Tuesday, 27 February 2018

South West Coast Path Section 38 Noss Mayo to Mothecombe

Noss Mayo
I am on a mission this year to try and complete this walk as the end is now in sight and when I started I promised myself that I would attempt completion in 12 years.  This is year 12 so I have to get a wriggle on!  Surprisingly given the proximity of this walk to Plymouth I never actually managed to complete this section during the two years that I lived there.  In fact I never even managed to visit this stretch of coast at all, largely because without a car it is nigh on impossible to reach.  There are a handful of buses from Plymouth, but only the one at 9.20am stops at Mothecombe in order to enable an end to end walk.  I am writing this one out of sequence to the order that I did the walks on the weekend trip I managed principally because it is a more logical order.  I was anxious to close this 20 mile gap; the only one between Falmouth and Lulworth.  I almost made it but not quite as I shall explain later.

Damp Start
The day didn't start very promisingly.  The fair weather and sunny spells promised seemed like a very distant prospect at around 8.30am when I parked the car at the old school house in Mothecombe.  This car park is pretty convenient for the coast path but be warned that it is nearly a mile back up the road to the bus stop so give yourself plenty of time if you want to do this arrangement.  As I trudged up the road the heavens opened and I got a good drenching. I re-checked the weather forecast and the Met Office insisted that the clouds would part and there would be some sunshine later.  Keep the faith time, although the lengthy wait for the bus kept me doubting.  I was thankful for the empty red telephone box close to the unmarked bus stop.  Apparently there has been no phone here since 2009 and although BT had kindly placed an invitation to take over the box for £1 seemingly no-one had taken up the offer.

Out of Season
I was pleased to see the bus arrive just as the rain stopped.  Not surprisingly I was the only passenger (I cannot imagine much demand for this little hamlet on a wet Saturday morning).  I was treated to a white knuckle ride through the lanes of this corner of Devon, culminating in a tight squeeze down the lane to the final stop on the route caused by a couple of builders' vans that condensed the already tight road space.  

Looking Down Into The Sound
Once free from the bus I walked the short distance down to the quay and then along Passage Road.  During the time I had been on the bus the clouds had cleared away and now the sun shone very brightly.  I was encouraged by the sudden change of weather and reasonably confident that it would last.  The whole air of the village was one of tranquillity - I'm not sure that a lot of people had yet stirred.  The water of Newton Creek was pretty still and the clusters of houses on all sides reflected in the mirror like conditions.

Yealm Pool
As I headed out of the village I realised that despite the promise of mud further along the walk coming at this time of year does have its compensations.  The lack of foliage on the trees allowed for great views of the creek and later the River Yealm.  I really enjoyed the tranquillity of this stretch and was really lucky that no-one else was around to shatter the peace.  The houses alongside the Yealm eventually ran out and for a short while I was alone in the woods with only birdsong for company.  For a brief moment where the angle was just right I caught sight of the breakwater in Plymouth Sound - it didn't really seem any further away than it had been on the last stretch of the walk, completed as long ago as 2010.

Yealm Pool
The walk through the woods climbed slowly to meet a track that led to the surprisingly big Battery Cottage.  I expected a small building given its name but it looked more like the original battery had long since been subsumed by quite a large house.  The path looped around it and views opened up across Plymouth Sound.  Clearly the person living in the house has done well with the view.

Battery Cottage
At the end of the loop around the house I went through a gate and it immediately became obvious that the path's character had changed.  I had begun a lengthy association with Revelstoke Drive, a nine-mile carriage route built in the 1880s by Edward Baring, boss of Baring's Bank and the first Lord Revelstoke.  He seemingly spared no expense on the route which allowed him to tour his estate easily.  Initially I welcomed the level track though the mud wasn't great through Brakehill Plantation.

Battery Cottage View
When I left the trees and swung round to get a better view of Plymouth Sound I was in my element.  The rainy start to the day seemed a long way away now and there was some warmth in the sun, helped immensely by the reflection off the sea.  There were more people about now and this is clearly a very popular route.  I sat down for a short while on a very welcome bench so that I could let a very large group of what looked like foreign students go by.  I also passed by a large family group with a number of very small walkers enjoying the sloppy muddy conditions in their wellington boots.  Some of the underfoot conditions were truly atrocious and although the air conditions were superb the walk was rather less enjoyable than it should have been because of the mud.

Revelstoke Drive
I eventually passed by Warren Cottage, the first house I had seen for some time.  It was originally built for the Warrener of the estate but soon became a summer house and Baring once entertained the future Edward VII here.  The path then looped around a headland before resuming a straighter course.  The foreign students headed off towards a nearby car park and I was left alone again.  I could immediately see why no-one appeared to be going in this direction as the path was quite a swamp for a while.

Blackstone Point
Ahead was the lookout of Gunrow Signal Station and I climbed up from the path to take a closer look at it.  For a structure that is more than 200 years old it is in pretty good shape.  Initially I thought it was a shepherd's cottage before learning of its true purpose, which of course made a lot more sense!  The path continued around the coast and was a pleasure to walk until I got to Stoke Down where I left the National Trust land and entered a wood.  This was probably the worst mud yet - progress was painfully slow and almost impossible in certain sections.  It took nearly half an hour to walk just half a mile and so when I reached the road down into the caravan site above Stoke Beach I decided to go and look at St Peter's Church just so that I could leave the mud behind for a bit.  I didn't even care that the climb down to the church would have to be retraced afterwards.
Warren Cottage

St Peter's Church is a rather sad sight although it would have been far worse if a group of volunteers hadn't stepped in to look after it in the late 1960s after almost a century of dereliction.  Now it is clean and tidy although most of the windows are gone or filled in and the roof has disappeared.  Ultimately its remote location was the death knell to the old place - parishioners really didn't want to come all the way here from Noss Mayo and a new church was built nearer to where the people lived.

Gunrow Signal Station
Having enjoyed my look around the old place I trudged back up the hill, luxuriating in the tarmac for a while.  I became aware of a small boy passing me half way up the hill and he very excitedly showed my a lizard that he had managed to catch.  The poor sleepy looking creature had probably thought that spring had arrived when the sun came out and the hapless creature was now in the sweaty mitts of a young boy eager to show his Dad his prize.
St Peter the Poor Fisherman

I was soon back on the Revelstoke Drive for the last section and thankfully the mud was a bit less severe now.  I got a good look back across the caravan park and although I don't much care for them I did have to admit that this one was more sympathetic to its surroundings than some others I have seen on this walk.  At Beacon Hill the Drive abruptly turned inland to complete its loop to Noss Mayo.  My route instead took a sharp descent as I continued to hug the coast.  The prospect of staying upright on the way down seemed fairly remote and I clung to the fence for dear life as I gingerly made my way down the hill.  A little way down and in a rare moment of being sociable I got chatting to a couple from Kent walking the SWCP in the opposite direction to me.  I wasn't sure whether going up the hill was easier than going down here - it certainly looked tougher in the opposite direction.
Saddle Rock

From Beacon Hill the path took a much more traditional rollercoaster type route.  I was thankful for getting down the slope in one piece and even more thankful for a short stretch of level path straight after.  As I climbed slowly through the newly flowering gorse I began to think that this stretch of path wasn't going to be as bad as the Revelstoke Drive as far as mud was concerned.  Sadly I was wrong as I soon came upon a mud bath at the bottom of the next downward slope.  I did my best here but I ended up having my inevitable accident as I slithered over and landed on my posterior.  I struggled to get up and cursed as I managed to use the fence to right myself.  I picked my way gingerly through the rest of the mud and down across a slushy valley.

Battisborough House
Ahead was the aptly named Saddle Rock, positively gleaming in the February sunshine.  It was this clear air and fantastic conditions that kept me sane in between mud baths.  What followed was a relatively easy stretch of path and the sight of the Erme Estuary came into view.  Just as I thought it would be a serene end to the walk one of those stings in the tail that the SWCP is so good at came upon me.  This was a sharp descent into Bugle Hole and then a sharp climb back up the other side.  As I cross this valley I wondered whether my progress was being checked by eyes from nearby Battisborough House.  This looked like a wonderful pile and certainly suited its surroundings.

Erme Estuary
Once at the top of this hill I did have easy progress once again until the final descent onto Meadowsfoot Beach.  I managed to get down without any mishaps in spite of the tricky conditions once again.  At the bottom I passed a family coming up that really didn't look like they were enjoying their day apart from the little boy with them who seemed to want dribble his football up the hill.

Owen's Hill
I descended to a surprisingly busy beach, full of dog walkers and families enjoying the sunshine and the sand.  It looked like the tide was coming in quite quickly and I thought better of going round the beach to the road up to Mothecombe House.  I instead climbed over Owen's Hill and then took the surprisingly steep road up to the old school house.  I hadn't realised what a popular spot this would be - it was heaving with people.  A very welcome cuppa at the end of the day's walking improved my mood considerably.  This was a testing section at this time of year although I reckon it would be a lot easier going after a period of dry weather.  I imagine the Revelstoke Drive in particular would be a joy to walk on a summer's evening.

Meadowsfoot Beach