At 630 miles, the South West Coast Path is the longest National Trail in England, running from Minehead in Somerset, around Cornwall and Devon, to Poole in Dorset. Living in Plymouth, the opportunity to walk stretches of the trail in both Devon and Cornwall couldn’t be easier, and is one of my favourite pastimes – come rain or shine. That being said, I decided that this weekend it was time to go on a longer hike. So because the misty, blowy start to the day promised some fantastic views, I packed a day bag and got the bus to Wembury. The fact that this walk would give me material for my blog and help me out with the Global Fitness Challenge was an added bonus! My aim was to hike all the way back to Plymouth, following the South West Coast Path and enjoying my (reasonably) local part of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
When I arrived at Wembury the Great Mewstone jutted out from sea, cutting through the fog
Wembury beach itself is a fantastic destination – the marine centre has exhibits and a salt water tank for children, showing the various sea creatures that can be found in abundance on the shore. I grew up rock pooling and crabbing here, so the nostalgia factor for me was intense! The beach cafe is housed in a converted mill, over 150 years old but not used for milling since the 1890s. The millstones are still there to see but the water wheel is not, and it is assumed to have been taken to be melted into munitions during the First World War. So there is ever possibility that the very same metal that looked out to sea for many years, ended up finally crossing the channel to France. A romantic notion for an otherwise horrible event.
The converted mill, with three millstones clearly visible
Starting my hike and moving round to Plymouth it wasn’t long before I was wet; the mist had turned into a slight drizzle. With all the heat we have had recently it made for a refreshing change for my main weekend hike, and was a good chance for me to put to the test my new moisture wicking hiking gear. After all, who doesn’t want to test out new hobby purchases? A refreshing walk around the first major bend and I arrived at Wembury point, which provides the best views of the Great Mewstone. The Great Mewstone is a rocky island owned by the National Trust, named after the mew gulls that roost there, with no public access so that any wildlife and birdlife breeding can remain undisturbed. The last resident, Samuel Wakeham, was removed from the island at some point after 1834, having been caught smuggling!
From Wembury Point, the Great Mewstone, home to birds and formerly smugglers!
Carrying along the coastal path I soon reached Heybrook Bay. The walk from Wembury to Heybrook can be a nice loop in itself if you park up at Wembury, and the Eddystone Inn is well worth a bite to eat and a pint in the evening. Being still early however, with the pub yet to open I moved on.
Heybrook Bay with Cornwall and Rame barely visible in the distance
From Heybrook heading to Plymouth, the walk along the coastal path hugs former gun emplacements and goes up and down rolling hills along the cliff-face until you reach Bovisand. Another of my favourite beaches, and one of the better to swim at with a blue flag for water quality, Bovisand is perfect for an evening picnic. As is often the way during the unpredictable British summer, the weather by Bovisand was already changing for the better – and I was soon bone dry, a testament to the quick drying properties of my new gear!
Bovisand beach with the skies clearing
By Staddon Heights the sun was out in full force. It was hot and I was regretting my lack of sun lotion. I did in fact get burnt on this hike; lesson learned on the hundredth time, never trust the Met Office! Luckily though the change in weather ensured that my hike was graced with some of the best views South Devon has to offer.
The view from the coast path by Staddon Heights, boats sailing and the sun shining – a perfect summer’s day
As the coastal path ran parrallel to Staddon Heights I took a major detour. I have mentioned on previous blog posts that as a hobby I am into peak bagging – climbing prominent tors, hills and even mountains. Staddon Heights is listed as one such peak within the Plymouth Unitary Authority, and is one that I had not previously ascended. At 115m above sea level (377 feet), Staddon Heights is the tallest point around. It is for this reason that fortified defences were built all along this headland throughout the 1860s, pointing both out to sea and inland, ready for French invasion from the water or defence against a beachhead further along the coast. Staddon Heights is still a military structure, and as such is closed off to the public. The trig point is visible from the Staddon Heights golf club, but sits atop a structure. For the purpose of the hillbagging community there is some debate whether the natural high point is in front of the entrance or to the south east in the golf club carpark. To be certain I chose to visit both, although I think I must have looked mad to any golfers playing nearby!
Cloud cover overhead again as I reached the entrance to Staddon Heights
Another peak ticked off, I rejoined the coastal path and resumed my hike. From Staddon Heights you reach Jenny Cliff after a short walk, and are greeted by the welcome to Plymouth sign. With the sun blazing again, I took a quick photo over the sound and carried on the familiar walk, one I must have done dozens of times, to Mount Batten.
Another solitary hiker by Jenny Cliff; “not all who wander are lost” – J R R Tolkien
Mount Batten has many iconic Plymouth landmarks; one being Mount Batten Tower. A circular artillery tower built in the 1650s, the fort was designed to cover all sides of the Cattewater from assault. Now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with various tributes to the RAF and RAAF who both served from Mount Batten in the Second World War, it is a stark reminder of the extent of Plymouth’s military past – and perhaps an insight to what will happen to a shrinking dockyard in years to come.
Mount Batten Tower
Just a short walk to the north and down the steps, you reach Mount Batten Breakwater. Built 1878-1881 I have many fond memories of fishing here while younger. Now used predominantly for leisure – fishing, boat watching and even being the launch site for the annual British Firework Championship – the breakwater has had a working past. At various times it has been used to store flying boats when the air-station was based at Mount Batten and it still provides cover for the Cattewater from seasonal stormy swells.
No need for the breakwater today!
I had the option at Mount Batten to get the ferry back to the Barbican and call it day after an already fairly long hike, however in the distance I could hear music. So following the coastal path I headed to Turnchapel, where I was greeted by the community festival. By chance I was in the right place at the right time. I refuelled with some crab and a pint, and enjoyed the music in the sun for a while.
Nothing says “a good time” in Britain like bunting
Thoroughly happy with my decision to carry on to Turnchapel, and having enjoyed my pint and local snack to the live music that could be heard across the bay, I headed off to Hooe Lake and Oreston, nearing the final stages of my walk. The weather by this point took a turn for the worse again, and after cooling down slightly I was painfully aware of just how burnt I had become. Walking parallel to cliffs the whole way saw the left side of my face as pink as a lobster and the right side remain fairly normal – but there you go! Walking around Hooe Lake, I followed the coastal path back to Laira Bridge. I saw a bus that would take me home, and jumped on, finishing my walk and giving my feet some well deserved rest. All in all on Saturday with my various detours I walked 27km. Very soon I intend to do the walk from the Cremyll Ferry in Stonehouse (the last part of the coastal path in Devon) to Jenny Cliff, following the South West Coastal Path on the section known as ‘the Waterfront Walk’, linking the final parts of the coastal path in Devon that I missed today. Until then I leave you with another photo, and of course the sources I used to write this blog.
Watch this space!
Hooe Lake, and the familiar sight of a wrecked boat, with the weather on the turn
The sources I used today are listed below: