Wednesday, 14 October 2015

South West Coast Path Section 43 Torcross to Dartmouth

With these flying visits I always try to make the hardest walk first so that on the day of my return I am not too tired to drive home.  I was pleased that this next section of walk promised to be rather easier than the previous day and with only 10 miles of walking the distance was a little more modest too.  I decided that after my trip over on the Dartmouth ferry in the car yesterday that I would leave it behind at Kingswear today and get the foot ferry over and take the bus to Torcross.  I also made sure that I gave myself plenty of time today and found a parking spot at the yacht club.  When I made it across the Dart I had plenty of time for a coffee while I waited for the bus.
Slapton Ley

As I stood waiting for the bus I became aware of a very penetrating voice from a young girl talking very loudly into her phone.  I couldn't understand a word she was saying as it was in a foreign language that I didn't recognise although it sounded Eastern European.  I was horrified when she got on the bus behind me and continued her loud conversation for some considerable time on the bus.  Eventually she was told to shut up by one of the other passengers.  She took it in good grace but my goodness I have never heard anyone talk quite so loudly and quickly in all my life.  She got off at Blackpool Sands and everyone breathed a big sigh of relief and relaxed into their journey.

Sherman Memorial
I was the only person who got off at Torcross.  I suspect most of the passengers (who were pensioners) were on for the duration of the journey all the way back to Plymouth.  It was a little chilly to start with but the day soon got going as I began the walk along Slapton Sands.  This was the scene of Exercise Tiger; a World War II operation that was a rehearsal for the D Day landings but which ended in tragic consequences as German E Boats attacked the operation and the attack plus the ensuing chaos resulted in nearly 1000 American servicemen losing their lives.  Because of the utmost secrecy of what was taking place here the whole incident was hushed up until after the War and remains a footnote in history.  On the beach itself the events of those tragic days are remembered though and the focus of the memorial is a Sherman Tank that was dragged out of the water and partially restored.  It is a poignant and arresting monument - you just cannot pass by without learning more about the tragedy that brought it there.

US Memorial
The first two and a half miles of my walk today was entirely flat as I proceeded along Slapton Sands.  These are not really sands at all but are made up of shingle of varying grades.  The beach is like a small version of Chesil Beach further to the east as they trap behind it Slapton Ley, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Devon.  The beach was formed during sea level changes after the last ice age and the material is constantly reworked but not replenished.  If the beach were removed like that at Hallsands it would not replace itself and the sea would engulf the lake behind.

Looking Back Along Slapton Sands
Despite the flat terrain I cannot say it was a boring walk.  As I wandered along - sometimes on the beach and sometimes on the Ley side I enjoyed the cloudscapes; the flowers and the insect life that abounded here.  In fact the only thing that wasn't very enjoyable was the traffic that interrupted the peace and quiet regularly.

Strete 'Pub'
About half way along the beach I stopped to read the very large memorial by the side of the road.  This one had a different focus - it was there as a gift from the Americans to the people of the surrounding villages who had sacrificed their homes to be used for the purposes of military training in the early months of 1944.  Some of the houses had been blown up or significantly damaged in the process.  It is hard to believe that people would sacrifice in quite the same way nowadays.

Strete Coast
Eventually I reached the end of the beach and the road double backed inland.  My path took the route of the old road up the side of the cliff overlooking the beach.  This was a gentle climb at first and the going was quite pleasant.  The track soon opened up into one that was obviously accessed by motorised transport and became less pleasant as I continued upwards.  However, I soon learned that this was actually a new path replacing a rather unpleasant section along the main road so comfort in small mercies I think :)  I paused to look down at the beach one last time before disappearing into the woods and was rather surprised to see people wandering about with no clothing on.  I later learned that this stretch of beach is popular with naturists.  I wonder what they think of the new path that provides a grandstand view?
Blackpool Sands

Entering the woods was very pleasant as the shade really helped cool me down.  Sadly though that was short-lived as the onward path took a very steep zig-zag course up towards the A379 road high above me in Strete.  It was quite a climb to the top but I eventually came out in a field by the road.  Luckily the path does not go out into the road any longer and the onward way is quite pleasant into the village.  Strete is an agreeable little place and even the main road through it cannot spoil its charms.  Many of the houses are rather chocolate boxy thatched affairs, which probably forces prices up and means that the village is out of the reach of local people wanting to buy.  I suspect that is also why the pub on the main road has converted to a private house.  It did confuse a couple who had stopped for lunch though - they looked very bemused when they realised that the pub was no longer functioning.  I stopped in the shop which did not have much in the way of very interesting things to buy - certainly no pasties or anything remotely fresh.  I satisfied myself with a cold drink and plodded on.

Stoke Fleming Church
My onward path soon left the road and continued across fields to as near to the cliffs as I could get.  It made for pleasant walking as the airiness of the hills soon provided a fantastic view down towards Blackpool Sands.  Any notion that my path would head gently down the slope to the beach were soon scotched however when the path sharply turned a corner to reveal a large dry valley in my way.  It wasn't exactly what I wanted to see but it wasn't actually as tough as it looked.  As I plodded up the other side I was congratulated by a couple of ladies who were enjoying the view and had been watching my progress.
Speckled Wood
I crossed the road at the top and took a route away from the road down to Blackpool Sands.  This was a far more popular beach than I could have considered - it was absolutely rammed with people and although the guide book had recommended the cafe for provisions it surely did not realise that the queues would be so large?  I grabbed a bite to eat and watched people for a period of time before pushing on.  My flirtation with the the more usual type of holidaymaker in Devon was very short-lived; as soon as I left the beach area it was back to the peace and quiet of the walk.  Again I was on the climb - this time up into the village of Stoke Fleming.  The path followed through the back parts of this village and finds its way to the very large church.  I suspect the tower here was used as a daymark for it is unusually tall.

At the far end of the village I passed through a gate from a sports field that had been put there for the Golden Jubilee in 2002 - hard to believe that was so long ago now!  On the other side of the road I headed along a lane that would form the next mile or so of the walk.  I was rather relieved that all the climbing seemed to be done for now even though the road walking wasn't so pleasant.  I was thankful that the road was really quiet and largely free of traffic for there were few places where it was possible to get out of the way of traffic without getting prickled by the roadside vegetation.
Dartmouth Shipping

At Little Dartmouth I was most pleased to leave the road behind and take a path that headed down towards the coast once more.  As I wandered down the path I became aware of a rumble of aircraft engines and looked up to see a Hercules pass within a whisker of me!  It was as close an encounter as I've had on this walk.  As I got down to the coast I could now see the end of the walk almost as on the horizon was the day mark that I remembered from the next section of the walk that I completed in 2014.

Dartmouth Castle
The onward path hugged the coast quite closely until I got into the mouth of the River Dart.  Despite it being not very far it seemed that this section took far longer than expected; partly because I was pretty hot and bothered by now.  I was most relieved to eventually reach Dartmouth Castle; one of Henry VIII's forts that was built to protect us against the threat of French Invasion.   Sadly there was no time to visit this time but I did take advantage of the shop next door to avail myself of an ice-cream that was massively welcome.  It rather helped on the last section onto Dartmouth and on to the ferry to take me back to Kingswear.  Yet there was one last surprise in store on the path as it passes through another fort at Bayards Cove.

I was super pleased to get to the ferry and fortunately did not have to wait long for my crossing.  We did have to wait half way across though for a fishing boat to go by; I suspect this is a ritual that has to be performed several times per week.  It was a relief to be back to the car at a reasonable time although the walk today did take rather longer than I expected.  I do think that these coastal walks should not be rushed though - they are worth savouring.

Dartmouth Basin


  1. Another good day by the sounds of it, and more fine weather, you certainly picked a good time. I don't think I've ever seen so many people on Blackpool Sands. I heard about this new stretch of the path opening earlier this year. Perhaps I will go back and walk this bit again.

    If I come across an annoying passenger waiting for the bus, I usually make sure they get on first, so I can sit as far away from them as possible!

    1. A good tip Jon - will bear that in mind for the future :)