61. Bigbury-on-Sea to Wonwell

March 2013

This was the first day of a 3 day break to Devon so I drove down from home to Bigbury-on-Sea. The forecast for Devon was for rain for most of the day, but as I drove down through a mixture of cloud and sunshine, I was feeling more hopeful that the weather forecast was wrong. In the end, I only ended up going for a walk on 2 of the 3 days of this trip, as the weather was so bad.

As I headed into Devon the cloud became thicker, but the rain held off. I left the A38 and took the more minor road to Modbury and from there the B3392 to Bigbury-on-Sea.

I had been to Bigbury-on-Sea only once before. When I lived in Exeter I had made the visit to Bigbury-on-Sea only once. Not having a car, Bigbury-on-Sea was very difficult to reach by public transport. At the time there was a bus, running about half a dozen times a day from Ivybirdge Station to Bigbury-on-Sea. Ivybridge station has an infrequent service to, so finding a time when they connected proved difficult, but I made it. It was a lovely sunny day, until about half a mile from Bigbury-on-Sea, when we disappeared into a sea mist, much to the amusement of the bus driver, who exclaimed “Welcome to sunny Bigbury” when we arrived. The sea mist lasted all day, so I didn’t really see much of the place, it being mostly hidden in mist, which was a real shame.

I had looked to do a linear walk here but although as I said above, there used to be a bus to Bigbury-on-Sea that ran every day (except Sunday) now there is just one a week, on a Tuesday. It leaves Bigbury-on-Sea at 09:30 going to Plymouth and returns from Plymouth at 13:30 arriving back at 14:52. The obvious route for a linear walk is between Bigbury and Wembury to the west. However with just one bus a week I realised any attempt to use it was impractical.

So in the end I settled on a walk west from Bigbury-on-Sea to the eastern bank of the river Erme. I then planned a route back to where I started at Bigbury inland via Kingston, back to the coast and then back to Bigbury. I prefer to avoid up and back walks, but with no bus service, there seemed little choice. I even looked at staying on the hotel on Burgh Island. I think a few coast walkers think that. But then I saw the prices. Yes, I expected it to be expensive – but not that expensive!

So having settled on an out and back walk I arrived at Bigbury-on-Sea. On reaching Bigbury there seemed to be a few free parking spaces on the left about 100 metres before the main car park. I was lucky, as there was a space here and it saved the parking fee at the pricey main car park. I headed down to the beach, with the thought I might walk out to Burgh Island before lunch. Once I reached the beach, the drizzle started. It soon got harder and I decided to retreat to the car for lunch in the hope it cleared whilst I was having lunch. It didn’t. So I put all my waterproofs on and headed out.

Sadly the rain, which soon became torrential, persisted all day so I didn’t see the best of this bit of coast either, something I seem to have been saying a lot lately. I like Bigbury-on-Sea, it’s a small but pleasant village with a cafe at the beach, a shop and post office and a few houses, mostly bungalows. Off the coast is a tidal island, Burgh Island, which can be walked to at low tide and has an odd looking “Sea Tractor” to provide a route over to it at high tide. On it is a famous art-deco Hotel which is now, as I found a very exclusive, and expensive hotel.

Burgh Island from Bigbury-on-Sea

Looking west I could also see the cliffs at the other side of the Avon, at Bantham.

Bantham from Bigbury-on-Sea

I took the path from the beach back up to the main car park, passing through the main car park which is on two levels and has a good cafe on the lower part (as well as toilets). At the end of the main car park is a rather ugly block of flats that seems very out of place and I don’t remember being here when I visited before (although I also don’t remember what was here). Beyond this the coast path goes past the overflow car park and becomes a proper path.

There are good views back to Burgh Island with the art deco hotel the main building on the left.

Burgh Island

The coast path passes in front of some houses and rounds the corner into the next bay. This is Challaborough, a small village on the map but one that seems to consist almost entirely of caravans and chalets, it is not terribly pretty. The beach is a mixture of sand and rock and is rather good.


The path descends down to the beach and heads behind the beach and in front of the houses and holiday parks. At the small car park you have to go inland of some buildings and then turn left soon back to the coast to the cliffs at the west of the bay. I can see all of Burgh Island from here as the tide is beginning to come in over the sand bar.


The coast path now heads along the cliff top passing a couple of unamed rocky bays and gradually gaining more height. With height comes wind, which blows the rain into my face. But the view ahead is still lovely, despite the weather.

View west near Challaborough

At a place called Arymer Cove, the path drops back down to this secluded beach. There are fine views inland too, along the valley to the village of Ringmore, and I can make out the first of the houses of the village, although much of it is hidden from view.

Valley near Ayrmer Cove

The scenery ahead, over Arymer Cove is rather special though, with grey rugged cliffs stretching out ahead.

Near Ayrmer Cove

I drop down onto the beach at Arymer Cove. Here the beach is sheltered from the wind and so the rain does not feel so heavy, indeed it felts as if it was easing a bit, but this didn’t last. Arymer Cove is a sand and shingle beach backed by grey cliffs and a little stream which flows out to the coast from Ringmore, around half a mile away.

Ayrmer Cove

At the other side of the beach the path heads steeply back up the cliffs, putting me back into the rain but giving me good views, first back to Arymer Cove.

Ayrmer Cove

Ahead there is another good beach, this one Westcombe Beach. This is a small and remote rocky and sandy beach. It is lovely and totally unspoilt. Once more, the beach is sheltered from the wind and rain. The coast path though can be seen snaking it’s way steeply up the field beyond.

Westcombe Beach

It is a steep climb up the other side and I soon enter National Trust owned land. The weather is getting worse, with the rain now very heavy and Burgh Island just visible in the haze. Ahead the coast is lovely, with grey rocky cliffs and numerous little rocks sticking up above the sea.

View west from Hoist Point

The path leads up to Hoist Point and then levels out for a while to Freshwater and then a small valley above a remote rock and sand beach.

Near Hoist Point

This beach is inaccessible from the coast path as the cliffs are high and steep. Passing behind this on the steep coast path there is more rugged and rocky cliffs ahead. I soon reach the headland of The Beacon and from here I can now see the River Erme and Mothecombe ahead.

The River Erme

The path is now beginning to descends gradually, passing another rocky beach, Fernycombe Beach where the path goes down close to sea level but then climbs up a bit the other side.

Fernycombe Point

The cliffs now are low as the coast heads round to the estuarty of the Erme. The beach at Mothecombe can also be seen across the water but it is all rather bleak today.

The River Erme

Although tempting to stop here, I make a point of continuing until I reach the end of the coast path on this side of the river, at Wonwell beach. As I’ve said previously, there is no ferry across the Erme and the official route of the coast path suggests you wade the river at low tide. Whilst I’m sure this must be possible, once again the water is far to deep (and cold) to consider trying that today.

The River Erme

Soon I reach the beach at Wonwell, which is better than I had expected considering it is on an estuary with nice soft sand and just a bit of sea weed. Not surprisingly, I am the only one here but I suspect this has been the case since high tide, as there aren’t any other footprints in the sand.

Wonwell Beach

I headed off the beach back onto the coast path as the track of the coast path soon widens to become a public road. I’ve now reached the fording point of the river and whilst it does now look easier, I still don’t try it, for the main reason that it’s cold wet and windy and I need to walk back anyway, so there is no point.

Wonwell Beach and the River Erme

To vary the route back I followed the road a short distance and then picked up a footpath on the right which heads into the woodlands of Furzedown Wood. The path climbs fairly steeply and heads across several fields to reach a minor road. I turn right here and follow this road into the village of Kingston. The leads me to wonder how many villages there are in Britain called Kingston. There must be a lot, there are also two towns, Kingston-upon-Hull and Kingston-upon-Thames (but usually known as simply Hull and Kingston). The path took me into the centre of the village. At the end of the road I turned left and then took the first road on the right. This is a dead-end for cars but a bridlepath which becomes a footpath. As I’m walking down here I’m stopped by a van driver who asks if this road goes to a named house. I have to reply I have no idea, so he carries on, but returns a few minutes later (so the answer must be no, then). This is one of those things I often come across on my walks. People see you with a map and stop to ask for directions. But if you think about it, someone with a map is probably doing so because they are not familiar with the local area so is not best placed to ask (but can probably at least tell you where you are and show you the map, I suppose).

The rain is now getting very heavy so I’m pleased when the track heads into woodlands which shelters me from some of the rain. The track is odd, lose stones in places, concrete in others and mud in others. There is a series of ponds off to the left (and signs that this is private). The path is very muddy in places and also very wet, and I have to step over several streams that are now flowing across the path.

Another bridleway (track) joins from the right, again the continuation of a public road, which has narrowed to a track. After a while, and rather oddly, as there are no other paths off, the bridleway becomes a footpath only and emerges from the woodland to head back down to Westcombe Beach, Here I’m exposed to the rain again and it becomes very wet. From here I follow the coast path the way I came back to Bigbury-on-Sea around 1.5 miles away. The rain continues to come down heavily and I’m soaked through once I reach Bigbury-on-Sea.

I now have to drive to my hotel on the north edge of Plymouth. I am so wet I decided to change in the toilets (which also have showers), so I can at least turn up dry rather than wet and muddy. The drive is not pleasant. The roads are waterlogged, with streams of red soil flowing across the narrow roads in places. It is also single track with passing places for parts of the way which is not great when visibility is poor like now.

I’m glad to reach the A379 but within a few seconds of joining it, a caller on the traffic report on the radio warns it is only barely passable due to flooding. I drive a small car so this is not good news. In fact there are some fairly deep puddles but I make it through, relieved I didn’t meet anyone coming the other way to throw up deep spray, which might get in the engine. Rather than continue on the water logged A379, which is bad and getting worse, I decided to join the A3121 with the aim of picking up the A38 west to Plymouth in the hope that being a major road it is much less likely to be flooded. This goes well until I reach the A38 and realise the junction allows you to join the A38 going east only, and I want to go west. So I follow the signs for the A38 Plymouth, which takes me through Ivybridge, an unplanned diversion and finally onto the A38, which is clear, but has a lot of spray.

I’m staying at the Travelodge at Robourough north of Plymouth so I follow the A38 to the Tavistock Road (A386) junction. Then I join this road going north. It is an unpleasant drive. It is a rush hour traffic on an urban dual carriageway which I’m not familiar with, it has now got dark and there is so much water on the road it makes it very hard to see the lane markings, not helped because lanes seem to randomly become bus lanes at various points. I’m relieved to make it without any problems to my hotel. I checked in and had dinner at the pub next door and headed back to my room.

Whilst watching the news the following morning, a house had collapsed in nearby Looe, as a result of a landslide triggered by the torrential rain of the previous day.

All in all, it was not one of the best walks for weather.

Despite the weather this is a lovely stretch of unspoilt coastline with some excellent and remote beaches and a pleasant little village in Bigbury. I hope to return and do this in better weather some time.

Here is details of the public transport to Bigbury-on-Sea. This bus runs just once per week, on Fridays.

Tally Ho Coaches route 875Bigbury-on-SeaBigbury – Challaborough – Ringmore – Kingston – Modbury – Yealmpton – Plymouth. Once per week, Friday only.

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

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