Saturday, 10 October 2015

South West Coast Path Section 42 Salcombe to Torcross

Another year has gone by without a serious assault on the Coast Path but I didn't want the summer to go completely before getting at least a couple more stretches in and so I decamped to Paignton for a couple of days.  I decided this was a good base as it is relatively cheap to stay there and reasonably close to the two stretches of coast path that I wanted to complete - Salcombe to Dartmouth.

Rush Hour
Before starting my walk for the day I had a bit of a problem in that I seriously underestimated how much time I would need to drive the relatively short distance to Torcross.  Although only about 20 miles from Paignton I had forgotten that the Dartmouth Ferry would take a while to negotiate and the narrow roads beyond.  This meant that when I got to Torcross I was approximately 5 minutes behind the time that the bus should have left.  I was just trying to decide what to do and where to park when the dratted thing came up alongside!  Not wanting to wait another hour to get started I decided to follow along behind it and it wasn't too long before I caught it up and then passed it as it came along to pick up passengers.  I decided to stop at the next village and caught the bus from there.  This meant that I had my original start time from Salcombe but it did give me the added problem that I would now have to make sure I finished my walk by the time of the bus later on in the day.
Portlemouth Ferry

I stopped at Kingsbridge as I had to change buses and this gave me the opportunity to get some provisions and have a little look around before the bus on into Salcombe.  This was a bit of a rattly ride and I thought we were going to come to grief at one point when we met a lorry coming the other way.  These Devonish roads are certainly not for the faint hearted!  Eventually when I got to Salcombe the bus got me about as close to the centre of town as it could (ie not very!) and I wandered along the street that most closely follows the waterfront in search of the ferry across to East Portlemouth on the other side of the estuary.

Leaving Salcombe Harbour
On the way through the rather choked streets of Salcombe I grabbed a pasty and after a false alarm as ferries were concerned I finally found the one a lot further down the street at the bottom of some steep steps.  Clutching my molten pasty on the ferry crossing I alighted from the boat free at last of the crowds in the town.  I decided to wait in the waiting hut to eat my pasty before moving on.  In the time it took me to eat the ferry made two more crossings!  I enjoyed sitting and watching the world go by and especially the families all enjoying the beach below where I sat.

Kayak Party
The onward walk reminded me very much of the section I had walked out of Kingswear a year earlier.  My initial path was along a road accessing some very large houses that must have the most exquisite views.  I would soon have the same as there were views out over Mill Bay, which was full of more summer beach visitors enjoying the sunshine.  The similarity between this and the section out of Kingswear was still present but thankfully I did not have the same rollercoaster of slopes to deal with when the road ran out.  True, I had a longish climb through trees to deal with but there were not the dramatic drops down to sea level and rises again immediately after a valley containing a trickle of water.  I have to say that on a seriously hot day I was pleased about that.

Coastal Lookout

The path soon emerged from the woods and the shade went with it.  I slapped on plenty of sun cream and was thankful that I had had the presence of mind to buy a sunhat from the market in Kingsbridge.  As I entered Portlemouth Down I left the mouth of the harbour behind and the cozy welcoming landscape turned immediately to the wild coast that I love so much.  Even here the terrain was mostly level and I had none of the tough walking that I have had on other sections.  Yet the heat was pretty relentless and I was very pleased to reach Gara Rock as there was a cafe marked on the map.  Any notion that it would be a small welcoming tea house were soon scotched though when I came upon something rather newer and fancier than I imagined.  As well as some very good looking (and I suspect rather expensive) holiday lets the cafe was more gastro-pub than tea room and it was jammed with people enjoying a late lunch on the deck outside.  I purchased a small ice cream (felt slightly cheated at the price) and sat at one of the tables feeling decidedly out of place.  Although I had paid restaurant prices for the ice cream I was at least thankful for the jugs of ice cold water and drained most of the contents of one before moving on.

Looking Back to Salcombe Harbour Mouth
I immediately undid all the climb that I had done to get to the cafe and descended down to Rickham Sands, the beach where it looked like most of the visitors were headed.  Once beyond the hoards here I was really pleased when the people dissipated once more and I had the path to myself.  The onward path was delightful - it mostly clung to a shelf just wide enough to walk along.  The rock formations along here were interesting but had a strange set of names all to do with pigs including Ham Stone, Pig's Nose and Gammon Head.  At the latter the path climbed up and over to reveal a beautiful and rather lonely looking cove beyond.  The top was a rich wildflower meadow full of butterflies, moths and bees all very busily pollinating what they could.
Secluded Cove

A little further on and I suddenly caught sight of something very odd - what looked for a moment like a nuclear worker wandering around in the bracken further up the slope.  He was wearing a full protective suit and seemingly wandering aimlessly through the bracken.  When I got closer to him I saw the reason for his presence - the National Trust are undertaken a bracken clearance programme in this area to improve the biodiversity.  Having seen what that might look like less than a quarter of a mile away I have to be supportive of that initiative.  I shouted a supportive comment up to the bracken sprayer who looked rather miserable in his work on such a hot day.  We waved back and passed the time of day.  I'd like to think he thought that I was being supportive anyway and not just a meddling old fool.

My onward path continued with the same sort of terrain for some time rounding deep coves and clinging to the hillside until I got to Prawle Point.  This is apparently the southernmost point in Devon and is marked by an old coastguard lookout station now manned by volunteers from the Coastwatch charity.  All around the station the bracken had been replaced by gorse and surprising amounts of toadflax plants.  I was trying to get a picture of one of these close up when I lost my balance and fell into the gorse - decidedly painful and in my opinion far worse than falling into nettles!  The watcher in the station today was too busy looking far out to sea to take any notice of me as I walked by and as I passed the station the nature of the coast completely changed.  Beyond was a flatter area and small strip fields were taking up the space between what looked like the old cliff line and the new.

Prawle Point
I descended down to this section of coast admiring the coastguard cottages built into the hillside on the way down.  I wonder if the former coastguards had any idea about how desirable their houses would eventually become?  Every set I have come across on this walk have been fabulous and have the most amazing sea views.  What followed was rather an easy couple of miles of walking alongside fields on a flat piece of coast - rather different from anything else I have experience on the Devon part of the coast path.  It was a pleasant interlude with hederows starting to ripen with autumn fruits and butterflies doing their best to tease me into trying to take a picture of them.  Most of the time they won the game by flying off at the crucial moment but I did manage one or two shots.  My piece was shattered by the sound of harvest as the combine harvester was obviously tasked with tackling all the corn fields along the coast.  This is a sight I really didn't expect to see on this part of the Devon coast.
View From Prawle Point

When I got closer to Lannacombe Bay houses started to reappear along the coast.  Perhaps the most impressive of these was Maelcombe House, busily being reconstructed a little further to the north.  The original one was an 11 bedroom Edwardian House that sold for about £3.5m.  Looking at the reconstruction I am guessing that not much of the original has been retained and it is going to seriously well appointed when it is finished.
Coast Near East Prawle
It seemed to take a long time to reach the little settlement of Lannacombe Bay as the path wove through areas of woodland and field edges.  When I did get there I found a car park that was almost exclusively taken up with camper vans and surfers.  Judging from the sea conditions today I suspect very little in the way of surfing had been done.  The kayakers I am sure had a much better time!

I was quite focused now on reaching Start Point as I knew that this would be the point from which I could think about the end of the day's walking.  It had been a thirsty day and I was also looking forward to hopefully finding some more facilities on the way.  As I headed out of Lannacombe Bay I rather got in the way of some birdwatchers.  When I heard that they were observing a stonechat I felt somewhat better though as those are very common along the path and I had seen several already that day.  The path climbed slowly but surely away from the coast again as I got closer to Start Point.  It was around this point that I came across a rather strange and unexplained incident.  I was just about to pass an older couple of ramblers coming in the opposite direction when the woman threw down her rucsac, said something or other to her companion and then marched off back in the direction from where she had came, leaving the companion rather sheepish looking as I passed.  I couldn't decide if it were a row or forgetting something but whatever precipitated it the lady who was easily 20 years my senior left me for dead as she marched off!  She didn't stop at the car park as I expected either but continued on along the path towards the lighthouse.  I wonder what prompted it and whether it was resolved later?

Lannacombe Bay
I soon came to Start Point lighthouse.  I always like to see a lighthouse on my trip - along with the ferries these are what I come to associate with the Coast Path.  Although I got a pretty decent view of the lighthouse in its setting from the path when I came to the service road I though I ought to take a closer look and wandered the 1/4 mile down to see it close up.  The lighthouse was built in 1836 and must have been one of the easier ones to be stationed at as the access road was relatively stratghtforward - no demanding boat trips or being completely surrounded by sea.  As with all the others run by Trinity House the lighthouse is fully automated and has been for more than 20 years.

Lannacombe Beach
The view forward completely changed now and at last Torcross came into view.  The path down to reach it looked rather daunting though and I started to worry about having enough time.  The way ahead looked mostly downhill or flat from here so I felt reasonably confident but I was aware of a sting in the tail towards the end as the path climbs up behind an old quarry.  My first destination though was the partially deserted village of Hallsands, about a mile away down the bracken covered slopes.  When I finally reached the village I stopped at the viewing platform to see the remains of the old village.
Start Lighthouse

In late Victorian times contractors building at Devonport Dockyard were given permission to extract shingle here and in so doing the story is that the natural defences of Hallsands were quickly denuded and the village exposed to the elements, resulting in the houses being so badly damaged that they were left uninhabitable.  Now the battered remains stand forlornly in a line waiting for the sea to finally take them away.  Even the access road is too dangerous for visitors and so this platform has been left to allow people to see the remains of the village.

Start Bay
I pushed on past a small beach that had the remains of the day's visitors enjoying the early evening sunshine and over the small hill that separates Hallsands and Beesands.  When I got to Beesands I was really pleased to see a small shop and I went in and got an ice cold drink, which was hugely welcome.  Beesands seems quite an agreeable little place on a day like this - there was a smattering of visitors that were clearly enough to keep the shop and nearby pub going but there was no sense that the place gets completely overrun.  Feeling refreshed I plodded along the back of the beach and past a pretty rudimentary looking football pitch that had enough facilities to suggest that it is used for competitive matches.

Beesands Quarry was the sting in the tail of the walk.  The quarry itself is disused and owned by the National Trust and the walker can either go up and around it as I did or they can walk along the beach if the tide is right.  With a shingle beach I am not sure this is a preferable option even if the climbing is avoided.  As climbs go it was nothing like that I had already completed of course but it did feel like a slog at the end of a lengthy stretch of path on a hot day.  I was relieved to reach Torcross with enough time to spare to make it feel comfortable but without the frustration of a lengthy wait for the bus.  As I arrived there had been a bit of a drama with a young holidaymaker on the opposite side of the rooad who had been playing about and slipped and broken his arm.  The ambulance arrived within minutes and carted him away.  Holiday spoiled no doubt but hopefully no lasting damage.

This was a relatively easy stretch of the path only made difficult by the later start; the logistics of getting from one end to the other and the hot sunny conditions which were tiring to deal with.  The climbing is mostly modest and the beaches look most inviting.  My only observation was that considering I was here on a Monday it was extremely busy - some sections of the path were rather to full of other walkers for my liking.


  1. Nice to see you have made it back to walk more of the South West Coast Path. It certainly looks like you had good weather for it. I know what you mean about the roads though. I'm glad I don't have to drive the double deck bus between Kingsbridge and Dartmouth!

    1. I got seriously lucky with the weather Jon. I have another day in the can but hoping to have a major assault on the path next year