66. Torcross to Salcombe

June 2013

I did this walk whilst staying at the Higher Rew campsite near Salcombe. I made an early start, as I often do when camping, as it was a sunny day and the sun tends to wake me up – but it’s a good way to start the day.

Once again, the logistics of this walk were a little tricky as there is no direct bus between Salcombe and Torcross, so I had to change buses in Kingsbridge. I decided to drive to Salcombe, park there and take the buses to Torcross first, then walk back. Salcombe has a park and ride, but it only runs during the peak summer months and on certain school holiday and bank holiday periods. It wasn’t running today so I had to drive into the town instead. I know parking can be tricky but I was early, arriving at around 7:45am. I was surprised to find the car park already more than half full! During the summer months there is only one car park near the centre that allows all day parking and for a small town in a rural area it is not especially cheap. I found coins for the £6.50 charge and put them in the machine, only to see it was displaying an expiry of 8:00am. Irritatingly, there is a night right and a day rate. The day rate starts at 8am,. so parking before 8am, I would have to pay both the day and night rate. As my bus didn’t depart until 08:20am I decided to hang around my car until 8, then pay so I only had to pay the day rate.

Parking duly sorted I headed for the bus stop in another car park (but one that only allows parking for 3 hours in the summer), where the bus departed from the road in front. The bus was already there when I got there and I was initially the only passenger, but we soon picked up more and the bus became increasingly busy with teenagers. It was only when we pulled into the car park of the college in Kingsbridge I realised this was the “college” bus, and there was a whole queue of coaches and buses driving round the car park. Once through the queue and college students delivered, we continued on to Kingsbridge.

I like Kingsbridge and the bus station is one of the best located I have seen, giving nice views over the Kingsbridge estuary. I didn’t have long to wait and the bus soon arrived on time and was a double decker bus, so I sat upstairs to enjoy the view. We arrived in Torcross on time at about 9:30am and I bought lunch from the little shop there. Torcross is quite a small village and has an unusual feature, Slapton Ley, just to it’s north. This is a large freshwater lake in the south west, stretching for more than a mile north from the village. It is seperated from the coast by just a shingle beach and the A379, a road that is closed a times during storms. For example during the storms of last winter, the road was closed for some time, as it suffered bad damage. I walked a little north to get a view of this before starting the walk south.

Slapton Ley, Torcross

The village itself is quite exposed, with just a low concrete wall separating the shingle beach from many of the houses.

Torcross

The walk began from the start of the promenade in Torcross, going up a few steps at the south end which soon gain enough height to appreciate the setting of the village, with many of the houses having water both in front (the sea) and behind (Slapton Ley). The path soon entered a small area of woodland and continued to climb. As I left the trees there was a good view over Beesands, the next village on the way.

Beesands, Devon

Like Torcross, this also has a lake behind the beach, but this one is much smaller. The path headed a little inland here to get around an old quarry, so old that it is now entirely full of trees. Back on the coast I had now descended to beach level and the path followed a stony track behind the beach which seemed to double as a car park. Beesands is a small village, like Torcross, but seems less exposed, with most of the houses being a little further back from the coast. However further south, like Torcross, the houses of the village are protected from the sea only by a small concrete wall. An information board here says that there is at least 800 years of fishing history here.

What was interesting was the photo on the board of the village. Undated, but it was black and white. Looking at the view then and now, I was struck that it was almost exactly the same. The only real difference was the cars now were more modern and there were fewer fishing nets around now.

Beesands

At the end of the promenade the path climbs up onto the low cliffs with the cliffs and path lined with bracken. It gives a good view back over the shingle beach and village behind me.

Beesands

The coast undulates a little over low cliffs and soon I have a view of the village of Hallsands ahead. Like Beesands, much of the village is set back a little from the coast, but it wasn’t always like this.

Hallsands

Looking at the picture above, you can see the more modern houses a little inland, and a few houses right by the coast, and with cliffs beyond. Most of what we see now is a modern replacement for the original village. Originally most of the village was built on the back of the beach, below those cliffs. As you will likely have realised, it isn’t there now.

The reason for this is that it was largely destroyed in a storm in January 1917, leaving just one house habitable, most of the villagers having had to evacuate earlier in the evening. However there is more to the story than this. There was once a beach here, which has largely gone now. When the dockyard at Devonport in Plymouth was being constructed a lot of dredging was taking place, removing gravel from the sea bed near Start Point to help build the docks. This dredging caused the level of the beach to drop, leaving the village much more exposed. After much protest from the villagers, the dredging was eventually stopped and the beach began to recover. It was not enough though, a combination of storms combined with an unusual high tide combined to wipe out most of the village in a single night. A long battle followed to get compensation, as the villagers had already been paid some as part of the deal when the dredging was stopped. They did, eventually, get further compensation, but the village was lost to the sea. Interestingly, the remains of many of the houses are still visible, and a viewing platform has been built to provide a better view.

It seems very likely the dredging was a contributary factor, but given the damage that has been inflicted on the coast of the south west during storms I suspect, it would likely have happened eventually anyway, as the village was located in front of the cliffs – formed by erosion, of course. The storms of last winter caused huge damage in the south west, particularly in Kingsand and in Dawlish, in the latter washing away the sea wall and railway line. I wonder if Hallsands had survived, how much damage would have been done that night too? Still it certainly makes you appreciate the power of the sea.

Today the village seems to have quite a good shingle beach again, although no one was using it on this day.

Hallsands beach

The path began to climb out of the village, where I came to the viewing platform. This is very good, with a history in order all around the sides. The view along the coast is what draws you in though. You can see now how exposed the village was, and the single house that was there has still survived, albeit only just. Looking at the photo below you can see how the gable end has collapsed on what presumably is one of the out buildings, as the sea continues to eat away at the coast here. How long does the house have left?

Ruins of Hallsands

Zooming in makes it clearer, where you can see the gables and walls which are all that remains of the village now.

Ruins of Hallsands

This point marks a change in terrain for the walk too. Whilst so far the walk has mostly been behind flat shingle beaches or along low cliffs, the terrain ahead becomes far more rugged, as I approach Start Point. The path climbs, with a fairly length climb, with a brief wooded section, but it largely stays high once the height is gained, which is nice. Soon there is a view point and car park which gives a good view all around Start Bay.

Near Start Point

Ahead from here the coast path goes along the coast a bit further towards Start Point, but cuts the far end of the headland out. However there is a lighthouse at the end and I always enjoy seeing a lighthouse, so I followed the path out. In fact, it was more a road then a path, built to serve the lighthouse. At the point of the fork where I left (briefly), the route of the South West Coast Path there was a sign saying 168 miles to Poole and 462 to Minehead. The road gradually descends as the cliff gets slightly lower towards it’s tip. Soon I reached the lighthouse itself.

Start Point lighthouse

I wondered if it would be possible to visit this. It is, but it wasn’t opening for the day for more than hour (and I think was by guided tour only). I decided to give this a miss, not wanting to wait an hour. Rather than follow the road back I followed a path along the south side of the headland giving good views of the spiky rocks along the top of Start Point, and the lighthouse at the end.

Start Point

I was soon back on the official South West Coast Path as the coast continued to become more rugged, now with little inlets and bays cut into the rock by the sea. It was a stunning view.

View back to Start Point

The path continued to lose height until I was more or less at sea level at Great Sleaden rock. Here it was suddenly crowded, as some students were obviously doing some work studying the cliffs. I stopped just before them for lunch, as it was sheltered down here.

Near Great Sleaden Rock

The path continued around the low cliffs to Peartree Cove, the rocky cliffs being covered in lovely yellow gorse, it was beautiful.

Peartree Cove

Although the coast path goes behind the beach and stays on the cliff tops, I took the path down to visit the beach. It was deserted and beautiful.

Great Mattiscombe Sand

Soon it was time to head back up to the cliff top and continue the walk. It was a good view back to the beach too with some rocks in the middle of the sands.

Limpet Cove

The coast path continued at a low level to Limpet Cove, a rocky little beach and on to the sandy beach at Lannacombe. This was a lovely unspoilt sandy beach and judging by the lack of footprints, I was the only person to go down onto the beach.

Limpet Cove

Sadly there was a problem ahead. A small cliff fall just the coastal side of a cottage at Ivy Cove had taken out the coast path. You can just see it, the area of bare cliffs, on the photo above. It was a long diversion inland, around 2 miles. I decided to see if I could get along the beach instead.

I got to the point of the landslip and along the beach a little further, but ended up at a point where the rocks were just too high to safely jump down and if I did manage it and found I could not get through ahead, would then have problems getting back. Reluctantly, I had to admit defeat and follow the diversion.

This headed inland via Higher Borough, giving a pleasant view of the grassy valley.

Eventually I reached the other side of the diversion. Apparently the path was closed. You’d think they’d put up a sign wouldn’t you? Happily, this long diversion is no longer necessary. A small stretch of new path has been opened behind the house, so you can keep close to the coast now.

Too many signs?

Yes, I think thats probably enough signs! I was relieved to finally be back on the coast, but the diversion had taken nearly an hour. I was beginning to get concerned about what time the last ferry from East Portlemouth to Salcombe ran.

Unusually, the coast path continued at a low level past Woodcombe Point the cliffs being high above the path.

Near East Prawle

The coast path followed a fence the coastsl side of a rather lovely looking house which was in this isolated but sheltered location overlooking the sea. I would love to live there. Just beyond this I went past more rocks and soon came to a shingle beach. This is Horsley Cove. There is access to the beach but keen to press on for the ferry, I didn’t go down.

Near East Prawle

The path continued west still at a low level, with the rocky granite cliffs just to my right covered in more yellow gorse, with shingle and pebble beaches to my left.

View to Prawle Point

Ahead I could see Prawle Point and noticed that there was a little rocky arch at the base of the cliffs here.

View to Prawle Point

The path continued at a low level for a while, passing the four coves of Wollow Cove, Landing Cove, Western Cove and Copstone Cove. Once past these it began to climb, but then I’d had it easy so far.

View from Prawle Point

The path soon reached the top passing the coastal side of a terrace of cottages and coming the coast watch lookout at Prawle Point.

Rounding the corner I can see what I think is Bolt Head ahead. The path ahead goes past what looks like a precursor to dry stone walls, some presumably ancient walls made from thin stones placed upright in the ground, so they stick up.

Approaching Elender Cove

At Signalhouse point I got a view of the little cove of Elender Cove ahead. I could see that I was not going to have it so easy for the rest of the walk!

Gammon Head

The path descended back close to sea level around here giving views of the rocky coast of Prawle Point where I had just been.

View back to Prawle Point

The path followed at a lower level for a while, but soon began to climb past a good sandy beach at Allum Beach. There was a steep path down to the beach but sadly I didn’t have time to explore it – it was already nearly 4pm and I thought the last ferry from East Portlemouth was at 6pm. The path cuts off Gammon Head, and there was no alternative path to the end, so I stuck to the official route here. Rounding Gammon Head I was presented with a rather lovely view.

View west from Gammon Head

Once more, the coast path began to drop to follow closer to sea level part way down the sloping cliff face, going a bit above Hamstone Cove. Beyond this there was another climb around Venerick’s Cove, which gave a good view back where I’d just come.

Venericks Cove

It really was a stunning view and this was a good time of year to do it, what with all the flowers out and the beautiful blue sea and sky. The path once more began to drop back nearer sea level again and ahead is another good beach, Abraham’s Hole.

Venericks Cove

Just before I reached the beach there was the ruins of an old house with the fire place very much visible in what was left of the outer walls. At the back of the beach there was a path down but again I decided to press on, but I could see sunbathers below enjoying the bech.

Near Abraham's Hole

The path climbed a little up to Portlemouth Down which once more gave good views back the way I’d come.

View back to Hammon Head

It’s a spectacular bit of coast this, that is for sure. The path ahead was easier, cut just below the top of the cliffs, it made for a spectacular walk.

Portlemouth Down

I was however relieved to soon pass the corner with the view of the Kingsbridge Estuary and Salcombe ahead of me.

The Kingsbridge Estuary near East Portlemouth

The path rounded the corner and seemed to become less rugged and greener, presumably because it was more sheltered. Ahead I could see the lovely beach at East Portlemouth.

The Kingsbridge Estuary near East Portlemouth

I was glad that on the previous days walk I’d come over to spend some time on the beach here, as it turned out that what with the diversion I would not much have time to linger today.

The path soon headed through some woodland, descending gradually, to reach the sandy beach at East Portlemouth (or Mill Bay, specifically).

East Portlemouth

The previous day I had managed to walk from here along the beach to the ferry, but today the tide was higher (and also because it was later), so I had to follow the minor road instead. It was only a short walk on to the ferry. I got there just to see it departing.

The Salcombe to East Portlemouth ferry

I got to see it departing, and wasn’t sure quite when it ended. It was gone 5, so not 5pm. Maybe 5:30? Anyway other people where waiting for the ferry, so I was confident I had not just missed the last boat. An indeed not, it soon came back but it gave me time to admire the lovely view.

East Portlemouth from Salcombe

Soon back in Salcombe I had another deadline to meet, as my car parking ticket ran out at 6pm, as I hadn’t paid for the evening rate. So I headed back to my car and got there about 10 minutes before 6pm. Rather than pay the evening rate I moved it to an on-street parking bay which was not restricted after 6pm and had dinner in a pub there before driving back to the campsite.

I loved this walk. The first part was fairly easy along the low shingle beaches around Torcross, Beesands and Hallsands. There was some interest (and sadness) about the ruined village of Hallsands. After that, it was a very rugged and spectacular coast, with the path taking in the best of it, both from the cliff tops and lower down. There were some good beaches too, even if time pressures meant I didn’t get to see them all at close quarters. The only problem was the long diversion I had to make inland, which cost me time (but happily, this is no longer required).

Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Tally Ho service 606Kingsbridge – West Alvington – Malborough – Salcombe. Hourly service, Monday – Saturday. No Sunday service.

Stagecoach 164 : Totnes – Kingsbridge – West Alvington – Malborough – Salcombe. Summer Sunday only, twice per day. Connects with X64 bus from Exeter and Newton Abbot.

First Devon and Cornwall 93 : Plymouth – Plymstock – Elburton – Brixton – Yealmpton – Modbury – Aventon Gifford – Churchstow – Kingsbridge – Frogmore Bridge – Chillington – Torcross – Slapton Turn – Strete – Blackpool Sands – Stoke Flemming – Dartmouth. Hourly Monday – Saturday. 4 per day on Summer Sundays only.

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

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