57a. Plymouth to Stonehouse

May 2015

Having walked the stretch of from Cremyll over in Cornwall the next walk I did was east from Plymouth, which I began from Smeatons Tower on the Hoe. At the time I thought I had walked from there to ther Cremyll ferry many years ago when I lived in Exeter. I remember walking west from Plymouth to a mariner area where the friend I was with though the ferry went from. However I couldn’t find any photos of the walk. I also checked the map and found the route to be quite a bit longer than I thought.

I began to have a nagging doubt that I’d missed this short section, having mistakenly thought at the time that I had walked it before. Having done the walk today I could remember nothing of it, so I’m pretty sure I’d missed a section despite thinking I had done it, albeit a long time ago. I can’t be leaving gaps, that’s cheating, so it was time to put that right, hence the odd numbering of this walk, since I don’t want to re-number the rest!

It has been a busy week, for in the last seven days I have done new coastal walks in 3 differing and widely spaced counties, Aberdeenshire, Lincolnshire and Devon, (as well as go to work). In addition I rather stupidly (and for the first time on a coastal walk) managed earlier this week to fall over on a walk (after stepping on sand that, unknown to me, had been undermined) and ended up briefly in the sea over my head. Unfortunately I did so whilst fully clothed, wearing a rucksack and with my camera round my neck. I got out unscathed, with the only damage my pride. Unfortunatly my ageing camera (a Canon EOS400d) did not survive a dunking in the sea (but happily, the memory card and photos on it did) so I’m using a backup camera (which has slightly off white-balance) on this walk whilst I decide what to buy in replacement. Thankfully (and to my surprise) my mobile phone in my pocket survived, as did the various gadgets I had in my rucksack (which managed to keep out most of the water) so it could have been worse.

So time to make the 400-mile round trip to Plymouth. What with a £20 rail travel voucher I got for a delayed journey back in January and the use of a Network Railcard as far as Exeter, I was able to bring the cost down to around £30, which is not too bad. I took the train from my local station which takes the slower route (having started at London Waterloo) via Salisbury and Yeovil Junction, because this route is much cheaper if not booked in advance. It is a route I used to use regularly until around 15 years ago and have only used occasionally since, but it was good to see how much the service had improved. Back then it was a train at random times, roughly two hours apart, with the odd additional train. Now it is hourly, seven days a week thanks to investment to replace some single track sections and there is even a new station being built in the route at present.

Things did not start well, with the train being shown as 2 minutes late, a delay which grew to 8 minutes late by the time it arrived. More than 2 hours later, we arrived at Exeter St Davids, just a few minutes late. This gave me enough time to buy another ticker onto Plymouth (as I can’t use a railcard for this section) and await the slightly delayed onward train to Plymouth. When it arrived I took up a seat on the left knowing this would give me the best views of the coast, as indeed it did. There is still some work going on to finish the repairs to the Dawlish sea wall, when the track was washed away a little over a year ago although presumably it is mostly cosmetic, since the tracks themselves have been open for more than a year.

It was a pleasant run along the coast, the tide being high, and round to Newton Abbot, then on around the edge of Dartmoor to Plymouth. The station at Plymouth is to the north of the city centre. There is a bus, but I decided to walk.

Plymouth was badly bombed during World War II due to the dockyards in the town, and much of it was rather unsympathetically re-built in the 1960s and 1970s. It has to be said the city centre is not terribly pretty, heading under a large underpass under a roundabout and through the largely concrete city centre. I noted the very ugly Plymouth City Council Civic Centre was now empty. I assumed it was going to be pulled down, but I’m amazed (and a little disappointed) to see that it was listed back in 2007 and is now to be converted, rather than demolished. Plymouth certainly has more than it’s fare share of ugly 1970s towers.

Soon I reached the Hoe. It is a welcoming sight, with the coast of Plymouth sound laid out ahead and the brightly coloured flags flapping in the wind (which was pretty brisk).

Plymouth Hoe

Looking west I had a good view to the Citadel, and the eastern suburbs of Plymouth. I took the steps passed what I remember as the Plymouth Dome, but is now a Gary Rhodes restuarant, and followed the road along the water front. Plymouth has a rocky coast but it has made the most of it, with walkways and seating areas cut into the cliffs, and even the odd bit of beach in places.

The Citadel, Plymouth

I soon reached the Tinside and was disappointed to see it was empty of water. When I used to live in Exeter this was derelict. I was pleased to see last time I was here it had been well restored and was open again. I was concerned it had closed again, but I see it’s just that it’s not open for the season yet and is due to open in a couple of weeks. It still looked a bit sad with no water, though.

Tinside Lido, Plymouth

Looking west you can see the rocky coast and waterfront well and some of the platforms that have been cut into the rocks. On the top of the hill is the very ugly Quality Hotel, which looked anything but quality, with it’s boarded up lower windows and grafitti covered upper windows. It has obviously closed, and I do hope it gets demolished, it’s another ugly 1970s building Plymouth could well do without.

The coast path followed the road along the bottom of the Hoe here and soon came into a ratrher grand looking residential area, with some fine terraced houses along the street, I suspect originally hotels.

West Hoe, Plymouth

I could soon take a path by the sea wall behind some of these houses although I then had to head back to the road. Ahead I could see the ferry port, where a large Britanny Ferries boat, Pont-Aven was in the port. Plymouth has ferry services to Roscoff in France and Santander in Spain. Being a long crossing the ferry is rather more spacious than the usual ferry, with cabins and is dubbed a cruise ferry, being a sort of cross between a ferry and a cruise ship. It takes a little over 20 hours to reach Spain. I’m pretty sure this is as far as I got on a walk west from here the previous time when I thought I had walked this bit.

Britanny Ferries boat in Plymouth Millbay dock

The little promenade I had been following ended and I had to walk on the pavement beside the road and I had to walk past a new development of flats on the left. I was hoping there might be a coastal path behind them, but it didn’t look like it and was signed as a private estate, so I stuck to the road. This took me to a roundabout with a very grand hotel behind it, the Duke of Cornwall hotel.

The Duke of Cornwall Hotel, Plymouth

Here I made the mistake of turning left and following the road  which I quickly realised was heading into the ferry port. I suspected it was wrong but thought there might be a path back up to the road I should be on, but there wasn’t so I had to head back the way I’d come and take the correct road (Millbay Road). There is not much signage here, as I found to my cost. This took me alongside the ferry port down to my left. Beyond that I was passing military buildings part of which is the Royal Marines barracks.

Royal Marines Barracks, Stonehouse, Plymouth

I was a bit concerned at a couple of girls who had tried, unsuccessfully, in several places to climb over the wall and looked to be contemplating another attempt as I passed (this time, right under a security camera).

Soon I could turn left and follow a rather pleasant road with brightly coloured houses on one side and more of the military buildings on the other.

Royal Marines Barracks, Stonehouse, Plymouth

When the houses ended the road narrowed, briefly to a path, to then come out at a little beach with a rather uninspring looking tidal swimming pool.

Firestone Bay, Plymouth

Still it was lovely to get views along the coast again and to Drakes Island, just off shore. I would like to visit the island, but it is private and a recent planning application to turn it into a hotel has been turned down (because of nesting Egrets). Sadly it seems the public is not likely to get access any time soon then.

Firestone Bay, Plymouth

To my right was an old fort and this is all now open to the public.

Firestone Bay, Plymouth

It was nice to have a look around and the coast path book I was using suggested this was not possible, so it must have been opened up fairly recently. I followed the path to the fort at Devils Point. This is all open to the public so I had a look around although sadly there is also a lot of vandalism. At the end of this I could get a view to the Mount Edgcumbe Country park in Cornwall and the river Tamar flowing out to sea.

Cremyll from Plymouth

I could also see the Cremyll ferry at the Cornish side loading it’s passengers.

Cremyll from Plymouth

At the end I came to steps with a very smart dockland area ahead. The coast path route marked on my guide book suggested I had to head back along the road, but I saw a plaque here beside a new staircase down to the water level, so the route has obviously been improved.

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

The steps are dedicated to dear the late Eric Wallis, former head of the South West Coast Path association, who did so much to improve the route of this path. Taking the steps I was in a newly refurbished former military area, where the beautiful stone buildings are now a mixture of offices, flats, shops and restuarants. This is known as Royal William Yard and was the main victualling depot of the Royal Navy, but closed in 1992. It has been refurbished to a very high standard and looks stunning.

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

An area that was once closed to the public is now open and very interesting it is too. I followed the path to the mouth of the little harbour here.

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Sadly the lock gates were open, so I had to walk around the back, but it was a good oppurtunity to look at more of the buildings, some of which I understand are now used by the University.

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Slightly confusingly, there is a ferry from within the harbour and I thought for a minute this is where the Cremyll ferry goes, but it was a different ferry (Plymouth seems to have a lot of ferries). At the end it was back to the road which ran alongside the water giving a few over Stonehouse harbour.

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

The path followed the pavement, which soon had some houses between me and the water, but a gap in them gave a good view back to the Royal William Yard.

Stonehouse, Plymouth

Finally I reached the Cremyll ferry and the blue marker that marks the start (or in my case end) of the coast path through Plymouth. It is 352 miles to Minehead from here. I took a view of the ferry loading up for the crossing into Cornwall and could end here, knowing I had now walked all the South West Coast Path. Even if I had walked this before (which I now doubt) it has changed considerably since then, with the whole Royal William Yard having been opened up, and made a good end to this walk.

Cremyll Ferry, Plymouth

From the ferry I followed the road up to the bus stop and took the number 34 bus back to the city centre. A number of French people got on at the ferry port, so the ferry had obviously fairly recently arrived from Roscoff. From the city centre I walked to the station in order to head home again. It had been a long day but an enjoyable one to take in a part of the coast path I had missed before. I wasn’t expecting much from it, it being entirely urban, but it was actually rather nice with a lot of interest to see en-route.

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

Plymouth City bus route 34 : Plymouth City Centre – Millbay – Derriford – Stoke – Crowhill. Twice an hour, seven days a week.

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

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