The area east of Plymouth and south of Torbay (roughly) in Devon is known as the South Hams. It is an area of Devon I had visited very little before doing this walk but also an area I knew is very beautiful. When I lived in Devon I did not have a car and the public transport to this part of Devon is very limited. I once made the trip to Salcombe (taking around 2.5 hours on a bus!) and to Bigbury-on-Sea (back when it had a bus service) but never to this part of Devon.
Transport today still proves an issue and I puzzled about how best to do this as a linear walk. There is a bus service to Noss Mayo, but it’s fairly limited. There wasn’t really anywhere else close by with a bus service. Noss Mayo itself is on a bit of a peninsula, separated by the River Yealm to the west and the River Erme to the east. The former has a ferry (but only in the summer), the latter does not. So I was looking at doing a circular walk along the coast between the two estuaries, probably with a lot of road walking (as I wanted to return via a different route). However when going over the bus timetable again I noticed the first bus to Noss Mayo didn’t take the same route as the others, going via Holbeton and Membland. Tracing the route on the map I worked out that the closest point it went to the coast was likely at Battisborough Cross where I assumed the bus must go through. It is difficult to see how this service is useful for locals. The first bus of the day from Plymouth serves the village and there is one to Plymouth in the mid afternoon. Meaning you can travel to Plymouth in the afternoon but have to wait for the next morning to come back. Hence these times don’t allow anyone from the village to take a trip into Plymouth and return the same day. A bizarre timetable, because surely if there is only bus a day it would be sensible to make sure you could travel to the nearest town or city and back in the day? Despite this, it it works well enough for me.
So I drove around to Battisborough Cross. I left earlier than necessary from my hotel, but I was awake, had breakfast and ready to go so there seemed little point in hanging about. To my surprise, I made it to Battisborough Cross without getting lost. As I expected, parking was a little limited and I settled for parking on a road before it got to narrow. I got out of my car to find where the bus stopped and as I did so I noticed a sign on the road to Mothecombe “Car Park 1 Mile – Open”. Checking the time I decided I had enough time to drive down to Mothecombe, park and walk back along the road to Battisborough Cross in time to catch the bus. This means at the end of the walk, I don’t have to take a long diversion inland as this is right on the coast path.
So I set off down the narrow road to the car park at Mothecombe. There is an odd arrangement here in that the beach at Mothecombe is apparently private and opened to the public on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday only. When the beach is open, so is the car park. Today was a Saturday, so I was in luck. On reaching the car park there were only a few other cars there. Also I feel that car park might be stretching it a bit – it’s a field with a gravel track down the middle. I parked here pulling just off the gravel area onto the grass and started to walk. However the previous day had been very very wet and I suddenly through that by parking on the grass I was concerned my car might sink into the grass and I’d get stuck trying to get out. I decided the gravel area wasn’t really wide enough to park on without blocking it, so settled with reversing in, leaving the front wheels just on the gravel track, so I should be able to get out. I don’t know if any of this was necessary, as I got out fine, but at least it stopped me worrying. The car park is charged in the summer, but free at this time of year.
I walked briskly along the road which at one point has a bridge over it, and make it back into Battisborough Cross with a little over 5 minutes remaining. It seemed a pleasant enough little village and as the time the bus was due to depart I waited on the grass verge roughly where I through it would stop.
The bus arrived on time and stopped for me and I was the only passenger. This is perhaps not a surprise, given the bizarre timetable! The bus company in this area goes by the name Tally Ho, and I hoped it wasn’t convention to use this greeting when getting on the bus. The bus made it’s way down the narrow lanes brushing against bushes on both sides in places and some quite deep puddles, sending spray up both sides of the bus. Soon enough we reached Noss Mayo, where the bus turned around and there was quite a crowd gathering to get on the next service to Plymouth.
Transport arrangements sorted I now had the rest of the day to walk back. Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo are two villages that face each other on Newton Creek, a tributary of the River Yealm. A road goes between the villages and Newton Ferrers, the larger, is on the north of the river whilst Noss Mayo is on the south. There is a ferry in the summer from Warren Point on the west side of the River Yealm to Newton Ferrers and the outskirts of Noss Mayo, where I was.
The bus turned around in the small car park by some tennis courts at the back of the village. From here I wandered down to the creek.
The road heads steeply downhill and soon I am at the creek. The tide is out and so much of the creek is mud and shingle rather than water. Sadly, this is another walk done under grey skies, so I sense I’m not seeing it at it’s best – it’s still lovely though.
Looking over to Newton Ferrers I can see the tower of the church on top of the hill behind the village. These look like lovely villages to live in. Beginning the walk I initially follow the road heading west out of the village. This is signed as a dead-end (but only for cars). There are good views over the muddy creek to Newton Ferrers.
The road continues west and although there is no much traffic there is soon the choice of a permissive path up in the edge of the woodland parallel to the road instead, which I take. This gives me a last glimpse back to centre of the villages.
Heading west, the houses on the north bank continue for quite some time, as Newton Ferrers is quite a long thin village, whilst on my side of the river in Noss Mayo the houses have already ended. The woodland is called Ferry Wood which seems appropriate given that it ends at the ferry over to Wembury. Here the sign says Wembury is 2 miles via “Seasonal Ferry”. Today though it’s not the season. Ahead, the coast path Stoke Beach, 5 miles. This is quite a distance but this is because other than Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers, this is a sparsely populated area.
This provides an opportunity to walk out and take a view up the river.
The area served by the ferry is actually about half a mile from the village centre and all the houses have already ended.
I’m amused by the method of summoning the ferry. There is a disc beside the steps, folded closed in half. You open this, to reveal a bright circle the ferrymen can see and knows to come over. A nice low-tech solution. There are good views up the river here, too
Shortly after the ferry the track splits into two and the coast path goes on the lower of the two paths, passing Ferry Cottage. From here there is a good view up the river, and an old notice about the tolls payable to use the ferry. I don’t expect many people carry potatoes over on it any more though.
I follow the track around to Battery Cottage, I assumed so called because there used to be a battery on the cliffs here (thats the military kind, rather than the AA kind). This gives one last view east back to the villages, before I lose sight of them for good.
Rounding the corner, the coast path follows the track round past Battery Cottage, but it’s possible to take another path down to a remote beach, Cellar Beach. I take this although it is a dead-end, as I want to see the beach.
It’s a mixture of shingle and sand although the sea is rather muddy, probably because it is still at the estuary rather than the coast.
There is a little waterfall flowing over the low cliffs onto the beach and out to sea, which flows down from Worswell Barton, where there is a well marked on the map. I returned from the beach and up the track, which heads a bit inland giving distant views to Wembury, although it is very misty so it is not easy to make out.
The height gained also gives a good view back up the river, where I have come from although it doesn’t look very appealing in this grey and overcast weather.
The path heads through more woodland, Brakehill Plantation and out to Mouthstone Point, where I am at the mouth of the river. The grassy path is lined with gorse, which is already in flower. The view over the bay to Wembury is disappearing the mist and haze though.
Rounding the corner I can see that the coast now becomes more rugged, as it faces the full force of the sea rather than just the river. Mew Stone can be made out in the water, too. There is a dead end path down to Greylake Cove, but I didn’t bother with this one.
The coast path from Noss Mayo follows and old Victorian carriage drive and, Revelstoke Drive. This was built by the landowner, Lord Revelstoke in the 1880s to entertain his guests with the scenic carriage ride which forms a route several miles long. Being built for horses, it also has the advantage it is fairly flat with no steps making for easy walking. Rounding the corner I’m now looking east over the fairly gentle cliffs that stretch path East and West Hollicombe.
It is quite a windy day, and the wind has made the lines of waves obvious coming in from the sea, a bit like on the surfing beaches on the north coast. It is not really cliffs here, more hills that happen to be beside the sea, the land sloping away gently to the right down to the sea, over gorse and heather.
At Warren Cottage, around a mile after I’ve turned east, the coast path goes through the garden. Sensibly the owners have created an alternative route, which is more coastal and bypasses their garden, which I take. The carriage drive continues past the house making for easy walking and nice views.
The path goes around the back of Saddle Cove, where the coast is more rugged and wild, having formed into a few rocky bays. The little headland of Hilsea point juts out into the sea here.
Looking back there is the rocky headland of Blackstone Point. The cliffs look grey rather than black to me though. The easy carriage drive continues east, passing East Hollicombes, a place which seems to exist only by name now – there isn’t a single building here or marked on the map, only the name is marked.
The coast path continues on the carriage drive over Gunrow’s Down but a short distance ahead at Snellings Down, there is an alternative lower path. I took the latter, glad to get a bit closer to the coast than you do on the carriage drive.
Soon I was down at sea level and sheltered from the wind, this made a good spot for lunch. I sat overlooking the waves rushing up a rocky little gully.
Onwards from lunch I stopped to watch the sea crashing over the rocks, which had whipped up quite a foam. It is one of the simplest but most relaxing pleasures I think, to watch the waves crashing again and again over the rocks.
The lower path soon took me back up to the carriage drive to the headland of Stoke Down. Here there is an alternative lower path. As this is more coastal, I opted to take this. It descends down the cliffs and through woodland to reach the remains of an old church, St Peters Church. Presumably there was once a village here but now it is mostly caravans.
I can’t say the church ruins are that impressive, really. Walking through the caravan park beyond the church though there is access down to the beach, Stoke Beach. That does involve going a long way down and back up, but I thought it was worth it. It was a nice peaceful beach which is probably a lot busier in the season when the caravan park is open.
The downside of coming this way is I have to go all the way back up to the top of the hill and the carriage drive. This takes me through the caravan site and past a car barrier to reach the top, now out of breath but back on the easy carriage drive.
Rounding the back of the beach, there are views over this little valley, now rather dominated by the caravans, but presumably once the site of a village.
The path soon passes a ruined building, marked as Highgate on the map.
Not long past this, at Beacon Hill the carriage drive turns inland. The coast path does too, briefly but soon forks right on a footpath off the carriage drive. Lord Revelstoke certainly owned a lot of land. Although high, sadly the coast ahead is disappearing in the mist and haze again.
The coast path now becomes more undulating as it rounds Wadham Beach and Carswell Cove, secluded little beaches. The downside is the path is something of a mud path too, not being designed for carriages now. Looking back gives a good view on the low cliffs heading back towards the Yealm.
At Carswell Cove there is a path down to the beach which I take although it must be nearly high tide as there is not much in the way of beach, just a little bit of sand and some rocks.
It is now a pleasant cliff top walk around Keaton Cove, Gull Cove and Butchers Cove. It looks like there might be a path down to Keaton Cove, but I didn’t try it. Rounding the corner the path descends into a pleasant grassy valley and crosses a stream via footbridge. The view inland shows Battisborough House at the top of the valley.
The coast path now rounds the lovely named Bugle Hole, another rocky beach with grey coloured cliffs behind it.
Ahead the coast path cuts a little corner, leaving out Battisborough Island, which is not an island at all, but a rocky headland. Ahead I have views of the Erme Estuary, which I’ve now reached. The coast path guide says you can wade across this at low tide. Looking at the waves making their way some distance up the river that would certainly be out of the question today.
I’m soon descending down to the beach at Mothecombe. This is by far the best beach of the day so far, with lots of sand and cliffs on either side. It is a sheltered beach too, facing south and protected from the prevailing winds. The coast path runs along the back of the beach and it’s this beach which is apparently only open to the public on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. In practice in the UK the land below high tide is considered part of the sea and as such can’t be private and hence the public can access it. I suspect the beach is therefore largely “closed” on other days simply by keeping the presumably private road to the beach closed making access only possible along the coast path. In any case it has a public right of way (footpath) marked on the map as crossing the beach and this can’t be open only on certain days of the week.
Heading down onto the lovely sands I stop for a paddle, but keep it brief as the sea is still very cold. There is a lovely little tower at one end of the beach which I imagine must make the perfect summer house or studio. Surprisingly, having reached the beach and estuary, the coast path climbs up another hill, Owen’s Hill to reach another beach beside the river.
I soon reached the noticed about crossing the Erme which says the river can usually be forded one hour either side of low tide, by crossing at the slipways. I’m afraid I didn’t try that today, not only was the water deep and fast flowing, the estuary is also wide and with the water muddy it would also be hard to see what you were standing on. Sorry, I wimped out of this, I’m afraid.
The road from the slipway heads back to the car park and just beyond are some old Coastguard cottages, now probably holiday cottages, overlooking the sandy beach beside the estuary. Heading up the road back to the car park there is a lovely old metal sign giving the fact the beach is owned and managed by the Flete Estate and giving a telephone number to call if you see anyone abusing the area or causing a nuisance of “Holberton 253”. That sign must go back a long time.
This was a great walk and also quite an easy one, with much of it following Revelstoke Drive. The latter part is more rugged and also takes in the best beach. I would suggest to avoid any possible problems and also to allow you to enjoy the beach, to do this walk on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday. The only downside really was the weather, which was grey, overcast and drizzly, with mist restricting the best of the views.
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Tally Ho Coaches route 94 : Plymouth – Plymstock – Billacombe – Elburton – Brixton- Yealmpton – Holbeton – Battisborough Cross – Membland – Newton Ferrers – Noss Mayo. Only the first bus from Plymouth (depart 08:50) serves Holbeton, Battisborough Cross and Membland and this one does NOT go to Newton Ferrers, only Noss Mayo. On the return only the 13:57 bus from Newton Ferrers goes via Membland, Battisborough Cross and Holbeton. This bus runs 5 times per day Monday – Saturday only (no service on Sunday).
In addition, if you are dedicated, there is a bus from Mothecombe but it runs only on Tuesdays. This is Tally Ho Coaches route 612 which departs Mothecombe for Modbury, Ivybridge and Lee Mill at 09:27 and returns at 12:00 from Lee Mill, arriving back at Mothecombe at 13:08. You could change at Yealmpton for the bus to Noss Mayo.