,the effect is impressive and the coastline boasts rugged cliffs rising in places to 60m.There is evidence of the past stresses and pressures that have been at work here, with dramatic folding and fractures in the rocks being quite common.

Of particular interest are the signs of Ice Age activity in the area. Raised platforms cut by wave action at times of high sea levels are now home to a number of large boulders transported here by ice. Some of these may have been carried considerable distances.The most famous,the Saunton Pink Granite (SS 44013787), weighs in at 12 tonnes and is likely to have come all the way from the northwest highlands of Scotland. This can be viewed

© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006
© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006

from the foreshore but if visiting the erratic please check the incoming tide as there is the risk of being cut off from the beach. See safety guidance at the front of this booklet.

Facilities:
There are various car parks which are easily accessible. For access to Baggy Point use the National Trust car park at Croyde Bay, then follow the South West Coast Path (easy access path to Baggy Point). There are also car parks at Saunton Sands and Downend near Croyde. Saunton Sands has a restaurant and both Saunton Sands and Downend have toilets and a small shop.

Access:
Foot:
From Croyde Bay the site can be accessed from the South West Coast Path. Bus: There are regular buses from Barnstaple to Saunton. Road: The site is located approximately 8 miles along the B3231 from Barnstaple (A361).

For further information on this site please view www.devon.gov.uk/geo-sau image - PDF icon (471KB - pdf help).

36. Braunton Burrows

Nearest towns: Braunton and Barnstaple
OS grid reference: SS 450350
Status: AONB, SSSI, SAC, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Management: Christie Estates & Ministry of Defence
logo

Braunton Burrows is a dramatic series of sand dunes located at the mouth of the Taw-Torridge Estuary and is one of the most important examples of its type in Britain. Few other dune systems are less affected by underlying geology and afforestation, making this a key site for the study of coastal geomorphology.

At over 5km long and 1.5km wide, the sheer scale of Braunton Burrows is impressive.Towards the centre of the site some of the dunes reach up to 30m in height and are amongst the largest in the country. Smaller foredunes, flooded slacks and past evidence of major sand blowouts can also be seen.

The dunes are of international importance for their wildlife, including a number of rarities, and form the core of a Biosphere Reserve.

© Neville Stanikk/North Devon AONB
© Neville Stanikk/North Devon AONB

Facilities:
Generally open to the public but areas are occasionally used for military training, including the firing of blank rounds, and visitors must observe any advice given by the range supervisors.

Access:
Foot:
The South West Coast Path runs just inland of the dunes and links with the Tarka Trail (and Braunton and Barnstaple). Bus and train: There are bus links to Barnstaple and nearby Braunton. Barnstaple has a main line train station. Cycle: The Tarka Trail provides an excellent National Cycle Network route from Barnstaple to Braunton along the Taw Torridge Estuary. Road: A number of small roads lead to the Burrows from nearby Braunton. Car parking is available off Sandy Lane.

Geological details are at www.devon.gov.uk/geo-brb image - PDF icon (480KB - pdf help).

37.Westward Ho! Cliffs and Northam Burrows

Nearest town: Bideford
OS grid reference: SS 420291 -434296 (Westward Ho! Cliffs) SS 445305 (Northam Burrows)
Status: AONB, SSSI
Management: Torridge District Council & private landowners
torridge district council logo

The Westward Ho! cliffs provide a good section of a raised beach platform well above the level of the present beach.This platform and the deposits upon it are very important because they provide evidence of glacier ice reaching the South West peninsula. For example, flint and granite erratics (stones transported by an ice sheet or glacier) are present, as is a deposit of angular rock debris of the kind that flows down slopes during freeze/ thaw conditions in the vicinity of ice.

Remarkably, there is a submerged forest amid peat deposits that can be seen around the low water mark at the eastern end of the site (SS 432296) off Westward Ho! Slipway at the southern end of Westward Ho! beach.This provides evidence of sea level rise during the Holocene Period and represents the swamping of a coastal forest by the sea about 6000 years ago.

© Craig Dixon
© Craig Dixon

The cliffs of Westward Ho! directly adjoin Northam Burrows Country Park.A grassy coastal plain with salt marsh and sand dunes, this site is of considerable importance for both its wildlife and geology. Of particular note is its famous shingle ridge/spit formed by longshore drift with pebbles coming from further around Bideford Bay, which features some unusually large pebbles.These are made of a hard, fine-grained sandstone that outcrops in the cliffs to the south.When exploring the coastline please take care and refer to the safety guidance at the start of this booklet.

Facilities:
Visitor centre and toilets are available at Northam Burrows.

Access: Foot: The South West Coast Path is readily accessible. Bus: There are bus links between Barnstaple, Bideford and Northam. Road: From the A39 from Barnstaple take B3236 through Northam and follow signs to Westward Ho!. Parking is available.

© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006
© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006

For opening times of the visitors centre please call 01237 479708 or view www.torridge.gov.uk. Further detail on the geology is available at www.devon.gov.uk/geo-nrb image - PDF icon (504KB - pdf help) and www.devon.gov.uk/geo-whc image - PDF icon (442KB - pdf help).

38. Codden Hill Viewpoint

Nearest town: Barnstaple
OS grid reference: SS 582296
Management: Private landowner

Codden Hill provides an excellent vantage point from which to see the surrounding features in the landscape that are related to the underlying geology. Rising to over 190 metres, there are views of both the granite massif of Dartmoor, to the south, and the sandstone and shale landscape of Exmoor to the north.

© Nick Steenman-Clark, Devon County Council
© Nick Steenman-Clark, Devon County Council

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the landscape, however, is the series of ‘whale-backed’ hills (of which Codden Hill is a fine example) which stretch west to east across the landscape and are visible as far as Swimbridge. They are the dramatic result of Earth movements of tremendous force resulting from the collision of tectonic plates.

Below and about 1.5km to the north of Codden Hill can be seen Venn Quarry, where sandstone has traditionally been worked to provide stone chippings with a high skid resistance for the top surface of roads.

On the summit of Codden Hill, towards its eastern end, there is a nationally important ‘bowl barrow’ with a surrounding ditch believed to date from the Bronze Age.

A small disused quarry [SS 569297] at the western end of Codden Hill near Codden Hill Cross provides a good, accessible exposure of the Codden Hill Chert Formation – the limestone and chert of the Lower Carboniferous period that dominates the local geology.

Facilities:
There is permissive access for horse riders, cyclists, and walkers. Grazing has been reintroduced so dogs need to be kept under tight control near livestock and gates need to be left as they are found. Some facilities are available in the nearby village of Bishop’s Tawton. There are two car parking areas; one is south of the site opposite Horswell and the other is south east of the site opposite Hayne.

Access:
Foot:
There are a number of footpaths that give access to the site and Codden Hill is just a short walk away from Bishops Tawton. Train: Regular train services are available to Barnstaple. Bus: There are regular bus services that run through Bishops Tawton from Barnstaple. Road: Bishops Tawton is situated to the east of the A377, 1 kilometre south of Barnstaple.

© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006
© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006

39. Hartland Point to Hartland Quay

Nearest town: Hartland
OS grid reference: SS 230277 – SS 222247
Status: AONB, SSSI, SAC.
Management: Private landowners

Lying within North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this stretch of coastline is one of the most dramatic in the British Isles. Breathtaking coastal scenery and wonderful cliff top walks are all to be found.

Here in the cliffs and foreshore you can view spectacular evidence of geological events which took place over 300 million years ago.The rocks are sandstones and mudstones that were laid down around 320 million years ago in what was then a brackish sea. Of particular interest are the striking patterns that can be seen in the faces of the cliffs. These tell a dramatic story of ancient forces that have helped to shape the Earth as we see it today.

About 300 million years ago, during a period of tectonic plate collision, tremendous pressure was exerted on the rocks of South West England. So powerful were these forces that the rocks were actually compressed like a concertina, producing a range of spectacular folds and faults that are visible today. These can be clearly seen in the cliffs to the north of Hartland Quay and a walk along the cliff top towards Hartland Point provides good views (if the tide is out) of the complex patterns of sandstone ribs produced on the foreshore by the folding.

© Pat Doody/Natural England
© Pat Doody/Natural England

Looking south from the Quay’s car park you can see a hanging valley and abandoned alluvial tract of the Milford Water.The truncated valley bottom can be seen clearly.

Facilities:
There is a small museum, car parking, shops and a hotel (with public bar and restaurant) at Hartland Quay.There is a car park and a refreshment kiosk (open from Easter to the end of September) in Hartland Point. (Please report any interesting geological finds to the kiosk.)

Access:
Foot:
The South West Coast Path runs along the site giving easy access to the area. Main access to the foreshore is at Hartland Quay, although there is limited access at Spekes Mill, Blackpool Mill and Blegberry Beach. There are high cliffs and dangers of being cut off by the incoming tide. There is also little or no sand here so walking is difficult.The walk from Hartland to Hartland Quay is about

5km (some of the walk is on-road so care should be taken, especially on the roads around Stoke which have no footpaths). Please refer to the safety guidance at the start of this booklet. Road: Take the A39 Bude to Bideford Road and Hartland Point/Hartland Quay can be accessed by a series of country roads. Bus: There is a regular service between Bideford and Hartland but it would include a walk to Hartland Quay.

© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006
© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006

For further information on this site, please view www.northdevon-aonb.org.uk or call Bideford Tourist Information Centre on 01237 421853.

40. Barley Grove and Torrington Common

Nearest town: Great Torrington
OS grid reference: SS 496189
Management: Torrington Common Conservators & Torridge District Council.
torridge district council logo

The beauty of this site is its views. Standing at the viewpoint on Great Torrington Common you can look south over the valley of the River Torridge. Evidence of how the river has shaped the physical structure of the valley can be clearly seen.

You will see the river curve in from your left to run along the bottom of the Common. Look at the inside of the curve and the slope rising up from the river. You will notice a series of terraces underlain by gravels. These terraces represent the past action of the river (both erosion and deposition) as it has progressively cut down into the landscape.

© Torrington Common Conservators
© Torrington Common Conservators

Turning your attention to the Common below the viewpoint, you will be able to observe from some of the footpaths that there are several exposures of sandstones, siltstones and shales that are not normally easy to see. These were formed in deep water during the Upper Carboniferous (the same time that coal was being laid down in South Wales).

The rocks, comprising sandstones with interbedded shale and siltstone, can best be seen along ‘Sliding Rock Path’.The bedding dips south and some quartz veining occurs.

Facilities:
Public facilities and refreshments are available in Great Torrington.

Access:
Foot:
Public footpaths run across the Common. Cycle: National Cycle Route 3 (the Tarka Trail) runs nearby. Road: Coming from the north on the M5 take J27 to the A361 to Barnstaple, then the A39 towards Bideford, then turn onto the B3232 to Great Torrington. Parking is available at the Barley Grove car park. Bus: There are regular buses from Bideford and Barnstaple to Great Torrington.

© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006
© Crown copyright.All rights reserved. 100019783. 2006

A diagram illustrating the river terrace levels is available on Devon County Council’s website: www.devon.gov.uk/geo-bag image - PDF icon (404KB - pdf help).