|Berry Head View|
I had one of those extremely rare days for my next outing; a full day of walking with no time limits except for when it got dark. Being that it was almost midsummer’s day that would be a very long time indeed J. In fact I had managed to sneak a cheeky trip to the South West in to get a couple of days of walking the coast path in. As I only had a couple of days to spare I decided that it would be good to walk the English Riviera section from Dartmouth to Torquay.
|Berry Head Lighthouse|
I didn’t have the luxury of travelling down the night before so it was an early start from Worthing but I managed to avoid the worst of the traffic and arrived in Brixham around 10am. I really struggled to find a long term parking spot in the town and so I thought it best to park up on Berry Head, which was near the end of my scheduled walk for the day and just outside the town.
|Catch of the Day|
The top of Berry Head also had a few facilities including a toilet and a place to buy drinks in the shape of a café at the adjacent Napoleonic Fort. This was a huge structure built on an earlier Iron Age hillfort and it was easy to see why it should have been built here for the view all around Brixham and Torbay was astonishing. Ahead I could see Hope’s Nose, a section I walked around in 2011 (scary to think it was 3 years ago!), and even further away the mass of Portland Bill could just be made out. Apparently it is 42 miles away as the crow flies, but I know all too well how far it is to walk!
I lingered on Berry Head for quite a while enjoying the views as knowing that I would be staying overnight, I had all the time in the world. Eventually after taking in all the views and inspecting the lighthouse (which apparently is the shortest one in England), I headed off down through the woods into Brixham. The little fishing town of Brixham is surely one of the most picturesque of all the coastal settlements in Devon and certainly rivals some of the other fishing ports in Cornwall. Even from the end of the coastal road I could tell that I was going to like it and fortunately there was some time to explore before my onward bus to Kingswear arrived.
|Brixham Outer Harbour|
The path skirted past the lido, a seawater filled swimming pool that was largely empty except for a couple of brave souls but which had the most increadible blue hue to the water and a very attentive lifeguard; attentive to me that was – he seemed to be ignoring the swimmer in the pool! As I got nearer to town the activity increased considerably and the docksides seemed to be mostly populated by the older generation and all of them seemed to have northern accents! Not exactly what I was expecting but then I suppose that a lot of people come here on coach trips and stay in the nearby resorts of Torquay or Paignton.
|Brixham Inner Harbour|
The harbour was full of activity with fishing boats being repaired and scrubbed down ready for the next trip. I imagine though that the activity here now is minimal compared to what it would have been when the harbour was full of trawlers 40 or 50 years ago. Like so many fishing ports the fleet in Brixham is a shadow of what it once was. Still I was fascinated by the colours and activity of the port – for me these are some of the most magical scenes all along the coast path.
A couple of notable pieces of history are commemorated in Brixham harbour. The first is a replica of the Golden Hind ship, famously sailed by Sir Francis Drake during the Battle against the Spanish Armada. I’m not clear on why the Golden Hind is here but it looks like a faithful replica and has been here since the mid 1960s since when hundreds of thousands of visitors have come to see what life must have been like for the sailors of this surprisingly modest sized ship. The other reminder of our history is the statue to William III, formerly the Prince of Orange. Brixham was the place that he landed rather bizarrely when he launched his ‘Glorious Revolution’. Although the spin on this event was that he was welcomed into the country with open arms I can’t help thinking that he was nothing more than a usurper and opportunist with a rather weak claim to the throne. Still, the victors write history and I cannot profess to be an expert on such things. Brixham clearly celebrates their part in this slice of English History by providing a very fine looking statue near the spot where he is said to have landed.
Having scouted around Brixham I headed for the bus. It turned out to be one of those slightly larger than a mini bus and it was pretty full. I did feel decidedly young though and the chap next to me seemed to belong to a completely different era as he described his latest meals to the lady sat next to him. Most appeared to contain offal, which seemed very weird. The bus journey was about half and hour and we rattled around the narrow country lanes until finally getting to my destination of Kingswear. I have only been to this part of the Dart Valley once before and had completely forgotten how beautiful it was. The view across to the famous Naval College of Dartmouth was quite phenomenal. Below me was the steam railway that comes down here from Paignton. Sadly no trains to look at and I wasn’t in the mood to wait a couple of hours for it to arrive.
I walked down past the station to the car ferry quay. A queue of cars was waiting for the ferry to return from Dartmouth and I watched its progress before looking around for refreshments. I soon realised that facilities on the Kingswear side of the river were quite limited and I settled for buying stuff from the steam railway café. Supplied up I finally got myself going on the walk proper and by now it was lunchtime!
I soon realised it was going to be a hot one and was pleased that a large part of the early part of the walk was through trees as the shade was very welcome. Before the trees though and it was various steep streets that I had to negotiate through Kingswear. Most of the housing here has been deliberately built to exploit the views out across the River Dart, but perhaps the one that did this most of all was the house known as Inverdart. This was built for one of the Legal Director of the Great Western Railway and it certainly befitted his status as one of the bigwigs of the company. Eventually the road ran out and I passed by the memorial of Lt Col Herbert Jones, who died during the Falklands Conflict. The onward stretch of path around Newfoundland Cove has been dedicated to his honour and it starts with a knee crunching zig zag path back down to sea level followed by a huge climb of equal magnitude straight back up the other side.
I took the opportunity of a breather at the top and had my lunch in the cool woods that I found there. After the shock of this rapid descent and ascent I was pleased that for awhile at least the path levelled out through the trees and every so often I was afforded the most amazing views across to Dartmouth Castle and the mouth of the Dart but also across to Start Point, an as yet unexplored part of the coast. For this section though this was probably my favourite part of the day. I had the path completely to myself and the combination of the wooded coast and occasional views were quite spectacular.
Eventually I reached Inner Froward Point and came upon the coastguard lookout, now run by the voluntary organisation the Coastwatch Institute. The occupants looked pretty intense about their business so I took the opportunity instead to look over the gun encasements and other defences for this very strategic lookout. I decided to take the long route around the headland and this was a good move for I found lots of remnants of the old defence battery still lurking in the woods. The complex even included an old railway which was rather curious – I understand it was used to deliver shells to a lower casement.
|Dart Mouth View|
Although most interesting it was pretty hard work in the heat visiting all these relics especially since at the end of the tour I had to regain all the height I had lost to go around Outer Froward Point. The coast took a completely different look now – gone was the wooded hillside and now was a more familiar rugged and rock coast. I also left the views across the Dart behind and for a short time didn’t get to see much of the onward path at all. I was now focused on seeing if I could get to the tea shop at the nearby National Trust gardens at Coleton Fishacre. I had read in my guide book that the lower gate to the gardens from the coast path was open on a Friday and felt this was an opportunity too good to miss!
As billed the gate was open and I entered a very different world to the rugged coast outside. This was a garden of lush growth and tropical plants rather than the grassland and wildflowers of outside. What was also apparent was the size of the hill up through the gardens to get to the tea shop! I struggled up, meeting the gardener more or less at the top. He passed the time of day with me, telling me all about the grass snake that swims in the pond in front of the house. The house itself was built for Ralph D’Oyley Carte, who was the impresario for Gilbert and Sullivan. I headed straight for the tea shop without stopping and you can only begin to imagine my disappointment when I discovered it wasn’t open. In fact I quickly realised that the house wasn’t open either – I was very cross after having got my hopes up.
I couldn’t face going back down the hill for I knew that I would need to make another stiff climb on the Coast Path itself so I took the dog walking route that headed along the contour. I felt very pleased with myself for at least salvaging something from this disaster but soon realised that I was in fact heading for a lengthy cul-de-sac as there was no outlet to the Coast Path at the other end. By now I was pretty cross and so I did something I would not normally have dreamed of, which was to go off piste, climb a couple of fences and regain the official path through unofficial means!
The next three miles or so were tough going as the path never seemed to stay at the same level for very long. I clung to the side of the cliff for much of the way along narrow paths, mostly in the open air although a couple of times I did head through some wooded patches, one of which seemed to be a favourite of some local horses for they left the surface of the path covered with their droppings and they weren’t too easy to negotiate! At my arrival at Scabbacombe Sands I was really pleased to get down to sea level for my feet were hot and the opportunity to dip them in the sea was far too good to miss. Strangely this is one of the few times I have done this anywhere on the walk (principally because I normally come when the weather is colder!).
After half an hour or so of resting and getting my feet refreshed I summoned up the energy to make the latest climb at the other end of the cove. When I finally puffed my way to the top I became aware of some eyes looking at me and realised that there was a herd of goats waiting for me. They certainly looked bemused by my presence but chose to ignore me after considering that in my puffed out state I was going to be no threat to them. I was pleased that after this encounter I was able to recover my composure a little with some level walking ahead of me for half a mile or so.
I was not best pleased though to find that my new found height was soon lost though as I headed back down to sea level past some pretty lonely coastguard cottages. They looked fairly deserted and I couldn’t help thinking that they must be pretty tough to get to as their track was pretty long and rather bumpy looking. That is not a journey I would like to do on a rainy winter day…
|Reaching For The Sky|
This beach (Long Sands) was not as nice as the last one but it did seem popular with dog walkers. One woman in particular was there the whole time I could see the beach chucking stones into the sea for her three dogs to chase. She may still be there for all I know! Anyhow, at the far end of the beach was yet another huge climb but thankfully this was to be the last. I fact I am not sure I could have managed another one – the heat had really sapped my energy.
|Heading Down to Long Sands|
It was largely level walking all the way to Sharkham Point and as I got close the numbers of people increased dramatically. I soon realised that most were early evening strollers coming out for a couple of hours of the last of the sunshine before going back to their caravan parks (of which there were many just out of sight). After pausing for the view at Sharkham Point I trudged on only to find yet another nasty shock. I would have to divert inland as the onward stretch of the Coast Path had been swept away in the winter storms. This was a fairly unpleasant diversion too as I had to walk through a housing estate and then a seldom used path at the back of some houses. My legs were stung and scratched to blazes as I fought my way through the undergrowth.
|Sharkham Point View|
Finally I reached the path once again and the last section into Berry Head car park was pleasant and relatively easy walking but after the rollercoaster of the day and the hot weather I was ready to finish. It probably wasn’t but the last mile seemed like 10!
|St Mary's Bay|
Although this walk wasn’t without its frustrations and I was possibly too hot to enjoy it completely, this was an incredibly scenic section and some of the views were up there with the best I have seen on the whole path. I particularly liked walking through the fishing settlements of Brixham and Kingswear. The gardens at Coleton Fishacre were very beautiful but perhaps my highlight was paddling in the sea at Scabbacombe Sands – wonderfully luxuriant!