58. Plymouth to Wembury

June 2009

Whilst my last walk was in Cornwall and this in Devon, I didn’t actually take the Cremyll ferry across but instead began this walk from Plymouth. Although requiring an early start, a cheap advance purchase ticket made it feasible to do this trip as a day trip from home. I drove to a station from where I could take the train to Reading, catching the train at 07:22 and arriving at Reading for the 08:06 train which got me to Plymouth at 10:52 and for only £13.50 each way.

Sadly, having booked in advance, I couldn’t do a lot about the weather, which was heavy rain for most of the day. The only plus side is that this is a walk much of which is on tarmac and hence at least I didn’t have to contend with the mud as well.

I had a good journey down to Plymouth with the train arriving on time at Plymouths dreary 1960s station. The station is around a mile from the coast however, being located to the north of the city centre. There is a bus, but I suspected it would be as quick to walk. Umbrella up, I headed for the city centre.

Plymouth, being the home of the Royal Navy was bombed heavily during World War II. Much of the city was destroyed and rebuilt in the 1960s, making the city centre not especially attractive, with wide pedestrianised streets mostly surrounded by concrete buildings. It’s practical, but it’s not pretty. At the south end of the main shopping area I continue ahead over the park heading for Smeatons Tower.

It was, it has to be said, rather bleak in the driving rain.

Plymouth Hoe

Smeatons Tower

I was however pleased to note the old Tinside Lido I remember as derelict has been wonderfully restored and is open once more. The Plymouth Dome has also closed and is now a restaurant run by Gary Rhodes.

Tinside Lido, Plymouth

There aren’t many takers for the Lido today though. The coast path follows the road along the coast here, Maderia Road. The coast here is rocky and there are numerous rocky ledges and seating areas built into the cliffs, in various states of repair. I pass a rather optimistic ice cream seller who isn’t selling much. Soon I’m passing a rather imposing stone building on the left, marked rather ominously on Google Maps as “The Labatory”. Soon I have the impressive walls of The Royal Citadel which is still a working military fort. It used to be closed to the public, but I see tours now run on Tuesday and Thursday by English Heritage. The citadel continues on my left, as I round the corner now with Sutton Harbour and the main marina on the right. Plymouth is still a commercial port, but this harbour is largely leisure based, with the commercial traffic (cross channel ferries) going from Millbay further west. The road has now becomes Commercial Way and I reach the famous Mayflower Steps. American tourists love to visit these but in truth it is a fairly unremarkable set of steps at the side of a dock. Probably not worth travelling several thousand miles to see in my opinion.

The Mayflower Steps, Plymouth

The harbour itself is surrounded by buildings of various ages, with those in the Barbican area being the oldest. The marine is packed with yachts but there is little activity, probably becuase of the weather.

Sutton Harbour, Plymouth

Soon I reach the Barbican area. This is a very historic and interesting part of Plymouth, which escaped much of the damage that the rest of the city suffered during World War II. The area is packed with pubs, restuarants and shops, as well as the distillery of Plymouth Gin, which operates a guided tour. No time for that today, though.

The Barbican, Plymouth
The Barbican, Plymouth

The coast path takes a bit of a shortcut here, going over the lock gate into Sutton Harbour, which I take although presumably you have to walk around if the lock is open. I pass behind the National Marine Aquarium, which opened when I used to live in the South West and I’ve visited a couple of times. I recommend a visit.

I soon see my first South West Coast path marker, but it is unlike any others I have seen on the path.

South West Coast Path east of Plymouth

I think this is something of a theme around Plymouth, that the markers are rather more unusual. Soon the pretty stuff is behind and I enter an area of industry, Cattedown. Here there are gas and oil works to pass and little of any scenic beauty. I distract myself from the immediate surroundings with the view over to Mount Batten, where I will be walking later.

Cattedown

The coast path sticks to the public roads around the coastal edge of Cattedown, a route it shared with National Cycle Network route 27. I cross an old disused railway line, marked on the map as a level crossing, but there is no track in the road now. This area has little to commend it really, as it’s a long trudge through ugly industry. This ends when I reach the A379 Laira Bridge. Here the coast path takes up the pavement beside the busy dual carriageway. The traffic roars past, sending up a mist of spray that I try my best to avoid. There is however a good view down the river Plym, which gives the city it’s name, although as the tide is out, it is mostly mud flats.

The River Plym

The coast then goes around another muddy little creek and briefly back into industry. Soon it’s onto residential roads as I reach the suburb of Oreston. There is briefly a promenade and then more residential roads as I then reach Hooe Lake, an inlet of the harbour. The path goes onto a little causeway over this and with a lake behind, Radford Lake. Suddenly this begins to look rural, with the tree lined lake.

Hooe Lake

More unusually the causeway I’m on goes through a little castle gate house which seems oddly out of place. The shelter it offers makes a good spot to have some of my lunch out of the rain though.

Causeway over Hooe Lake

Once over this causeway the path follows the south edge of the lake for a while, but with the sewage works alongside. Passing a small boat yard I’m briefly back to residential roads, where the path briefly climbs and back down to a a small park, where the path follows a promenade.

Turnchapel, Plymouth

This offers good views of the little lake and the wider estuary beyond. At this park the path turns right to follow the western edge of the lake to Turnchapel and then turns left to head west along the little peninsula now almost opposite Cattedown, where I was an hour or so ago.

Turnchapel, Plymouth

I soon reach a residential road in a little area known as Borringdon. This is nicer than I expected with brightly painted cottages and a pub lining the road. Soon it’s back to the water front now overlooking a large marina. It does a good job of hiding Cattedown.

Turnchapel, Plymouth

Soon I’m back to a bit more industry as I reach the tip of the Mount Batten Peninsula. This sticks out into the harbour and here I’m just a few hundered metres from the Citadel area where I was earlier, but cut off by a stretch of water. Thankfully there is a ferry across it, The Mountbatten Ferry, providing a more direct link with the city than the road. At the end here there is a little park and a long jetty which seems to serve no useful purpose – I assume it’s more to break waves to protect the rest of the harbour, but it makes a good little footpath. To the right is a little rocky beach. The path now climbs up to an old castle, which gives a great view.

Mount Batten, Plymouth

Mount Batten, Plymouth

The view ahead in particular is pleasing – it looks rural and undeveloped, a welcome change from the industry and housing of Plymouth.

Mount Batten, Plymouth

Descending from the castle the path goes past a car park and then past a little shingle and rocky beach on the south side of the peninsula.

Mount Batten, Plymouth

As I hoped when I looked ahead, this largely marks the end of Plymouth and the rest of the path is more natural. It soon climbs up to an open grassy area giving me a view back over Mount Batten and Plymouth. I also get a last view of Drakes Island out in Plymouth sound.

IMG_8935

I pass Rum Bay, presumably another named for what was smuggled there and on to Jennycliff beach. The path runs along the grassy area passing a small cafe and an area that was obviously fortified during World War II. There is a large car park here and the coast runs along a low path just below the road. Here I pass a bright blue marker that indicates that the South West Coast path runs for another 175.5 miles to Poole. I’m also amused to see a metal “mat” embedded in the path saying “Welcome to Plymouth, Please wipe your feet”. A bit late for that, as I’m now leaving, but it’s an amusing little touch for those heading the other way.

The view ahead now is rather nice, with the green cliffs and views to Plymouth sound, where I can see a war ship moored by the breakwater.

Jennycliff Bay

The rain has also now eased. I’m soon heading up to Staddon Heights, the latter word giving a clue that the path is becoming steep as it gains height. As hoped though this gives a good view back to Plymouth, with Mount Batten looking more like an island now.

View back to Plymouth from Jennycliff

Once up however the coast path becomes largely level with a field to the left and a golf course a bit beyond that. I pass below an old fort, with fine views over Plymouth sound. Just beyond this is another fort, presumably one of many built to defend Plymouth sound and the harbour during World War I and II. I’m now more or less level with the breakwater at the mouth of Plymouth sound which I can see with the two lighthouse on either end and a war ship moored up alongside. Plymouth is the largest place I’ve passed through since Bristol and it is good to be heading back into countryside.

Plymouth sound from Jennycliff

Bang on cue, rounding the corner I come to the first sandy beach of the day. This is Bovisand and I remember seeing buses heading here at Plymouth bus station. Beyond there are chalets on the cliffs, not something you see much of these days.

Bovisand

The path descends down to the beach, which makes for a very welcome site and is a good sandy beach. The cliffs to the right are already showing a slight red tinge – South Devon being famous for it’s red cliffs, but mostly further east. The beach today though is deserted.

Bovisand

Rounding the back of the beach I then pass along the coastal side of the chalet park or “Holiday Centre”, as it is described on the map. Below is another rocky and sandy beach, Crownhill Bay.

Near Bovisand

When the holiday park ends, the path continues as tarmac to reach the isolated village of Andurns Brake. The path goes at a low level around the cliffs here, with a wide expanse of rocks ahead. Rounding the corner it begins to slowly climb. I pass a rocky little bay below, Westlake Bay.

Heybrook Bay

Rounding the corner I soon come to Heybrook Bay. Out to sea I can see the Great Mewstone, a rocky island at Wembury. The village is centred around a very small rocky beach which does have a path down but seems rather small to warrant a village of this size.

Heybrook Bay

The headland gives the chance of a closer look of this rocky island. Soon I am round the headland and into the wide bay of Wembury Bay.

Wembury Bay

Here there is an old jetty and I can see the low cliffs soon descend back to sea level, making it a gentle end to the walk. As I get further round the bay there are patches of sand showing too and I suspect at low tide this is quite a good beach. The mew stone is an obvious land mark out to sea. I did look to see if you can visit it, but don’t think there are any trips out there.

Wembury Bay

It’s an easy walk along the coast path and soon I’m treated to a view of the little village of Wembury through the trees, with it’s lovely church on the hill and the few houses just below.

Wembury

It’s a short walk on to reach this beach and small village. The beach is a mixture of sand and slate with the slate forming an obvious line around the high water mark. I stop on the beach for a rest. The coast path sign here though say it’s now 206 miles to Poole. Not sure how it’s become an extra 26 miles since the last sign I saw. I wonder if it is to do with the inclusion of Portland in the milegage for one sign and not the other or if it’s just a cock up. There is also a sign inland for the Coast to Coast path to Lynmouth, running right across Devon. That will have to wait for another day though, I have a bus to catch.

Wembury

Wembury

I’ve made fairly good time to Wembury and I spend a bit of time sitting at the back of the beach until a combination of the rain starting again and time getting on means I need to leave for the bus. It’s here I realise I’ve made a mistake and the bus does not serve the coast but instead the main residential part of the village, around ¼ of a mile inland. That doesn’t sound far, and I stop to take a last photo along the valley as there is now a line of blue sky coming over. Soon though I realise I have only 5 minutes before the bus is due to depart. If I miss this bus I will miss my train and might end up having to spend the night. I break into a run and make it without about 30 seconds to spare!

This is certainly a walk of two halves. The first is an urban walk around the centre of suburbs of Plymouth. There is however quite a lot of interest especially around the Barbican area and I also enjoyed Mount Batten. But there is also a lot of industry and uninteresting suburbia so I didn’t find this as enjoyable as most coast walks I have done. The second part of the walk is far better, passing Jennycliff, Bovisand, Heybrook and Wembury where the coast path returns to it’s glorious best.

Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.

First Devon and Cornwall service 48 : Plymouth – Plymstock – Knighton – Wembury. There are roughly 6 or so buses Monday – Saturday and around 5 on Sundays.

Plymouth City bus route 49 also runs around 3 times a day Monday – Saturday from Plymouth to Heybrook Bay and Wembury Point, about which is useful if you want to cut the walk short, or split it into two.

Here is the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Details | Slideshow

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2 Responses to 58. Plymouth to Wembury

  1. Sounds like a wet walk. Glad the weather cheered up for you as you approached Wembury. I’m afraid I ‘cheated’ when I walked this section, and I took the ferry across from Mount Batten to The Barbican. Sounds like I didn’t miss much!

    • jcombe says:

      No you didn’t miss much! The weather is the downside when you get further from home, it’s usually a case of taking pot luck with the weather. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.

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