This walk was a bit of a milestone for me, as it was the last walk I completed on the South West Coast Path (I’ve not walked it in order) so was one I was looking forward to hugely though touched with a bit of sadness that any other walks I do on the South West Coast Path in future will be repeats.
It was a glorious day for it too. As with other walks in the South Hams area, this was a bit of a challenging walk logistically. There are occasional buses from Outer Hope to Kingsbridge and more frequent buses from Salcombe to Kingsbridge, but the connections were poor. I wanted to get the journey from Outer Hope done first, as this bus is by far the less frequent. I soon realised that I didn’t need to head all the way to Kingsbridge as both buses stopped at Malborough. So I thought about driving there, but suspected parking might be tricky.
In the end I realised that my campsite at Higher Rew was only a little over a mile from Malborough and also a similar distance from south sands beach in Salcombe. So I decided to give the car a rest and walk up to Malborough for the bus to Outer Hope and then walk back from Salcombe at the end of the walk.
I followed the track out of the campsite to the minor road and turned right heading steeply downhill to the hamlet of Combe. This was a pretty little hamlet consisting of a handful of thatched cottages. Here I turned left heading to Plympton Farm. At the bend in the road I could pick up a footpath the rest of the way to Malborough. From most of it’s length it ran along a track between fields and was very pleasant and shady on what was already quite a warm morning.
I had allowed more time than needed to walk to Malborough and arrived in the end around 15 minutes before the bus was due. The footpath bought me out at the end of a road and I followed this to the main road and then left along the road to the village shop and post office which is where the bus timetable listed the bus as stopping. There was a handy seat here and I could sit and watch the comings and goings at the busy little shop.
A minute or so after the bus was due I spotted it down the road. But a Carlsberg lorry was making a delivery to the pub and had not left enough room for the bus to get past. Still at least having spotted the bus stuck behind the lorry I knew it was coming, I just had to hope the driver didn’t give up with this part of the route and try to turn round. Beer lorry out the way the bus duly arrived and I flagged it down, not being quite sure where the bus stop was, since there was none marked on the road. He stopped in the middle of the road and I got on and asked for a ticket to Outer Hope. He was a friendly and chatty bus driver who seemed to know and be known by the majority of passengers who I suspected made the journey regularly. He was keen to make up time because of that “damned beer lorry” and apologised to others getting on that the bus was late. We soon stopped at the Sun Bay Hotel in Inner Hope for a suitcase laden passenger who presumably was staying or working there. We drove a little further down to a road overlooking the coast and stopped. The driver asked me if I was getting off here (I didn’t recognise it) and explained that “this is as close to the coast path as we go”. I hadn’t mentioned I was walking the coast path and was a bit surprised it was that obvious! However a check at the timetable showed the bus actually goes to Outer Hope first, then Inner Hope and back to Outer Hope. We were on our way back and I must have missed the stop at both the first and second attempts, so I was glad the bus driver was paying attention, even if I wasn’t!
So here we are, Outer Hope.
I stopped here to buy lunch for later and then followed the coast path along the cliff top to neighbouring Hope Cove, which was larger than yesterday namely because the tide was now out.
I headed briefly east to climb the cliffs to the east of Hope Cove and get a good view back over the lovely little beach with the flowers in the foreground. I was quite pleased with this one.
From Inner Hope, the coast path is an easy walk here being a tarmac path right along the cliff top to the road and car park at Hope Cove.
The path goes around the back of the bay and then heads away from the road through woodland. The trees offer glimpses of the view back to Hope Cove
Soon the path emerges from the woodland and you have a choice of taking the official path, which does not go out to the headland of Bolt Tail, or you can go to the tip of the headland. I chose the latter, naturally.
It was quite windy up here, but it gave a great view back to Hope and Thurlestone.
Rounding the corner from the headland I had a view east and it soon became apparent that the terrain was getting harder.
The coast path here is good running right on the cliff top and soon I came to the first cove, a rocky one, Redrot Cove. There was a little sand revealing itself as each wave went down, but sadly no easy way down to get to it.
From here the path climbed fairly gently and became increasingly rocky as I reached Gray Stone and soon up onto Bolberry Down. This was one of the highest points of the walk and I was rewarded with good views of the coast ahead, to The Warren and Bolt Head, with glimpses of a bit of sand at the base of the cliffs, too.
The coast path passed a little car park at Bolberry Down and briefly became a track, before narrowing back to a path. The coast path was now fairly gentle and heading slowly downhill soon offering good views back to Bolt Tail.
Ahead I could soon see Soar Mill Cove.
When I reached Soar Mill Cove I would actually have completed the South West Coast Path. This is because when I lived in Exeter I once visited Salcombe. Salcombe was normally only served by a bus service to and from Kingsbridge, itself not easy to get to without a car. However on Sunday buses ran all the way through from Exeter to Salcombe with two buses a day, a service which continues today. It is a long journey though, taking more than 2 hours each way on a regular bus, so it is for the determined only! It is surprising to have such a long bus journey and still be in the same county. I’m not sure if this serves to show how big Devon is or how slow buses are! However whilst I remember enjoying the walk it was a long time ago, so I decided to re-walk this part of the path.
The day had started calm but a strong wind was getting up and as I descended into the valley at Soar Mill Cove suddenly it became sheltered. At the top of the valley I could see the Soar Mill Cove hotel.
Heading down to the beach it was just as good as I remembered it. A sheltered, south-facing cove, with lovely soft sand and cliffs on either side and a little stream flowing out over the beach. It is totally unspoilt there being no buildings or roads at all on the coast (the hotel is half a mile inland).
I decided this would make a good place for lunch it being sheltered and beautiful.
After lunch I explored some of the beach at low tide, walking around to another little beach alongside.
At the back of the beach there was even a small cave. It looked to go quite far back, but with the tide coming in and the water getting deeper as you headed into the cave, it wasn’t a good idea to explore.
Time to continue the walk and the path around the back of the beach on a path just below the cliff tops, with the path now becoming quite rugged, with rocky outcrops around, something I had remembered from my previous walk here. The height gained meant I got a good view back to the beach.
The path passed between a dry stone wall with the rocks of Ham Stone just out to sea. I could see a long way back here and think it is Rame Head in Cornwall you can make out in the distance.
The coast ahead became increasingly rugged and beautiful, with rocky outcrops galore as the path climbed to the top of The Warren. On reaching the top there was a beautiful view of Bolt Head ahead, around which was Salcombe.
All around here the coast path was rocky, with almost a rocky ledge at the top, it was very spectacular and reminded me of the area near Lands End. At what looked to be the top I had a good view over Off Cove below.
It’s a fairly level walk along the cliff tops to reach the western edge of Bolt Head and a view back over Off Cove, with more impressive rock formations.
As I neared the end of Bolt Head I could see the coast the other side of Salcombe ahead, East Portlemouth, whilst the coast path on this side took a lower level route nearer the bottom of the cliffs.
Soon I reached the end of Bolt Head, where there was another rocky outcrop and could enjoy views around to Prawle Point. Salcombe though remained out of view. The coast path here can be deceptive and it looks like it is fairly level around to Sharp Tor. It isn’t though, as there is another valley between which soon reveals itself.
This is Starehole Bay, a beautiful little bay with a small sandy beach at the bottom, and the path heads right to the bottom almost to sea level. There is a stile and small path down to the beach here. However the National Trust sign said it was closed and a fence put up to try to block it off. I climbed over this though and headed down to the beach. A bit of mud had slipped onto part of the steps down, but that seemed to be the only problem, and it seemed pretty minor to me. There was only a tiny bit of sand, though.
Heading back up from the beach I climbed back over the fence and back onto the coast path proper. Here I was expecting it to climb steeply all the way to the top of the cliffs, but for once I was spared that, as the path climbs to roughly mid way up the cliffs and stays there.
The path can now clearly be seen along the coast looking back where I had come.
The path goes through more rocks, almost an arch in places, and rounds the corner. Suddenly I can see the estuary and Salcombe ahead.
The path briefly heads through woodland and then emerges onto a track at the edge of Salcombe. I took the dead-end path down to Splatcove Point and could see a small beach around the corner, but I think it is private and only accessible from the houses above. Lucky them!
I sat on the rocks here for a while to enjoy the view over South Sands. Unusually, South Sands is linked to Salcombe by a ferry. There doesn’t seem any particular need for a ferry, there being a fairly direct road between the two and no estuaries in the way. I think it is primarily because there is limited car parking in Salcombe itself, but a large car park at the beach and also to link the town with the beach. It is the most unusual contraption though. Rather than a simple ferry on a jetty, because the sands are too shallow there is a sort of sea tractor, like the one I saw at Bigbury-on-Sea. The passengers board this and it drives part way out into the sea, where the boat then docks with the sea tractor and passengers transfer from the tractor to the boat. The tractor then drives back up with the passengers that got off the ferry. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it seems a lot of effort to go to to provide a ferry when there isn’t even any great need for it!
Here you can see the ferry boat heading for the tractor (with the Devon flag flying from it) which has driven out into the sea from the beach.
Now the boat is nearly docked with the tractor.
And finally docking is complete and the passengers transfer.
It’s certainly unusual. The spectacle over, I continued the walk heading up to the coast path and around the corner to South Sands beach. This is one of two main beaches in Salcombe and very nice it is too, with shallow calm water, it being slightly up the estuary, backed by good sands. Some lucky (and wealthy) residents have houses overlooking the beach.
As it was still not that late and I was in no particular rush I stopped again for a little while on the beach here, which was quieter than I had expected.
Soon though it was time to continue Unfortunately, all the rest of the walk was along roads although they are at least fairly minor roads. There is a bit of a climb out through a bit of woodland and rounding the corner I reach North Sands.
This was another good beach although it felt slightly more urban than South Sands.
I didn’t linger here but instead continued on the coast path, which descended to sea level at the back of the beach and continued along the road up the other side. I had good views of the estuary here, with the good beach at East Portlemouth visible ahead.
Whilst the walking was along roads, there were good views in the gaps between the houses over this lovely estuary.
Soon there was a little stone bridge going over the road and I’m not sure what purpose it serves, but I suspect that might be the reason for the South Sands ferry, to act as a bit of park and ride as I suspect a bus might not be able to get through it.
As I neared the centre of the town, there were plenty of seats on the right overlooking the estuary. Unlike many estuaries this one has good sandy beaches on both sides which are very sheltered because of the higher ground on either side and the fact they face south. The water is also clear rather than muddy. However the best beaches seem to be reserved for the smaller settlement of East Portlemouth on the other side.
Looking out to sea I can see the entrance to the estuary and the cliffs I walked around earlier.
I soon reach the Salcombe to East Portlemouth ferry, which marks the point where the South West coast path crosses the estuary. I hadn’t planned to go across but since it was only around 3:30pm, the ferry ran regularly and I was in no particularly hurry, I decided to take the ferry over and spend a bit of time on the lovely sandy beach on the other side. It was a lovely beach backed by trees and with a stream flowing down one side. It was obviously popular with families and very sheltered from the strong winds I had experienced earlier around Soar Mill Cove.
After a nice relax on the beach I headed back for the ferry and took this back to Salcombe in order to get dinner. After this I walked on the road back to South Sands. Here I followed the footpath along the eastern side of the valley around a caravan park and to the road to Combe. Here I turned left and headed up the hill back to the campsite.
This was a spectacular walk and one that I very much enjoyed. There are glorious unspoilt beaches at regular intervals here and some beautiful rugged scenery, more so than I had expected to find. It also seemed to be achieved with less effort than on other parts of the coast, as much of the walk was near the top of the fairly level cliffs. There is also the curiosity of the South Sands ferry to watch too. The only downside is the road walking for the last 1 ¼ miles although this is at least on minor roads.
Here is details of the (limited) public transport for this walk:-
Tally Ho service 162: Kingsbridge – Thurlestone – South Milton – Malborough – Galmpton – Outer Hope – Inner Hope (and return). 3 buses per day Monday – Saturday, with additional services on part of the route on school days.
Tally Ho Service 606: Kingsbridge – West Alvington – Malborough – Salcombe. Hourly service, Monday to Saturday.
The following is recommended based on the current timetable, depending on if you want to take the bus at the start or end of the walk.
Salcombe depart 08:20 arrive Malborough Garage at 08:33. Depart Malborough post office 09:00 arrive Outer Hope at 09:12. Note that you might need to walk between the garage and post office in Malborough although I think both buses do stop at the garage (check with the bus company if you don’t want to walk). Or in the other direction, depart Salcombe at 17:30, arrive Malborough Garage at 17:45. Depart Malborough Post office at 18:05 arrive Outer Hope at 18:13. Again you might need to walk between the post office and the garage (but I’m pretty sure the bus has to pass the garage to get to the post office, so hopefully not).