I finally left Cornwall this week after more than 5 weeks walking around its diverse coastline. It was a bitter-sweet moment.
The weather has not been conducive to packing up and starting walking early each day as it has generally been poor in the morning, before brightening up significantly later on. Mostly this hasn’t mattered too much as lots of ferries have been required and they don’t seem to run before 10 am anyway.
I have struggled to find decent campsites by the coast so far in South Devon. Indeed the combination of poor facilities, mizzle in the morning and indifferent service from people, did not endear me to South Devon. And I haven’t mentioned the non-existent phone signal in this county, nor the large number of horsefly bites that cover my body.
I found some of the week hard going, and then of course there was the terrain; in some places it was as steep as the North coast of Devon and Cornwall. In fact it was steeper than the amount of ankle flexion I have. I enjoyed the challenge.
As ever, the views were stunning and I saw a reasonable amount of wildlife. Kestrels were in abundance and I did see the odd seal, fulmars and even a gannet over Plymouth Sound. I also saw another adder this week; it was skinny but quite long and curled up on the path. I startled it and went to step over it before I checked myself, stepped back and watched it slither off.
It rained all night and I awoke to thick mist as well. I lay nursing my hangover for a while until it stopped raining sometime around 9am. Camping in long grass full of cow pats when it’s wet is not advisable. I don’t know how I managed to pack away without too much incident. Everything was wet though: towel, smelly socks, underwear. I felt in desperate need of a decent campsite with short grass and a washing machine.
I found Mark, Mark and Churchie from the pub last night and hung around with them, where I was treated to tea and a sausage and bacon roll. Just what I needed. They were nice fellas, and locals so good for a few tips on what to look out for. We watched the sea slowly appearing at the end of the field as the mist lifted. I finally packed my tent away at 10.30 and set off. Somehow I had avoided the lady who comes around the field collecting payment so I camped for free. To be honest, the campsite wasn’t worth the £6 anyway for me, but great if you come with your own facilities, like BBQs, and toilet paper, or to crash after a night at The Pig’s Nose.
The walk around Lannacombe Bay and out to Start Point was lovely; much like yesterday with big cliffs and rocks. Start Point is impressive; it is an exposed peninsula running almost a mile into the sea. It is covered in jagged rocks and has a strong tidal race around the tip (it reminded me of Morte Point near Woolacombe in North Devon). Start Point is an evolution of the Anglo Saxon Steort, meaning tail. This was where I stopped walking in an Easterly direction and turned North.
The sun was coming out and the sky turning blue, just in time for me to get some spectacular views right around Start Bay.
The village nearest to Start Point is Hallsands, at least what is left of it. The lower part of the village was lost to the sea in a storm in 1917. Only one house remained intact but fortunately all the villagers managed to escape. The ruined houses are still visible below the cliff and the sad tale of how “The beach went to devonport and the cottages went to the sea” is recounted on an information board. In essence, Hallsands was lost as a direct result of shingle being removed from Start Bay in order to enlarge Plymouth docks before WW1. The subsequent inquiry read like Hillsborough, and the villagers were never properly compensated.
At Beesands I stopped at an excellent cafe/fishmonger/shop/restaurant. I was still feeling a little fragile but fish and chips on the seafront sorted me out. The owner of Britannia@thebeach operates his own fishing boat. Apparently the stretch from Plymouth to Brixham is known as Britain’s seafood coast.
Torcross was the start of the long walk sandwiched in between Slapton Sands (a thin shingle beach) and Slapton Ley, a lovely lake. It was hot!
I took some time to look at the Torcross Sherman Tank that was recovered from the sea at Slapton Sands and now stands as a memorial to the 748 American troops who died here practising for the D-Day landings at Utah Beach (more than died in the actual assault!). The commanders clearly needed the practice!
Slapton Sands was deemed similar to the Normandy beach codenamed Utah so in December 1943 the whole area (3,000 people) was forcibly evacuated to make way for the US Army. Locals had to leave their farms and livelihoods behind. In recognition of this the US Army presented the people of South Hams with a memorial.
Immediately after Slapton Sands I had to tackle a couple of sharp hills, up to Strete, down to Blackpool (the other one!) and up again to Stoke Fleming.
Blackpool Beach looked lovely, and not a donkey in sight!
I was very relieved to be camping at a proper campsite, and it had a washing machine.The smell from my wet clothes was leaking out of a plastic bag in my rucksack. This was too much to bear.
Naturally the campsite was on the uphill edge of the town so I had to walk back down the hill to The Green Dragon pub. It was worth it as their fish pie and beer were both excellent.
I survived a very windy night (which I later found out from the Prawle Point Lookout Station was a ‘nearly gale’). The sun was shining as I packed away so I washed a couple of bits and hung them off my rucksack. I was hungry so decided to walk the long, steep road to the beach to get some breakfast when the cafe opened at 9am. I had to wait until 10am for the ferry across the River Avon anyway. This one passed without incident.
There were lots of cars arriving at Bantham Beach as the Outdoor Swimming Society were hosting a swim down the river to the sea. The beach looked nice but I carried on over the cliffs and around to Thurlestone Beach. I stopped to watch a kestrel hovering just beside me and got a great view of him diving to catch a small mammal and then eating his prey on the cliff.
The beaches here were nice, although I noticed there were lots of menacing-looking rocks underwater that restricted entering the water. It was really windy again and there were plenty of kite surfers taking advantage.
I passed through Outer- and Inner- Hope, skirting behind their shared beach, Hope Cove. Both had some lovely cottages.
Bolt Tail signified the end of Bigbury Bay, and claimed to offer views back to Dodman Point on a clear day. I could see a huge black cloud over Rame Head and it was coming my way.
The cliffs between Bolt Tail and Bolt Head were very rugged, reminding me of North Cornwall and also a bit of the Quairing on Skye. The views inland were almost as good as the views of the sea.
The monsoon-like rain caught me just before I reached Bolt Head. It was horizontal thanks to the strong wind so I was soaked to the skin at the back and dry-ish at the front. I didn’t walk all the way out to Bolt Head but cut off the end and clambered around Sharp Tor just as the rain eased. I could see up the entrance to the Kingsbridge Estuary to Salcombe.
I think there were more boats around Salcombe than I saw in either Falmouth or Plymouth. They were crammed in. This place had serious money as there were enormous houses dotted all over the cliffs.
There were several little beaches, on both sides of the estuary. The water looked a lovely bottle-green, and with the palm trees that were dotted around (and the glorious sunshine that was now overhead) I felt like I might be in the Caribbean.
Salcombe is not designed for walking; narrow lanes spell disaster, particularly when filled with rich youths in big cars driving too fast. I had one lucky escape and thought I should have got the ferry from South Sands to the town centre.
The town centre was packed. I managed to buy a lovely sandwich from a deli and sit on the waterfront watching people heading to and from boats. I avoided all the posh shops.
After an hour’s break I caught the ferry across the estuary and walked past all the posh houses tucked around Mill Bay.
The walk to Prawle Point was wonderful. The terrain was rugged and the sea was pounding the cliffs in a white froth, making the sea look minty fresh. Yet more up and down; very tiring at the end of a long walk.
I had reached the Southernmost point in Devon.
I popped into the Lookout Station at Prawle Point and discovered an old man had just fallen off the cliff ahead of me. Fortunately he was only walking wounded. The coastguard has been very busy until 2 minutes before I arrived.
I walked up the hill to East Prawle (all the campsites seem to be at the top of a hill). There were 2 campsites and I chose the better one. This one was a cow field; the cows had been removed but it was full of cow pats. The grass was knee high and there was a toilet block that I didn’t find (it was a dirty old shed and you needed to provide your own loo roll). I didn’t find a water tap either (I stole into a caravan site and used theirs). And this was the better site! I spent a while picking grass and covering the fresher cow pats so at least I wouldn’t be rolling in one overnight. Then I headed to the pub, The Pig’s Nose Inn, for a shower. They have a shower room in the cellar with 4 shower heads in it. Very weird, but I was desperate.
The Pig’s Nose had been recommended to me as a quirky pub and it was definitely that. It was owned by an ex-roadie who still gets his mates to play in the hall next door. They were playing tonight and the pub was full. I managed to walk in without paying for a ticket, which was fortunate because I left after one song. I returned to the bar and the raucous music that was being played. I was being led astray by Mark, Mark and Churchie, who were camping for the weekend to come to this pub. I didn’t leave until well after midnight.
It was a cloudy non-descript kind of day and very windy. It hadn’t been windy like this for a good couple of months. I packed away, ate the snacks I’d bought from the Spar shop yesterday, and headed for the ferry across the River Yealm.
The ferry doesn’t run until 10am and I was there in plenty of time to be the first customer. The ferry is located at a kind of 3-way junction on the River Yealm and runs between Warren Point (the Wembury side), Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo. The Yealm Estuary is a drowned valley (Ria) and its high sides provide a sheltered harbour. There were lots of yachts moored up. This is also oyster country as they have been farmed here since at least Norman times.
The ferryman arrived (late) and I got onboard with £5 note in hand to cover my £3 fare. The conversation went like this:
Ferryman (routing around in jeans pocket): “I’ve only got 50p, have you got any change?”
Me: “I’ve only got £2”
Ferryman: “So that’s a problem. Either you give me £1.50 extra or I’m £1 out of pocket. How about we toss for it?”
Ferryman: “This is my livelihood and I’m not going to get many customers today”
Me: “why didn’t you come to work with any change then?”
Ferryman: “Well I’ll have to go around the boats and see if anyone has any change. That’ll take a while”
Me: shoulder shrug
He found some customers wanting a lift from their boat to the shore so he managed to extract some change from them (after I’d warned them they needed to have some change) and obviously we had to drop them off first before he would take me to Noss Mayo. What a cheek. I was fuming at his attitude. There was no way I was giving this joker any extra money.
The walk to Revelstoke Park was mostly along a track and easy going. I had views back across Plymouth Sound before I rounded Stoke Point and headed into trees. Hidden near the shoreline was the 13th Century Church of St Peter the Poor Fisherman. It looked intact apart from not having a roof, although this seemed to be part of the design.
There were a couple of very steep hills on the way to the River Erme, and a few coves.
The River Erme does not have a ferry and can only be crossed an hour either side of low tide, by wading. I arrived at mid-tide and there was no way I could cross. All the signs said I had to get a taxi (there are no buses and to walk around would require an extra 9 miles all along busy minor roads). I walked up the hill to Mothecombe Old Schoolhouse cafe and had a cup of tea while I waited for a taxi.
The taxi cost £30 and took half an hour to drive all the way around. This river needs a ferry! The taxi driver was very nice and was disgusted by the behaviour of the ferryman. There was no love lost there!
I was dropped off at Wonwell Beach and watched a man swim across the river to Mothecombe Beach, where I’d been an hour earlier.
The next section had several very steep ups and downs. The Rock was different here, it looked like great slabs of sharp slate. The beaches were grey and in inviting in the gale that was blowing (although it wasn’t cold).
Eventually I arrived at Challaborough, an enormous static caravan park right next to Bigbury-on-Sea.
The tide was in and so Burgh Island was cut off. I could see the ruined chapel on top, the Pilchard Inn and the large, Art Deco hotel. I watched the sea-tractor (a sort of 4×4 vehicle on stilts) ferry some people across to the mainland.
It was a long slog uphill to my campsite. The wind was very strong and there were lots of kite- and wind- surfers out in the Avon Estuary.
There wasn’t much shelter on the campsite so I pitched my tent in trepidation of a sleepless (and possibly a tentless one). The view was nice, right across Bigbury Bay, but the campsite facilities were not the best.
It was a long walk downhill, and then back uphill, to the holiday park clubhouse at Challaborough. This was the only food within a reasonable distance. I ate quickly, charged my phone and thought I’d walk back via Burgh Island (the tide was not out). What an unfriendly place! The hotel gates were shut – you need a booking, you can only walk on the footpaths and heaven forbid you should take a picnic, and the pub was only open to hotel guests. I walked to the top of the hill, by the ruined chapel, for a view of the mainland as the sun set and then left.