The Mariners Way
The Mariners Way across Devon is not a single trackway in its own right but was created by sailors travelling between the ports of Bideford and Dartmouth, who linked existing lanes, tracks and footpaths to form a direct route. The most interesting section, especially for walkers, uses paths and country lanes skirting the eastern fringe of Dartmoor.
Elements of the Mariners Way have no doubt existed since prehistoric times, when the moorland itself was surprisingly heavily settled; other parts date from the Saxon settlement of the Dartmoor fringes; but the way was not formalised as a through route until much later, with the growth of Bideford and Dartmouth in medieval times and the need for sailors to journey from one to the other in search of work. Indeed, the Mariners Way reached the peak of its popularity as late as the eighteenth century.
The manner in which the Mariners Way evolved, by linking pre-existing tracks, has inevitably given rise to speculation that it was not a true long distance path at all. Indeed, William Crossing says that, 'I have heard it spoken of as being merely a way from Zeal to Widecombe church'; but he concludes that 'there is good reason for believing that it extended right across the county'. He suggests that there were rest-houses every 8 or 10 miles along the way, though little evidence of this now survives. Entries in the Gidleigh church records between 1730 and 1774 record the giving of alms to sailors, and this both supports the tradition that the route existed and also emphasises the historical period during which it was most heavily used.
The way can only be traced with any certainty in its central section, as it skirts the eastern fringe of Dartmoor. It seems to have linked Bideford and Great Torrington via the Torridge valley and then to have made for South Zeal. From here, lanes and paths mark the route through Throwleigh, Gidleigh, Glassy Steps and Yardworthy to Lettaford. The Mariners Way then avoided the crest of Hamel Down, keeping to its eastern slopes through Combe, Hookney and Widecombe. The way south to Dartmouth is uncertain but it probably went via Ashburton and Totnes.
(From Walking Ancient Trackways - Michael Dunn)
The embedded clip “We’re on the Mariner’s Way” was written and sung by Trevor Munkenbeck