70. Torquay to Dawlish

October 2014

This is a walk I’ve done a number of times. When I lived in Exeter I used to walk the coast around here quite often, although this was the first time I had done this length all the way. I used to split this walk at St Marychurch and Teignmouth, but I tend to walk longer distances in a day now. I first drove to Dawlish and parked at the station car park. I wasn’t really fussed about which way I did the walk so I thought I’d see when the next train was due. If it was in a short time I’d take it and walk back. It was, due in less than 10 minutes. So I took the train down to Torquay.

This walk is perhaps unusual in that for much of the coast you actually get a better view of the coast from the train than the coast path! This is because the railway, trying to seek out flat land in what is a very hilly county was routed instead down the side of the Exe estuary to the coast, and then along a sea wall between the cliffs and the beach from there to Teignmouth. In places the route of the line is cut through the cliffs in a series of tunnels. It is a wonderful route perhaps the most scenic train ride in England, and certainly a favourite of mine. But it also comes at a price, and a financial one. Keeping the sea wall repaired is a constant battle against nature – a few months previous to this walk, nature had won, washing away the wall in several places and and taking the tracks with it, cutting off West Devon and Cornwall from the rest of the rail network. It isn’t the first time and I doubt it will be the last. But I hope it continues to be maintained rather than diverted inland, it is so beautiful.  However as I mentioned, in places the railway line gets a better route along the coast than the coast path. So if doing this walk I urge you take the train back rather than the bus, the view is so much better!

Having enjoyed the run down to Torquay, from the station I crossed the road and headed down onto the promenade, as the tide was far enough out. It is certainly 10 years since I was last in Torquay, probably nearer 15. I can remember the harbour and beach area well, but the rest of the town not so much. Yet it’s funny how the mind works. Once you come back to somewhere you quickly remember where everything is, and can see what has changed and what hasn’t, and so it turned out to be here. Little had changed on the seafront. Oddly the wooden base of the beach huts was present but the huts themselves gone, presumably moved somewhere safer out of the way of winter storms.

Torquay

I headed along the seafront until there is the pedestrian bridge over the road, which separates the town and the beach. Here I joined the pavement beside the road rather than the lower promenade by the beach.

Torre Abbey Sands, Torquay

On the corner here, as the road turns to the right, many of the older buildings on the left had been replaced with a new modern glass building, with shops at the bottom. Out the front there was no paving, it all looked quite smart.

Rounding the corner, I soon passed the Princess Theatre I remembered and a wheel which is new.

Torquay Pavillion

The path took me round to the harbour, which I remember well including the Strand at the back. I noticed that Dingles had become Debenhams and was now a dark colour (it used to be white). A more obvious change though was a new bridge over the mouth of the harbour, so you now longer have to walk around the land side of the main town harbour but can cross it.

Torquay Harbour

I went over the bridge and beyond was a few rather tatty looking boats, apparently some sort of military boat museum, but I gave it a miss. I continued to the Living Coasts, an off shoot of Paignton Zoo specialising in sea creatures and birds. I remembered this as the derelict Coral Island swimming pool so it is good to see something good has been done with this.

Living Coasts

I would have liked to visit, but doing so would rather cut short my walk, so I pressed on. I took the steps up beside the Living Coasts through the car park and to the road and turned right. I passed the very ugly Imperial Court flats and then turned right past the almost as ugly Imperial Hotel, following an easy to miss coast path sign on the brick wall. This took the private drive to the hotel and soon narrowed to a pleasant cliff top path, which was very undulating. I had remembered this walk, incorrectly, as fairly flat.

There was lots of steps going up, including a zig-zag section. I carried on to the end only to find it was a dead end and I was meant to go through an arch just before the end on the left. The track continued still climbing until I got to Daddyhole Plain.

Torbay

One of the things I like about Torquay is that a look at a map suggests this is an entirely urban walk, with houses close by at all times and puts in the head miles of tarmac walking. In fact, the walk is surprisingly rural with a narrow green area along much of the coast and numerous rocky and sandy little coves to pass. It’s a lovely town.

The coast path went around Daddyhole Cove to join the road down to Meadfoot Beach.

Meadfoot Beach

This is a rock and sand beach with a road along the back. Behind the road are tall cliffs, with netting on in places to try to catch falling rocks before they reach the road. I’m not sure how successful this is and glad the pavement is on the other side of the road from the cliffs!

Meadfoot Beach, Torquay

At the end is a small car park and the path goes up steep steps at the end of the car park initially through a small wooded area and then emerging onto a minor road. This continued for around 500 metres after which there is a turn off to the right over a lovely grassy park which looks out over the rocky island of Thatchers Rock. I remember this place from my time living in the South West and this was one of my favourite places to come and take in the view, as there were many seats and nice flowers overlooking the lovely scenery. I was pleased to see it was exactly as I remembered it and still a lovely spot.

Thatcher Rock

This soon brought me back to the minor road but just beyond it is Hope’s Nose, a rocky headland which essentially marks the end of Torbay. To the north from here is the huge Lyme Bay, with Lyme Regis in Dorset at it’s centre, spreading round to Portland in the distance. Despite the often cloudy weather it was quite a clear day and I could certainly make out the Exe estuary, and beyond to Sidmouth, Beer, Seaton and Lyme Regis and the higher cliffs beyond. I wasn’t sure I could quite make out Portland, but with it being so distant it was hard to be sure in the haze.

I was pleased to see a new permissive path has been made right around the headland and I happily followed it. This took me to the tip of the headland and offered lovely views of Torbay and also had a number of rocky beaches, with an interesting mix of granite and the red soil for which Torbay and the coast round to Seaton is famous. At the far end of the headland is an old quarry which seemed to be now most popular with fisherman.

Beach on Hope's Nose

Hope's Nose

I stopped here for lunch even though it was not yet midday as it was a nice sheltered spot. Heading back up the path rejoined the road passing Hope Cove and Brandy Cove, the latter no doubt a reference to smuggling in the past.

Brandy Cove and Hope Cove, Torquay

The path then turns off through the edge of a strip of woodland around Black Head. This is a headland, rather than something to be found on a teenage face. Soon it emerges into the open again offering lovely views of the coast I have been waking. Ahead there is a path off to the right down to Anstey’s Cove. I take the steep path down to the rocky beach here which unusually has a small concrete promenade along the back with a cafe and toilets (both closed, but I suspect just for the season rather than for good). There is not much in the way of beach though, with a rocky little cove being about it.

Anstey's Cove

I headed along the promenade to the end where a sign and barrier warned me the beach ahead, Redgate Beach was closed. It was a shame because it looked a good sandy beach, something Torquay is rather lacking in.

Redgate Beach

I was told later on that there used to be a bridge round the cliffs to the beach but it was taken out when the beach was closed. The beach is apparently closed due to the dangers of rock falls, but this all seems rather contrived, there seemed little evidence of any and if there were, surely Anstey’s Cove was in as much danger, being backed by the same cliffs. I remember the controversy when this beach was closed when I lived in Devon back in 1998. I had hoped in the years gone by something would have been done to open it, but sadly not. The concrete jetty behind is slowly rotting although a part at the end looks to have been recently reinforced with rock armour, so someone is still going down here. When getting home, I was reassured to see the beach in a photograph taken back in July this year of the crowds on the beach enjoying the fine weather. I am glad to see the locals ignoring the closure anyway, something I would do if I still lived in the area.

It is also a sheltered bay, like most of Torbay, as it faces east and is therefore sheltered from the common Westerly winds. The cliffs at the other end of this beach are spectacular, Long Quarry Point. I had not remembered this and it was a very pleasant surprise.

Redgate Beach

Heading back up all the steps i was back on the minor road at the back of the beach. This went round through woodland and I emerged onto the headland of Babbacombe Downs. There were lovely views back over the blue sea of the coves below. I met a chatty local who recommended I came back in the evening to watch the see glow a beautiful mediterranean glow. He was very pleasant and clearly enthusiastic about the town telling me about how the beach cafe and cliff railway were open ahead and wished me a pleasant walk.

Redgate beach

Lyme Bay

Onwards I passed a graffiti covered shelter and then turned down the very steep road to the right heading to Babbacombe.

I did not remember the beach here so well but was in for a pleasant surprise, as it felt like a property West Country Cove even though it was part of a large town, with a pub and some pretty cottages accessed along a very steep road.

The beach at Babbacombe

I followed the path along the back of the beach past a little wooded area and a small waterfall then over a wooden bridge to reach Oddicombe beach. This one I did remember as a lovely sheltered beach and it was again nice to see that little had changed.

There is a cliff railway here and I remembered it as rather tatty and run down, so I was pleased to see it had been improved, was still running and now looked very smart. I headed to the end of the promenade where there was a cafe and museum about the cliff railway.

The beach at Oddicombe

The obvious change though was the massive pile of red rocks here, from a large cliff fall. I understand a fairly large fall occurred several years ago, taking most of the garden of a large house, (that had been sold only 6 days previously), with it. Another larger cliff fall occurred in the wet winter earlier this year, taking the rest of the house and more of the cliffs with it.

Babbacombe from Oddicombe

This is something I am used to seeing on the coast, as it’s one of the most dynamic natural environments we have. But that must be little comfort for those that lose their homes. I decided to be lazy and take the cliff lift back up, since it seemed to be running so frequently. This cost £1.50. It was a nice little trip and I noticed a plaque on the carriages saying they were built in 2006, so it was good to see the tatty old carriages I remembered had been replaced. Once out of the building I followed a sign for the coast path along what looked like a private road, and ended up a bit lost. I followed what I though was the right path and ended up near the main road by a car park.

I headed back towards the coast over an area of grass and on reaching close to the see i spotted a coast path sign, irritatingly, signed for Torquay and Babbacombe to the right and onwards to Watcombe along the route I had just come. Frustrated I tried to find a path marked on my map which wasn’t signed.I found a rough and overgrown path that headed up into trees on the cliff tops. It was very overgrown until I reached some steps, where it became better. At the top, I emerged through more thick undergrowth to a couple of teenagers drinking lager on a seat. They were friendly though and said they wondered if you could get down there, and now they knew! I turned left hoping I was now back on the official route of the coast path and had taken a shortcut, but I soon passed a barrier meant to keep you out of this path, I assumed, but the sign was so faded I couldn’t read it.

I followed the path only to end up right back at the same car park I was at half an hour earlier. Frustrated, I stuck to the official coast path signs along the road for a short while and then turning right down a road to the cliff tops at St Marychurch.

Checking the time, it was later than I realised and I soon realised it was going to be a challenge to reach Dawlish before it got dark, especially if the Teignmouth to Shaldon ferry had stopped running, as I suspected it would end at 4 or 5pm at this time of year.

The coast path headed around the back of Petit Tor Beach although I didn’t see a path down. It continued but I was put off by a coast path sign pointing what seemed the wrong way and continued ahead. I had kept the map in my bag, but the sign said Watcombe and I had a feeling that was part of Torquay I had already passed. I continued ahead on a high path through woodland but after 5 minutes decided to stop and consult the map. Here I realised I had gone wrong (again), but could continue on this path to rejoin the coast path or went back.

Well cutting out a bit is cheating, so I headed back and took the path that descended to and it soon turned back to the left, as I expected it to, and followed the coast through woodland to reach Watcombe beach. This was an area I did not remember well, with a lovely wooded valley and the remote feeling beach at the bottom – a small sandy cove with high red cliffs on all sides. It was a lovely spot and I realised how lucky the residents of Torquay are, with so many lovely and secluded beaches to choose from within only a mile or two of the centre.

Maidencombe

The path headed up through the wooded valley and back to the cliff tops, with more steps. It soon left woodland and turned right on an enclosed track along the cliff top. The cliff tops were overgrown so there were only a few gaps to get a view but when you did, it was quite a view, as I could clearly make out the edge of Teignmouth & Dawlish ahead, the Exe estuary, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth and off round to the Dorset coast.

The south west coast path near Maidencombe

Soon the path descended down to Maidencombe, another lovely sheltered beach with a thatched pub just behind, although it seemed busier than Watcombe.

The path soon headed up hill again and right back along the coast, again around the edge of fields, with views from time to time through the hedges around Lyme Bay and back to Torquay.

What I had forgotten was just how tough this section of coast path is. At no point is it flat, you seem to be going uphill or downhill (steeply) at all times, with very many steps. There are numerous beaches, some rocky and some sandy below to the right but I think they are largely inaccessible without a boat. In places the path went through trees and at other times it was more open.

South of Shaldon

Soon I passed a sign about Labrador Bay below me and about it being a nature reserve. I turned the page in my coast path book and saw it further ahead than where I thought I was. Buoyed by the fact I had made more progress than I thought I was happy but I soon realised the sign was positioned quite some distance before the bay marked as that in my coast path book.

More steep ups and downs followed until the path brought me out rather abruptly at the A379. I only had to walk alongside the busy road for a short distance though before it headed back down into woodland and back as a proper coast path. I was soon passing the golf course on the left and it was nice to find a proper path alongside it, separated by a hedge, so I didn’t have to walk on the golf course itself.

South of Shaldon

We soon were running alongside the car park and I remembered there was a path down to Ness Cove beach through the cliffs, and old smugglers tunnel.

I planned to visit the beach but I soon emerged on steps down to the beach beside the estuary rather than Ness Cov and realised I must have missed the tunnel, which I assume went under me and could be entered from the car park. Ah well, I was running short of time anyway.

Descending down onto the beach just as the sun came out I had forgotten quite what a beautiful spot Shaldon was. There is a lovely view over the Teign estuary ahead, with Teignmouth beyond and the river heading upstream to Dartmoor to my left.

The Teign estuary

Shaldon

I followed the beach rather than the minor road and was pleased to see the ferry ahead, but less please to see it just leaving. It was running then, but I wondered if this was the last one, as it was just before 5pm. As I got closer I could still see a Ferry flag stuck in the beach so hoped it was still going as I would assume the flag was removed at night. Getting closer I saw the board there saying the last bout was 5:45pm, so I was pleased it was running after 5pm.

The Teign estuary

I waited for the ferry and in the end head a 15 minute wait, I wondered if it would have been quicker to walk round via the road rather than the ferry instead, conscious of the fact sunset was now in around 45 minutes. Once the ferry arrived it didn’t seem to be in a rush to leave, with the skipper deep in conversation with another couple who I took to be friends, since they didn’t get off the boat and travelled back to Teignmouth. Soon the skipper nodded to his younger helper and said “time we were off” and we headed back over the river. A young child I took to be his son was pleased to come round and issue us tickets whilst the younger assistant took our money.

Soon the boat pulled up on the back beach at Teignmouth by some beach huts.

Back beach, Teignmouth

I headed off the boat on this path to a car park and then followed the promenade to Teignmouth Pier. I had heard the pier got badly damaged in storms earlier in the year, but it looked much as I remembered it from the front, although there looked to be fewer buildings on the pier than I remembered, so perhaps they were victims of the damage the storm caused.

Teignmouth Pier

Conscious the light was fading as the sun was now setting in about 10 minutes I took the path ahead soon alongside the railway line. This was a nice flat bit of the walk alongside the railway and I was hoping to see more trains, but one did come just as I was nearing the end.

Sea wall near Teignmouth

On the left, a land slip was still being repaired from last year. I hope they finish soon, since winter is just around the corner, where more storms might cause more damage, the line famously being washed into the sea just up the coast at Dawlish last year.

Landslip repairs

I soon passed the famous Teignmouth sign I often see from the train and continue ahead on the path beside the track. Dusk was falling now.

Intercity 125

Another concern I had was that I could see the rail line went into the tunnel ahead. I had a vague recollection that there was a path down under the railway line, but I couldn’t see it and in any case wondered if it would be open with all the storm damage from earlier the year. A number of cyclists came the other way, ignoring the no cycling signs and continuing to cycle two abreast, so I had to lean to the left not to be hit by them, so engrossed in conversation they either didn’t notice me or didn’t care. Still it made it clear there was a way through. At the end, steps took me down and under the railway on a narrow fenced path with a track where the sea comes up to the right (I believe this part of the path might be flooded at high tide). Beyond the area was being used as a compound by Network Rail with cars parked and a porter cabin where the work to repair the landslip was presumably being managed from. Pleased I could get through, I took the steep track up pleased it was not a dead end, as if it was I would be walking in the dark and would have to head back to Teignmouth.

Thankfully that wasn’t necessary, but I had to join the road. It was busy and the pavement soon ended so I crossed just after the bus stop. I crossed and then stopped on the other side to get the map out my bag and check how long I had to stick on the road. I could see a road just to the right on the other side of the road and wondered if that was it, but there was no sign. As I was doing that I heard someone shouting something about the coast path, but had a job to see where it was coming from over the noise of the traffic. I soon realised it was a man waiting for a bus on the other side of the road, who helpfully pointed out to me where the coast path was, that I had to head up the hill and then to look out for a green sign to the right. He was spot on and I followed the road which came out to the coast path back around the cliffs on a path. Enclosed between hedges initially until we reached the coast, where I turned left along the coast. I could see Dawlish ahead now in the distance, with the lights already coming in, as it was now getting quite dark.

Near Dawlish

Like the previous path along the cliffs it was anything but flat dropping down to the level of the rail tracks and then back up, then turning left to emerge on the road again.

The South West Coast path near Dawlish

Here I could turn right and take the old main road now a quiet residential road past houses. The coast path took me to a little park with seats where I could head back down to the coast and then downhill to a bridge over the railway tracks. I took this to cross the track, just as a train came and then walked along the sea wall. Behind me was Coryton Cove, another beach I remembered well. I then followed the sea wall, now largely in the dark, to reach Dawlish station.

IMG_6509

It had been a lovely walk, far more rural than I had imagined, but I realised I had underestimated the severity and distance of the walk, as I originally thought I would arrive about 2 hours before sunset, rather than half an hour after it. Still having driven here I didn’t need to worry about getting trains back at the end and could drive straight home, after getting some food in the town.

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

I would strongly recommend the train, it is far more scenic!

Train times Exeter to Torquay : Exeter St Davids – Exeter St Thomas – Starcross – Dawlish Warren – Dawlish – Teignmouth – Newton Abbot – Torre – Torquay – Paignton. Roughly two trains per hour, Monday – Saturday. Less frequent on Sundays (between 1 and 2 an hour). There are also some longer distance services through from London and Birmingham. Trains are operated by First Great Western and (occasionally) Cross Country Trains.

In addition, there is also a bus service, Stagecoach service 11Torquay – St Marychurch – Maidencombe Cross – Shaldon – Teignmouth – Dawlish – Dawlish Warren. Hourly seven days a week.

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

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