East Devon’s Woodbury Common is a great place for walking and sketching. It is an AONB and SSSI. Although the area is commonly known as Woodbury Common, it is an area of Pebblebed Heaths, made up of Woodbury Common, Bicton Common, East Budleigh Common, Lympstone Common, Colaton Raleigh Common, Hawkerland Valley, Harpford Common, Aylesbeare Common and further north Venn Ottery Common.
It is an area of mostly heathland but also includes natural woods and plantations. With a wealth of habits for wildlife and spectacular views over the landscape or south out across the sea.
Many paths run throughout the area. You can set off to explore, following your nose and take the next path in a circular direction to get back to were you started. Some can be steep or very wet – dress accordingly. The paths are shared by walkers, horse riders, mountain bikers and the Royal Marines, who use it as a training area. They can often be seen ‘yomping’ along or peeping out from a brush.
Long Shadows on Woodbury Common
Watercolour A5 ~ Sold
Cold clear winters day, with the sun dropping away. Very cold sketching, but I always love this view, looking over Woodbury Common to the hills and sea beyond. Over East Budleigh someone is having a bonfire with smoke rising.
Now I’ll have to jump around to get my hands working again, I don’t feel the cold so much when I’m painting, but when I’m finished that’s when I realize how cold I’ve become.
‘Sea Mist in the Estuary’
Watercolour & Brush Pen, A5 ~ Sold
This sketch is looking down into the Exe Estuary, from the Common.
The day started with us in thick sea mist, but as the day went on in lowered until it was just hugging the coast, with fingers of mist stretching into the estuaries. We had thought to go for a walk along the cliffs, but on heading into the mist at Exmouth, decided to head back to Woodbury Common. Here we had a lovely sunny walk, at one point being surrounded by Skylarks ~ which was quite magical!
‘View from Woodbury Common’
Watercolour, A5 ~ Sold
The view of the Exe, without the mist obscuring the view.
A scorcher of a day, we parked up in as much shade as possible on Woodbury Common, close to the hill fort. With this sketch I was trying to capture the dappled light in the woods, with the brightly lit ferns underneath. Using blues for my shadow area.
Geology of the Pebblebed Heathland
The alluvial pebblebeds, of rounded pebbles, were laid down during the Triassic period. 235 million years ago. Extending up to the Somerset border and can be 32 metres in thickness. They were deposited by a large turbulent river, that was flowing northwards. This river has been given the nickname of ‘Budleighensis’, after Budleigh Salterton, where these pebbles are easy to see. This Triassic climate was a hot desert, with inland salt lakes and mountainous areas.
This river eventually dried up, leaving the pebbles exposed to years of strong winds. Eventually being buried by sands, it was at this time that the small Rhynchosaurs were wandering around. Their interesting, fossil remains can be seen Exeter’s RAMM Museum.
Rhynchosaur fossils sketched at the RAMM
The Hillfort (lost in the trees in the background). Which is part of Europe’s largest Pebblebed Heathland here in Devon. It was formed millions of years ago, with the pebbles being in a huge delta.
It’s a lovely sunny day, Skylarks singing at times and the gorse starting to come out. A few people coming and going, but the ‘big’ view of the Exe Estuary was too hazy to paint today.
Woodbury Castle is a large Iron Age hillfort, dating from 800 BC to 50 AD. It stands on the the ridgetop overlooking the Exe Estuary. At around 175m above sea level, it is clearly visible from the surrounding area. In the Iron Age it would have been making a big impression on the landscape – ‘Here we are!’ The B3180 runs through the middle of the monument. I have always wondered if this was the path running through the original hillfort gateways, that has been slowly upgraded over the years.
The hillfort has large, impressive ramparts and ditches. The inner rampart would have been topped by a timber palisade. To the north of the hillfort, there is a separate, linear rampart. Running at right angles to the ridge, presumably to protect access from that direction. Now the ramparts and inner area of the hillfort are covered with magnificent, tall beech trees and a dappled light plays where the roundhouses once stood.
Predating the Castle are several Bronze Age, Bowl Barrows which also, occupy this prominent ridge. Showing that people have been living and shaping this landscape for centuries.
‘Woodbury Castle Ramparts’
Watercolour, fineliner pen & brush pen, A5
Sitting up on Woodbury Castle while the little lad plays with his mate. This sketch is of the huge earthen banks of the hillfort with all the tall beech trees growing in and around it with a dappled light breaking through the canopy.
This sketch started out quite different it just being a pencil sketch – I had used a thick graphite stick and a 6B pencil. I thought I would just add a little subtle watercolour over it, just to indicate the colours. However, when I added the watercolour I found that the graphite stick was water-soluble and all ‘blurged’ together. So I ended up adding stronger watercolour and went over everything with a black pen and brushpen to put back the definition.
‘Beech tree roots to the Sea’
Watercolour and Brush Pen, A5
Woodbury Common, not far from the castle. Looking past the large beach trees growing on the wall. They have a great root structure, which I always love looking at. Beyond the Common, you can see Bulverton Hill and the sea. It’s a lovely spring day, with a slight breeze.
‘Out across the Common’
The lad and I are out for an early morning ramble out across Woodbury Common with our sketchbooks in our rucksacks.
The colours on the Common today are much more Autumnal and Clinton Estates has the cattle out browsing.
We sit in the sun sketching, looking out across the Common and down towards the sea at the mouth of the Otter. With the cows strung out in the valley bottom, mooching about. It’s quite a difficult, large landscape and I don’t think I did it justice. But never mind it recalls the view for me wonderfully. I have just used normal cartridge paper and it has ‘cockled’ a bit, but I’ll press the book when I get back and all will be well ????
Walking back I carry the sketchbook horizontal at my side, as the paint is still wet.
‘Woodbury Common Woods’
Out sketching with my little lad again and as last time we are in the woods, sketching trees. This time on Woodbury Common. This is my sketch, we didn’t have too long, so I tried to capture an impression of the light and shadows across the clearing, with the light tree trunks showing stark against the background. It’s still quite wintery so there are not, as yet, many green tones.
I picked up some Sweet Chestnuts, close to where I was sketching above. They were drawn and painted later at home.
‘Dark, heavy clouds over Woodbury Common’
After several days of heavy rain, you can look across the Exe Estuary and see the flooding on the opposite side.
The Common does not seem so bad in general, though in places the ground is very saturated and spongy. At one point I went into the mud up to the top of both of my wellies, almost getting stuck. Much to the amusement of the family! Thanks, Guys.
Access is easy, there are several car parks around the main part of the Common. However, they can quickly fill during busy times.
Clinton Devon Estates and the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, who manage the Commons, ask that you:
Enjoy your visit,
Remove all litter from the site,
Read and adhere to any signs and notice boards,
Consider other visitors to the heaths,
Follow the Pebblebed Codes,
Consider becoming a Friend of the Commons to help protect this incredible place.
Please Do Not
Stray from the pathways,
Camp or light a fire,
Organise events or undertake commercial activities without a license,
Use a metal detector,
Climb on Woodbury Castle,
© Copyright Nick Watton.
All Rights Reserved.