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Review: A Devon Coastal Paradise Explored

Specialist Holiday - Non-escorted tour

South Hams Coast, Devon, United Kingdom

Dartmouth to Salcombe

  • By SilverTraveller John-Hayden-Halsey

    16 reviews


  • September 2017
  • Walking
  • Partner

129 people found this review helpful

Utilising OS Map ’Explorer Series ’ No: OL20 South Devon Brixham – Newton Ferrers.
Scale 2.5 inches to I mile. Complimented by a set of Dartmouth/ Salcombe Tide Tables.

Arguably the South Hams Coastline from Dartmouth to Salcombe is amongst the most beautiful in the world and worth a visit at any time of the year. Be this during Atlantic winter storms that assail this great promontory, in the Spring when the hedgerows of the famous narrow ‘smugglers’ lanes’ are awash with yellow primroses and bluebells, in summer when a wide choice of glorious beaches beckon and in the Autumn when the leaves on the trees are turning gold and the coast once again becomes a solitary place. Where still the occasional yacht can be seen leaving her wake behind upon a calm azure blue sea and keen water ski-iers take advantage of the last of the calmer days. With coastal ‘Open Water swimmers’ enjoying the uncrowded waters of the sea, now that the main tourist season is once again over, with children back at school and students up at universities and colleges again. The Autumn is a wonderful season of the year in which to explore the South Hams, the marine playground of many of the most successful people in England today. Whose summer holiday properties at Salcombe and Dartmouth can cost up to £10 Million or more alone, before taking into consideration the cost of their ancillary boats and yachts moored in the marinas of Dartmouth or on moorings in the sheltered harbour anchorages at Salcombe. Where harbour dues are not an inconsequential consideration at approximately double the cost of such facilities on the Normandy or Brittany Coast & Bay of Biscay coasts of France.

It is along this rugged and spectacular stretch of magical coastline that has much in common in appearance with the legendary Highway One along the Pacific Coast of California between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Most particularly south of Carmel on the fifty mile section that run along the cliffs continuously through ’ Big Sur ’ down to St. Luis Obispo. Why fly to California to enjoy such a drive when you can replicate a similar coastal driving and walking experience in the South Hams only two hundred miles from Central London. A superb location for Short break or Staycation

A wide choice of excellent places to stay or eat at, well within the financial capacity of most residents in the United Kingdom is available to choose over a wide spectrum of different levels of accommodation from the Ultra de luxe to good B&B’s too numerous to list here but quick and easy to research in the comfort of your own home on the internet, with a multitude of very reasonably priced ‘special offers’ at every level. Remember that eating out in good inn and the best cafes and taking out picnics can save you a veritable fortune that you could otherwise spent on hotel and restaurant food. If money is no object then of course go for it and join ’The South Hams Millionaire/Billionaire set ’ of whom there are many and ever increasing in number annually …..!

A Most Exciting, Spellbinding South Hams Coastal Route
Starting out from Dartmouth, the ancient shipping port of Tudor and Elizabethan fame. From whence small flotillas of heavily built sailing ships of seldom more than fifty tons set sail across the Atlantic to the Newfoundland Fisheries. Where fisherman fished for ‘Line Caught Cod’ out on the Newfoundland Banks from small wooden two man Dorys, launched and recovered by yard arm from their mother ship. The fish later salted and air dried to the consistency of a wooden board, prior to being shipped back across the Atlantic to Portugal and battered for Portuguese wine which these ships then brought back to England. In the first instance prior to the days of the glorious Port Wine arguably being discovered by chance, by the great English, Devonshire seafaring family of Tudor and Elizabethan times, the Newman Family. As a result of the Portuguese wine in hogshead barrels within their ships holds being matured at sea following the Newman flotilla encountering a fleet of Spanish Warships in the Bay of Biscay. Whom they were forced to flee from by sailing out into the vastness of the Atlantic. Where a great storm drove these vessels so are out to sea from the coast of Europe, that they were forced to return to New Foundland to ‘over winter’ in their wooden shanties from which their fishing cod enterprises were conducted during the Spring/ Early Summer months. Prior their ships sailing for Portugal so barter their dried cod, which is still much favoured by the Portuguese. The cargo of wine that had by chance spent a winter in cask at New Foundland was found to have taken on a much milder character when drunk in England which quickly gained in popularity and hence encreased value. Following which the Newman Family were the first English Family to purchase a vineyard in Portugal that later became a famous Port Quinta in the Upper Douro Valley, part of which happily still belongs to descendants the Newman Family to this day. Newman Port can still be bought today from specialist wine merchants, being amongst the finest of port wines.

Having climbed up the steep B3205 road to Stoke Fleming to join the main A379 Dartmouth to Plymouth Coast Road, this road emerges from the village on to of high cliffs overlooking the whole of Start Bay that Stretches 7 miles across in a direct line from Dartmouth Harbour entrance to Start Point with it’s awesome lighthouse commanding the shipping lanes with a very powerful light that is visible for some 21 miles at night or more in good conditions. The vast landward curve of Start Bay if followed along the beach would be approximately double the distance or more on foot along the spectacularly scenic South West Coastal Path, a photographers’ dream mile after mile.

We explored this southern most coastal region of the South Hams by car and on foot as appropriate. Hence we stopped the car in a field gate access to admire and photograph the view. Just down the hill toward Blackpool Sands opposite a magnificent 18th century slate stone built barn in a field on the right hand side of the road below ’ Sanders. ’ A beautiful 18th cnty. country house often employed in feature films. The panoramic view of Start Bay from this vantage point including Blackpool Sands immediately below the cliffs, is simply spellbinding and is steeped in history. Dating back to the earliest of times back through the millennia, long before man trod this Earth when Pre-Historic animals roamed this then sub-tropical region which is within only 20 miles of Lyme Bay and the Durasic Coast.

Blackpool Sands
Blackpool Sands is perhaps arguably the most beautiful beach in England which forms part of an ancient and extensive coastal agricultural estate owned by the illustrious afore mentioned Newman Family, for many centuries. Today, Blackpool Sands is an exceptionally well organised private beach open to the public with a full range of facilities including excellent parking facilities, a superb beachside restaurant and offers some of the finest safe coastal swimming in the Westcountry, sheltered from all but southerly and south easterly winds.

Blackpool Sands to Slapton Sands
Following the A379 down through Blackpool Sands valley and climbing up along the clifftop road leading to the village of Strete, we paused briefly to photograph Blackpool Sands which in early October in perfect sun on a calm day resembled a beach in the Mediterranean or in California on Highway One. The sea temperature here was some 17 degrees, having warmed up all through the summer with people enjoying swimming.

The road has been blasted out the cliffs above Mathew’s Point. A beautiful privately owned rocky headland known as Mathew’s Point where the owners have cut a swimming pool into the cliffs below there house above the shore at Landscombe Cove which also belongs to the Newman Family. The A379 is then cut into the hillside all the way to the village of Strete. However, just above Mathews Point is a small parking layby which accommodates a very modest number of vehicles, from which you can walk along the main road for a few hundred yards to a pedestrian gateway that leads into a field with a very steep path that runs down to Landscombe Cove and to what we christened the ’Mermaid’s waterfall’. The beach here is best visited when the tide is out at low water in order t be able to walk along this beautiful beach to the next beach along to the west which is Forest Cove which has no way off this wonderful beach after quarter of an incoming flood tide. The arduous path when climbing back to the A379 is well worth the effort but plenty of time must be allowed to visit these two highly tidal beaches with a keen eye to the tide tables to avoid being trapped on Forest Cove which can place the unwary in serious jeopardy, be warned….Landscombe is a great spot for a romantic picnic because out of season you are more than likely to have this heavenly, remote beach to yourselves. So take an excellent picnic to include a good bottle of wine…

Regaining the comfort of our car, after a romantic all to short sojourn at Landscove, we continued through Strete,passing the lodge to Asherne House another magnificent cliff top film location. The next property along the road belonged to Williams the author of the Wooden Horse World War II Escape which was made into a film that enabled Williams retire from writing and leave England as a tax exile to purchase a ‘live aboard’ sailing yacht and cruise the Mediterranean in style for some years..

Slapton Sands & Stoke Manor ruins
The A379 descends along a long section of hillside above the cliffs to Slapton Sands which features a unique topographical feature in the United Kingdom by way of the golden pebble beach being divided from the land by a 2.5 mile pebble ridge covered in rare coastal wild flowers and scrub that forms the seaward aspect of the Slapton Ley Nature Reserve. Featuring the largest natural fresh water lake in Devonshire. Once part of the famous Stoke Manor water fowl shoot and Pike Fishery during Victorian times. The ruins of Stoke Manor and it’s hitherto glorious gardens can be seen shrouded by Mediterranean Ilex Oaks at the bottom of the hill where the A379 reaches the Eastern aspect of Slapton Sands on Start Bay on the left hand side with the large walled kitchen gardens to seen on the right hand side of the road which are now part of a magnificent lakeside residence with lawns stretching down to the water with a jetty from which to take a boat out through the tall reed beds into the lake to fish.

Strete Gate ’ Drowned Village Ruins ’
Parking the car in the parking area or car park at this location, it is worth taking a stroll along the path on the beach beneath Strete towards Pilchard Cove below Asherne House whose erstwhile cliff path can be determined, having walked passed the ruins of the cottages of the hitherto19th century small fishing community of Strete Gate that was located abutting the cliffs behind the pebble beach. This fishing village was destroyed by a great Southerly Storm when huge breakers overwhelmed the hitherto pebble strand and the sea rolled up the beach frontage carryiny away the inshore fishing fleet that had been hauled up above the highest of Spring tide levels. Engulfing this tiny hamlet in a maelstrom of green seas , inundating the ground floors of the simple, rough built ‘Cobb n’ Slate ’ cottages of this hamlet, tearing theses dwellings away from the earthen cliff face into which they were built. Fortunately without loss of life. But the hamlet was totally destroyed and thence abandoned. All that remains are a few almost virtually indiscernible ruins of this habitation by way of the back walls almost entirely hidden amongst bramble thickets, shrouded by self seeded Ilex Oak trees.

A level footpath affords glorious views across Start Bay through 180 degrees runs along the pebbles above the ‘half tide’ Pilchard Cove before petering out into the pebble beach. Beyond which is the massive raw rock face of the aptly named ‘The Slide’ beyond which continued progress is cut off when the tide is up thereby denying any further pedestrian progress past ‘The Waterfall’ to Shiphill Rock which guards the tidal beach route to the afore mentioned glorious Forest Cove and Landscombe Cove.

Slapton Sands ’ Mermaids ’
The extremity of the eastern aspect of Slapton Sands beneath the clifftop village of Strete is a area popular with naturists ( nudists ) who enjoy sunbathing and swimming from this beach in . numbers during the Spring, Summer and early Autumn months. It is amusing to recollect how during the late 1970’s the Devon Constabulary Police Helicopter crews patrolling the South Hams at Slapton Sands took it upon themselves to hover at relatively low levels a short distance to seaward of this beach sufficiently often for there to be complaints of voyeurism by the officers of the Devon Constabulary crewing these helicopter flights which were thenceforth forbidden. Sufficient to say that we were picnicking aboard a yacht sailing across this stretch of Start Bay and witnessed this aerial voyeurism for ourselves at that time. Although we were sufficiently to seaward to be unable to view any beautiful naked ‘Mermaids’ or handsome naked ’ Merboys’ who might have been sunbathing or frolicking in the shallows amongst the breakers. In any event be warned, this is a very popular nudist beach venue where any apparent voyeurs are unwelcome and given short shrift…

The 1943 US Army ’ Operation Tiger’ D-Day Live Fire Practices
Slapton Sands on Start Bay
At Strete Gate the A379 Coast Road runs across what is known locally as The Torcross Line towards the beachside ancient fishing village of Torcross. Just short of the midway point on the seaward side of the road is a granite built obelisk. The American World War II Memorial to ’Those that Lost their Lives during The Torcross U.S. Army D-Day Landings Practice in 1943 ’ that were carried out using live ammunition with troops landed on the beach at Torcross by landing craft, then having to crawl up the pebble ridge under a hail of live bullets fired at relatively low levels sweeping across The Torcross Line from fixed positions the other side of the Slapton Ley. Needless to say, the number of casualties was on such a high scale , that the true numbers of which still remains classified by the US Authorities. Against this terrifying event has to be balanced the many thousands of lives that were surely saved as a result of this event, when actually landing on the beaches of the heavily fortified beaches of France during the successful and momentus Invasion of Continental Europe by the Western Allies on the D – Day on 6th June 1944.

Clearance of the South Hams Slapton Area for 1943 US Army D-Day Practices
An entire section of this South Hams district of South Devon was set aside by the British Government for the use of the US Army to practice for the Normandy Landings Invasion of Occupied France bordered by Stokenham to the West, Blackawton to the North and Stoke Fleming to the East. The residents being given only two weeks or so to vacate their homes, farms, move cattle and general livestock, close up any business premises prior to the area becoming under military governance without any meaningful financial recompense whatsoever . Sadly, with so many having been relocated elsewhere,often far away. Many of whom subsequently never returned to their original homes in the South Hams again.

Slapton Ley Nature Reserve
Returning to the route we followed, we detoured across the bridge that carries the road to Slapton. Parking in a layby serving the Slapton Ley Nature Reserve located immediately after this bridge. Donning our ‘Wellington Boots’ we entered the reserve through an adjacent pedestrian gate and followed the lakeside footpath (which has short inland diversions for the benefit of those without boots) walking through shallow drowned sections of the submersible path amongst reeds and magnificent bull rushes. Within a matter of a few yards or various groups of aquatic birds and water fowl including some Cootes…We limited our walk to where the lake runs into a thick reed bed resembling a location for the legendary feature film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn ( Who doubtless would have been more than a match for the likes of Harvey Weinstein ) Returning by the same path to gain the benefit of the reciprocal view which combine a breathtaking panoramic view of Start Bay across Slapton Ley over the great pebble ridgeway to the sea beyond bordered by Start Bay Lighthouse on the spectacular jagged skyline of the extremity of Start Point where 400-500 ft cliffs plunge directly into the sea and The Mew Stone guarding the Eastern aspect of the entrance to Dartmouth Harbour.

Pods of Dolphins & Sperm Whale Rescue
Start Bay and the adjacent coast to Berry Head on Lyme Bay to the East and and Start Point to Prawle Point and the Atlantic to the West are popular and rewarding feeding grounds for many of the larger inhabitants of the oceans including a variety of sharks such as Basking, Blue and Mako varieties and Dolphins, Hump Back, Sperm and Killer Whales. Most recently pods of Dolphins have been spotted regularly fishing the tides together along this coastline. A Sperm Whale took up temporary residence in Start Bay during which time this whale twice became entangled in fishing nets and had to be cut free by local divers operating gingerly from inshore diving vessels with the R.N.L.I. Salcombe Lifeboat in attendance. Happily, this whale subsequently made a safe departure from Start Bay to deeper waters…High speed Rib Coastal Safaris can be joined at Salcombe which will take you out into the English Channel Dolphin and Whale watching, although not able to gaurentee a spotting.

Seals and sea lions are sometimes to be seen sunning themselves on half tide rocks at more remote and often inaccessible locations but can sometimes be viewed from the cliff path or even better from a boat if possible…

The 1943 German ‘E Boat ’ torpedo Flotilla Raid in Start Bay
Driving on towards Torcross along the pebble ridge affords unique views in England. Whereby you see the freshwater Slapton Ley on the landward side and Start Bay to seaward. Where during the 1943 D-Day Practices a small flotilla of powerful German ’E Boat torpedo boats’ based in the German occupied Channel Islands encountered by chance a group of sea-going US Landing Craft transporting hundreds of US Army servicemen from Plymouth Sound to Start Bay. During the hours of darkness which were attacked and ‘Shot up’ by the Germans. In the confusion that followed, the armed US Landing Craft, exchanged heavy machine gun fire upon each other resulting in a multitude of injuries and fatalities. The overall US losses resulting from this episode numbered substantially in excess of 700 US Servicemen killed by gun fire, drowning or a combination of both.

The Sherman Tank Slapton Sands ’ US Operation Tiger’ Memorial @ Torcross
On entering the Torcross village, a magnificently well preserved World War II Sherman Military Tank stands proudly on a raised plinth bedecked with wreaths commemorating those the US Servicemen that took part in the Start Bay US D-Day Practices and those that lost their lives. The Sherman Tank displayed here, was discovered by recreational divers out in Start Bay during the 1970’s, brought into the shallows slung beneath inflatable bouyancy bags, attached to a wire hauser and towed across the pebble beach where it was quickly treated with special metal preservatives. It was truly an amazing feat of recovery and all the more so, as the tank was hauled up the pebbles on it’s own tracks that still ran through their drive wheels. Only to swiftly to seize up for ever, once the tank was exposed to the air, having previously slumbered in an inert saltwater environment heavily greased up, out in Start Bay ever since 1943. I was amongst those privileged to have had the opportunity of actually watching this splendid relic of World War II emerge from the waves and watch her roll up the pebbles on her on tracks to the astonishment of everyone present on a bright sunny summer’s afternoon under a clear blue sky. The tank was raised up on display where it stands today in 1984 through the sterling efforts of Ken Small a local Torcross resident and local historian of merit. Be sure to view:-

Torcross village was once a hamlet constructed of local reed thatched, ‘Slate n’ Cobb’ built fishermens’ cottages. All built atop a pebble beach, a few metres above the highest of Spring Tides and storm surges. Of which sadly few remain today, excepting notably the Start Bay Inn. Justly famous for decades for continuing to offer some of the finest and most generous servings of freshly caught n’ landed cod and haddock from nearby Brixham by way of superb Fish n’ Chips to be eaten anywhere in the United Kingdom. Complimented by fresh local Crab, Start Bay Dived Scallops and locally caught Sea Bass, when seasonably available. Having spent the morning exploring the area between Dartmouth and Torcross, the Start Bay Inn is a most welcoming venue to break your journey for lunch which weather permitting can be eaten on their terrace abutting the Torcross Strand, that runs the entire seaward aspect of the village. Whilst we were here recently, in early October on an unseasonably sunny warm day, we were able to enjoy the sight a of lovely blue hulled, white decked, Bermudan rigged classic sailing sloop scudding across Start Bay over a gentle swell driven by a brisk offshore northerly breeze. The sloop sailed up close to Torcross Beach then went about and sailed quite remarkably quickly off the wind on a broad reach across Start Bay towards Dartmouth.

18th/19th Cnty. Abandoned Beesands Coastal Quarry
At the end of the Torcross Strand there is a footpath carried up, over and down to the southern side of a small headland, Torcross Point. When the tide is at half tide or below, you can walk along the pebble beach to Beesands. When the tide is up, you can take the South West Coastal Path along the clifftop above Limpet Rocks and Dun Point where the path runs down to the beach behind the partially flooded disused Beesands Quarry whose fine slate was once a valuable local resource with slate stone being even loaded onto a wooden coastal flat bottomed sailing barge barge for carrying slate stone across Start Bay to Dartmouth. Such quarries are very rare on the coast of Devon and Cornwall, so this quarry is worth the 20 minute walk from Torcross, as this is a spectacular example with an amazing entrance cut through solid rock through the lower cliffside into the quarry high above high water mark. Such vessels would have run up the pebble beach when the tide was up in settled weather, take on her cargo and be floated off on the next tide the same day..

Widdicombe House
18th Century Widdicombe House. A beautiful ‘Classic Georgian’ country house is situated closeby. Set amidst extensive woodland parkland nearby was landscaped by the renowned 18th century landscape designer ‘Capability Brown. It was here that the US Supreme Commander for the Invasion of Europe General ’Ike’ Iesenhower was a guest whilst he visited the South Hams to re-view ‘Operation Tiger’.

‘Shamrock’ The Last Westcountry Coastal Sailing Barge
There is a sole surviving example of such West Country general cargoe sailing barges in serviceable condition which now belongs to the National Trust, kept at Cotehele Quay on the River Tamar near Calstock. Afloat in the summer months and hauled up in her berth for the winter. ‘Shamrock’ is more than worth a visit with the added bonus of being able to combine such a visit to Cotehele House. The loveliest and finest medieval fortified great house in Cornwall, also owned by the National Trust. One of the most glorious properties in the entire United Kingdom. Only an hour’s drive from Salcombe via Tavistock or alternatively through Plymouth and across the Saltash Suspension Bridge over the River Tamar alongside Isombard KIngdom Brunel’s superb iron and steel railway bridge, which has recently undergone a multi £million restoration programme.

General ‘Ike’ Iesenhower’s Lookout
At Torcross follow a small narrow lane run up a steep hill behind the village Post Office off the main A379 road to Stokenham. Look out for a small clearing in the hedge of the right hand side a third of a mile along this lane. Park hard up against the entrance and walk through to a small viewing area with a picnic bench. One of the most spectacular views extends over Slapton Ley, Slapton Sands and across the entire eastern aspect of Start Bay to the harbour entrance to Dartmouth a little beyond the golden crescent of Blackpool Sands, this panorama is simply awesome and spellbinding on a sunny day.

Drive up the lane until you reach a T junction with a signpost to Start Point. Follow the signs out towards Start Point until you reach finally reach the Start Point car park opposite Start Farm. Rejoin The South West Coastal Footpath here and follow the tarmac service road down towards Start Point, pausing to enjoy magnificent views across Start Bay.

Hallsands ’ 917 Storm Disaster’ at Start Bay
Look northwards for the ruins of the drowned village of Hallsands which was invaded by a great southerly storm following a scheme by Sir John Jackson for extending the Plymouth Dockyard having dredged vast quantities of pebbles from the beaches on Start Bay through a special licence granted by Parliament during the late Victorian period. During a short period that followed this dredging, the whole bottom ground of Start Bay changed in profile which gradually raised the tides ever closer further and further above the esrtwhile the pebble high tide mark. Hence the licence to dredge was revoked on January 8th 1902. Following 1600 Tons being dredged on a daily basis for pebbles to make concrete with for the construction of the Plymouth Dockyard. However, the damage was done. Hence, on the night of 26th January 1917 during a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached the remaining shingle bank that protected Hallsands and by the end of that night out of some thirty or more fishermens’ cottages were destroyed with only one cottage remaining habitable. Following which it took the Hallsands villagers seven years to obtain any compensation with many famillies made homeless and suffering financial ruin. The last inhabitant of Hallsands was Mrs. Elizabeth Prettejohn. For the history and images of Hallsands and the Hallsands Disaster See:-

20th Century Storm Threat & Sea Defences @ Start Bay
Resulting from the dredging of Start Bay for the Plymouth Naval Dockyard quays extensions at Keyham, Plymouth, the remaining habitable villages on Start Bay have all suffered severe threats from inundation by the sea in heavy southerly storms allied to high spring tides.

North Hall Sands
A modern housing development is currently under threat here because the limited defence of the road serving this part of the village, which runs right down to the beach is only currently defended by a line of medium sized boulders which have been partially dislodged by the ever more frequent storms of recent years.

The next village northwards is Beesands, another famous fishing community that was nearly lost by inundation by the sea during the 1970s resulting in a major sea defence scheme being undertaken involving vast tonnages of rock bein brought by barges and unloaded by cranes onto the pebbles prior to being sunk into position by heavy plant machinery..

Torcross ‘Storm Disaster & Sea Defences’
At Torcross just beyond Beesands, there was another near disaster in the 1970’s when the seaward strand of the village and abutting cottages together with the Start Bay Inn were all threatened with inundation by the sea during a great storm which tore out the seaward walls of some of the cottages opening up these dwellings to tons of sea water being thrown up into these properties by huge breakers running up to the dwellings and green seas by way of virtual walls of water exploding into enormous clouds of foaming water over topping many of these habitations. The road to the village had to be closed to the public to deter looting of the villagers’ homes. A multi-million emergency engineering project quickly followed to build a vast concrete sea revetment as part of an immense replacement for the original village strand which has safeguarded the village and the main A379 Plymouth to Dartmouth Coast Road which constitutes the largest modern sea defence engineering works undertaken at any village on the south coast of Devon which has saved the village for posterity…

Slapton Sands A379 Highway Re-Routed during 1980s
The A379 main Plymouth to Dartmouth highway was temporarily impassible due to being destroyed by a great storm that lifted the tarmac like a pancake and threw the surface in all directions whilst cutting out great chunks of the foundations. The cost of the re-siting of this road was so great that there was concern that this road might have to be abandoned to the sea. However fortunately a more realistic view was adopted that resulted in the funds being provided partially by the Government to support the local authority in re-siting this unique highway in Devon, so beloved by so many from far and near.

Start Point Lighthouse
The first lighthouse at Start Point was built in 1836 designed by James Walker for Trinity House, upon one of the most exposed peninsulas on the coast of England, following a large number of appalling shipwrecks resulting in considerable death tolls. The lighthouse tower is 28 metres nearly 100 feet high and the light tower stands some 200 feet above the sea directly below. The light shines out over the English Channel for some 25 Nautical Miles. During the summer months the Start Point Lighthouse Visitors’ Centre organises private tours for groups and school children. Telephone 01803 771802 for enquiries and pre-bookings for joining a group tour of this lighthouse.

The best views of Start Point Lighthouse, are from the West. Walkers should retrace their footsteps up the lighthouse service road until reaching a spur of the South West Coastal Path that climbs steeply over the lower heights of the rugged rocky Start Point Headland.

The path runs along the very edge in places, of dangerous and precipitous cliffs . On no account take this path unless you are fit and unafraid of heights because at the most demanding section above Gull Island, the path runs along the actual cliff edge itself with direct drops of 200-300ft to the swirling waters of the sea below in beautiful Ravens Cove. This cove never dries and affords a small sheltered anchorage for small shallow draft craft of up to some 30ft, such as a Brig Eagle 10 Metre Rib. See: www. wolf rock boat to view this craft.

Important Notice to Mariners
Nobody should any attempt such anchorages unless they are a fully competent and knowledgeable yachtsman familiar with local coastal conditions and tides allied to modern navigational aids by way of marine charts and the interpretation of the use of electronic GPS Chart Plotters and Depth Sounders. Local knowledge being mandatory requirement. The sea conditions change dramatically at Start Point from those in Lyme Bay, as from Start westwards there is open sea to the Atlantic which carries great ocean swell running in from Atlantic Storms that have taken place often days earlier thousands of mile out into the mid Atlantic and up from the Caribbean. Add a Westerly gale to this, which creates vicious comparatively steep short seas above these underlying oceanic swells and terrifying conditions can be generated with wave heights of some 50 feet recorded off Start Point along this stretch of forbidding coast with no sanctuary between Dartmouth and Salcombe except opposite Hall Sands close by Start Point in a Westerly Gale if caught out here. Be warned this is not a coast to be caught out unawares upon.

Start Point Lighthouse from The Benches & Peartree Point
The magnificent headland of Start Point are superb on a fine day, whereas in a storm these views become simply awesome with immense waves breaking over the off lying Blackstone Rocks and the reefs immediately below the the lighthouse itself. Where there is a horseshoe shaped cove of similar size to Ravens Cove regarding which the same cautions pertain, if not more so. owing to the extreme nature of the location being adjacent to the famous Start Tidal Race a matter of a few metres to seaward of this cove when it is running.

Start Point to Prawle Point
The South West Coastal Path runs along the cliff edge almost continually to Prawle Point with paths or tracks down to a number of glorious beaches, amongst the most well known being Great Mattiscombe Sand, Lannacombe Beach, Woodcombe Sand and Horseley Cove. the latter two beaches being the most remote and only accessible according to tides, being only practical at the half tide mark or thereabouts.

The vast rock ledges by way of ‘Raised Beaches’ that run from Woolcombe Point to Prawle Point, were once the beach level millions of years ago. The only house along this stretch of coast beyond Lannacombe is the originally 19th Cnty Maelcome House owned for many years by Hugh Helby who included amongst his many illustrious friends, Innes Ireland the Grand Prix Motor Racing and Sports Car Racing Driver. Who famously set the record for the fastest hill climb up the long Maelcombe House private drive that climbs up the coastal cliff escarpment almost to East Prawle, whilst driving a powerful American Beach Buggy that is unlikely ever to be equalled let alone broken at Maelcombe.

Music, Sun And Sail in Lannacombe Bay
Kate Bush, the ‘Pop Singer’ also bought a coastal property between Lannacombe and Prawle Point from a leading London interior designer. The same property had belonged to a member of the Paget Family during the 1930’s at a time that the fabulous 120 – 130 foot long ’J ’ Class Yachts used to take part in sailing regattas in nearby Torbay. Two famous leading owners of these yachts namely the then Aviation tycoons, Sir Thomas Sopwith and Sir Richard Fairey raced their yachts in Torbay. Sir Richard Fairey sailing his yacht round the coast to Salcombe where he owned a house at Castle Point at the harbour entrance. Both these luminaries would on occasion drop anchor off Lannacombe Beach in order to row ashore in a dingy and lunch with the Pagets at their summer cottage nearby.

Lannacombe Bay to Prawle Point
Four small tidal ravines, Wollow Cove, Landing Cove, Western Cove and Copstone Cove, are all largely hidden within the rock ledges. Yet, they are the only practical boat accesses to the sea in this area. And then only in a small oared boats, such as the clinker inshore built fishing craft with ‘Standing lug’ brown canvas sales sails that used to put out to sea here crewed by a few hardy brave fishermen from East Prawle.

Hauled their craft up over a boulder beaches above the Spring Tide Mark, often upending these craft so that they rested on their transoms against the cliff face owing to lack of space and sufficiently level ground above the Spring Tide level at Prawle Point below the aptly named Fish -in-the-Well landward rock formation. Illustrations of these type of inshore fishing boats can be viewed at The Salcombe Maritime Museum and at Overbecks Museum N.T. at Salcombe at Overbecks Gardens N.T. both of which venues more than well worth taking time out visit worth a visit.

Prawle Point
Prawle Point itself is the most southerly point in England after The Lizard in Cornwall. A rocky headland featuring a magnificent Durdle Door Rock Formation directly below the Coast Guard Look Out Station. Currently manned by volunteers, following recent Government cuts to H.M. Coastguard and H.M. coastguard cottages here sold off .

Prawle Point – Notice to Yachtsmen
Prawle is well known for what can be a dangerous overfalls in the tide race during heavy weather in all but offshore northerly wind conditions, as is the Start Point Race. Although the latter is a much greater danger, rightly famous for huge ‘Overfalls’ which all mariners are advised to give a wide berth to, keeping a least two miles or more to the southward in high winds.

Prawle Point to Salcombe Harbour
Whether walking the South West Coast Path or rounding Prawle Point bound for Salcombe, it is a wonderful feeling and a grand sight to look out along the coast towards the magnificent spectacle of the glorious bay that opens up before you.

The views that extend from Prawle Point towards the entrance of Salcombe Harbour. which is only some 3 miles by boat are arguably amongst the finest in the United Kingdom and amongst the most spectacular coastal views in Northern Europe. The magnificent headland of Bolt Head guarded by the Mewstone and Little Mewstone rocky islets, the glorious Starehole Bay and the hieghts of Sharp Tor that descend between 400-500 feet almost vertically down to the sea at the western entrance to Salcombe Harbour above great underwater sand bar known as The Bar. The inspiration for Lord Alfred Tennyson for his poem ‘The Moaning of the Bar’. Where in high southerly gales, waves roll up from the deeps over this sand bar, resulting in waves that can on occasion exceed 50 feet in height, making access to Salcombe from the open sea not simply hazardous but virtually impossible.

Even today the immensely powerful, modern blue water R.N.L.I. Salcombe LIfeboat which although capable of putting to sea in any conditions at Salcombe, has to run into either Dartmouth or Plymouth if The Bar at Salcombe is in a sufficiently dangerous sea state as to make it too dangerous to attempt returning to her moorings at Salcombe

Maelcome House, was once the residence of Hugh Helby an engineer industrialist who used this as his summer residence whilst entertaining all manner of interesting luminaries. Including the legendary Innes Ireland Grand Prix Racing Driver and Sports Car Racing Driver, record holder of the Cannon Ball Run across the United States of America driving a Ferrari Daytona from New York to Los Angeles. Innes drove a powerful American built Beach Buggy up the extensive drive a Maelcome, setting a record for this hill climb that is unlikely ever to be equalled.

Kate Bush, the Pop Singer owns a property between Start Point and Prawle Point that she had belonged to Micheal Priest the well known London interior decorater whose clients numbered Sir John Geilgud and other film stars.

A number of tiny tidal ravines are situated along the great Raised Beach rock platform that extends from below Woodcombe Point to the Fish-in-the-Well rock outcrop behind this platform just short of Prawle Point. A small band of hardy inshore fishermen employing very small clinker bitumen painted standing lug sailed, oared often only some 16 feet in length would store their boats upside down standing on their transoms leaning against the undercliff on small rocky, boulder strewn or pebble standing above the tide line or in good weather anchor them off afloatt on temporary or summer fixed ‘Running moorings’ Herring as immensely plentiful during the 19th century which was caught and landed at Lannacombe by these boats and taken by horse and cart inland to South Pool to the Herring Fish Cellars in Herring Street at this village, the remains of which can still be seen today converted into dwellings.

Prawle Point
Prawle Point itself is the most southerly point in England after The Lizard in Cornwall. A rocky headland featuring a magnificent Durdle Door Rock Formation directly below the Coast Guard Look Out Station. Currently manned by volunteers, following recent Government cuts to H.M. Coastguard and H.M. coastguard cottages here sold off .

Prawle Point – Notice to Yachtsmen
Prawle is well known for what can be a dangerous overfalls in the tide race during heavy weather in all but offshore northerly wind conditions, as is the Start Point Race. Although the latter is a much greater danger, rightly famous for huge ‘Overfalls’ which all mariners are advised to give a wide berth to, keeping a least two miles or more to the southward in high winds.

Prawle Point to Salcombe Harbour
Whether walking the South West Coast Path or rounding Prawle Point bound for Salcombe, it is a wonderful feeling and a grand sight to look out along the coast towards the magnificent spectacle of the glorious bay that opens up before you.

The views that extend from Prawle Point towards the entrance of Salcombe Harbour. which is only some 3 miles by boat are arguably amongst the finest in the United Kingdom and amongst the most spectacular coastal views in Northern Europe. The magnificent headland of Bolt Head guarded by the Mewstone and Little Mewstone rocky islets, the glorious Starehole Bay and the hieghts of Sharp Tor that descend between 400-500 feet almost vertically down to the sea at the western entrance to Salcombe Harbour above great underwater sand bar known as The Bar.

Between Prawle and Gammon Head are two stunning beaches, the half tide beach of Elender Cove and the more accessible Dead Man’s Cove, with glorious sand and wonderful swimming. In earlier days of sail, this was where the drowned seamen from ship wrecks at Prawle Point were often washed ashore and buried in the sand here.

Gammon Head is a magnificent rocky headland which a steep winding path climbs up over the landward aspect to reveal a stupendous view across to Starehole Bay and the entrance to Salcombe Harbour. The cliff path climbs up and down often steep and narrow paths all the way to Salcombe whilst affording spellbinding views at every turn down to the various reefs and coves far below. Just after passing the spectacular innacessible except by boat Hamstone semi landlocked tiny horseshoe shaped shallow anchorage favoured by the odd seal who basking on a seaweed covered half tide rock that guards the entrance. Although a beautiful place, this is extremely dangerous to ebter from the sea except in a small craft such as a kayak, without the advantage of good local knowledge. Even then this is still a very tricky place to drp anchor, which should always be bouyed with an light ancillary anti-fouling line to enable the anchr to be pulled out from underneath an underwater obstruction safely, otherwise the anchor would have to be abandoned trapped amongst the boulders and seaward.

Venericks Cove just around the Pig’s Nose rocky point which features a beautiful small waterfall that carries a clear freshwater stream down over a steep rock face to the sea, is another magnificent swimming and picnicking beach. A steep but reaily manageable cliff path zig zags down to this enchanting white quartz pebble beach much favoured by naturists (nudists) . Who regard the northern most section of this beach traditionally over many decades as very much their own preserve for nude sunbathing, nude swimming and nude rock climbing in this part of Verenick’s Cove. Any voyeursim is severely addressed and anyone taking nudists to task as to being offensive to other beach users will be given short shift. One of those whose family often swim and sunbath here naked actually own the surrounding region and do not take kindly to those who suggest that they aught to know better, as many ‘Suburban types’ with expensive Boston Whalers and Rib leisure craft who have landd on this beach to swim and picnic have discovered when raising any objections to nudists they encounter on this beach. So if you are easily offended by the sight of nudism, avoid this beach except in cold or poor weather..

The path runs on under Decklers Cliff below some easily visible coastal early Celtic field boundaries to a stream where there is a steep path leading down to another glorious bathing and picnic beach below Gara Rock.

Climbing up the long haul to Gara Rock before running along the cliff edge again all the way to the entrance to Salcombe Harbour at Limebury Point. In the region of a long slate stone wall that runs down the hillside below Portlermouth Down there are a set of superb ‘Blow Holes’ where in winter storms during high tides, waves fill up caves and force torrents of water to explode above the cliffsides in clouds of white water which are only visible when this occurs from the other side of the bay from the cliff path out to Bolt Head.

A splendid coastal golf link existed on Portlemouth Down until the Second World War when it was ploughed up and sadly never re-built after the war. No recognisable signs of which remain today. It would be wonderful if ever this course was to be rebuilt, as the location is simply awesome in terms of the views from Portlemouth Down in every direction.

On the Eastern aspect of the entrance to Salcombe Harbour is Leek Cove another very beautiful but highly inaccessible cove except by boat. Just beyond this cove is a continuation of the magnificent Raise Beach of rock tables that runs all the way from Gara Rock to Salcombe Harbour. Where the path descends beyond Leek Cove to the low cliff top at this point, you can access the rock platform here and walk along the rocks for some distance where you will want to pause and enjoy the magnificent panoramic vistas over The Bar out to Bolt Head, across the harbour entrance, over to the ruins of Fort Charles originally built by Henry VIII and then rebuilt by Charles Ist. The last castle in England to surrender to Parliament during the English Civil War without a fight and the garrison allowed to march out with honour with their weapons and make their way home. The view up Salcombe Harbour itself to the town of Salcombe are magnificent on a sunny day during the summer with a vast number of boats of yachts of all sizes including the odd Super Yacht en passage to the Cote d’ Azur or the Caribbean.
The South West Coastal Path leads on up the eastern aspect of the harbour initially along cliff tops above glorious sand beaches, through woodland, then along a right of way over a private service road between many magnificent harbourside properties below the village of Portlemouth until you reach the Portlemouth to Salcombe Pedestrian Ferry that takes you across the harbour to Salcombe. Where you are now at the most expensive place to buy property outside of Central London and one of the most expensive place to purchase property at in the world today. You have already seen why this is so, from the moment you arrived at the entrance to Salcombe Harbour. Where there is currently a £10 Million private house being built on the hillside not far above Fort Charles. There are those here to whom spending £150,000 on buying a 10 metre open Rib twin engined 700 hp outboard powered boat, as a day boat for fun days out here, is simply incidental to the £Multi-million summer houses that they own here and only use a few weeks a year between flying off to other resorts all over the world.

The Salcombe R.N.L.I. Lifeboat Disaster in 1916
It was whilst attempting the harbour entrance in a Force 9, gusting Force 10 – 11 southerly gale, that the sailing, twelve oared R.N.L.I Salcombe LIfeboat ’ William and Emma ’ was tragically overwhelmed by tumultuous storm driven seas on the 27th. October 1916. The Salcombe Lifeboat had been launched from the Old Lifeboat House at South Sands (which still stands today in it’s original stone, brick slate and terracotta late 19th century unadultrated architectural form) . The lifeboat sped down the timbered slip at 6.50 a.m. to attempt to rescue the crew of the Western Lass who had been earlier wrecked at Prawle Point. When the lifeboat arrived, it was only to discover that the crew of this wreck had been already rescued at first light by the Prawle Coastguards who occupied a row of coastguard service cottages at Prawle Point aided by men from East Prawle employing a rocket line to facilitate a Breeches Bouy connected to a portable winch above the cliff top.

Hence, the lifeboat coxswain sailed back towards Salcombe. Amidst mountainous seas, taking a course across the bay towards Bolt Head. Once they had reached the area of cliff known as The Bull below Portlemouth Down, just some half a mile from The Bar at Salcombe. Owing to the terrifyingly high ’ Rollers ’ breaking into a maelstrom of boiling white water right across the eastern and central aspects of The Bar, the coxswain decided to sail the lifeboat out to sea to make two long tacks to enable him to set a course on his third tack, back towards and attempt to cross The Bar in the only deep water channel that leads through The Bar on the Western aspect of The Bar at the harbour entrance. Underneath ther heights of Sharp Tor and the cliffside gardens and grounds of Overbecks House.

To the horror of those witnessing this event, whilst the lifeboat was crossing The Bar a massive breaking wave sea lifted up the stern of the lifeboat, carried the boat down into the trough of the wave where she dug in her bow whilst the huge sea pitch poled the boat head over heels towards Salcombe Castle. Resulting in thirteen of the fifteen man crew being subsequently drowned, with the two only survivors being carried across the harbour entrance and washed ashore wearing their canvas cork filled life jackets on the rocks below the ’ Raised Beach Rock Ledges at Limebury Point .
See: lifeboat disaster

Alternative Ports for Salcombe R.N.L.I Life Boat in severe storms
N.B. Even today the immensely powerful, modern blue water R.N.L.I. Salcombe LIfeboat which although capable of putting to sea in any conditions at Salcombe, has to run into either Dartmouth or Plymouth if The Bar at Salcombe is in a sufficiently dangerous sea state as to make it too dangerous to attempt returning to her moorings at Salcombe. Fortunately this is seldom a necessary.

Poetry And Motion
The Bar at Salcombe was the inspiration for Lord Alfred Tennyson for his poem ‘The Moaning of the Bar’. Where in high southerly gales, waves roll up from the deeps over this sand bar, resulting in waves that can on occasion exceed 50 feet in height, making access to Salcombe from the open sea not simply hazardous but virtually impossible.

Travelled, Photographed, Researched, Written & Compiled by John Hayden Halsey

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