Coast path below the cliffs
Picture a secretive sunken track way winding over hill and dale with tall hedge banks along each side and overhanging trees meeting overhead. Green lanes like this are one of the special features of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Some were ancient packhorse and drovers’ tracks dating back hundreds of years.
Today we have a wonderful network of green lanes that can be used for walking, horse riding and cycling and are legally designated as public footpaths, bridleways or byways. Some are legally designated as 'unclassified county roads' and these can also be used by vehicles, though usually only 4x4s and trail bikes can get through.
Wherever there is a public right of access along green lanes, they will be clearly signed with marker posts at each end. But remember that if there is no official signpost, then the route may well be a private farm track with no public access allowed.
The best way of finding and navigating the green lanes is to use the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL20 for South Devon.
On the Devon County Council website there is a useful interactive map of all the public rights of way of the county, though not all green lanes are shown.
For cyclists, all our green lanes where cycling is permitted have been mapped, photographed and described on the One South West website Adventure Cycle Map.
When properly cleared and maintained, these lanes offer a wonderful way to explore the countryside and provide a haven for plants, birds and other wildlife. Some of these unique routes have become gullied out from storm rainfall and overgrown with vegetation.
Local highway authorities (Devon County Council, Torbay Council, Plymouth City Council) are responsible for maintaining the surface of the green lanes in their areas which are legally designated as public rights of way. However, maintaining the banks, hedgerows and trees alongside these routes is the responsibility of the adjoining landowners.
A £1.3 million Heritage Lottery funded programme called Life Into Landscape recently gave a much needed boost to the green lanes of South Devon. Fifty lanes were restored and repaired, but there is still plenty more to be done.
Some green lanes have wonderful names and stories to tell. Runaway Lane near Modbury got its name after it was used as an escape route by fleeing Royalist soldiers in the English Civil War in 1643.
Local author Valerie Belsey has written a number of really useful and informative books on South Devon’s green lanes, published by Green Books and available for sale in local bookshops. These include Discovering Green Lanes and Exploring Green Lanes in the South Hams.