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Sunday, 10 July 2011

South West Coast Path - Dartmouth to Torcross

Dartmouth

A 9 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Dartmouth and Torcross.

This section of the walk starts at the charming deep water port of Dartmouth which is famed for being where the second and third crusades departed in the 12th century. Across the River Dart is Kingswear, and down the estuary is Dartmouth Castle, built in the 15th Century. Passing the castle, the path heads round the coast and up to the village of Stoke Fleming, then meanders across the hills and lanes either side of the main Dartmouth road until it meets Strete. Here it descends down to Slapton Sands, which despite its name, is a shingle beach on one side and Slapton Ley, a natural freshwater lagoon, on the other. A simple walk with a few hills to negotiate and the number 93 bus linking the two ends of the walk.

Dartmouth to Torcross Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
DartmouthView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
TorcrossView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
9 miles
Walk difficulty
Moderate - some steep hills but nothing too arduous

Accommodation:

Parklands Caravan and Camping SiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Website
Description
Parklands Caravan and Camping Site, Churchstow nr Kingsbridge. Small friendly site on the A381 about 1 mile from Churchstow village

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
93 - First Group 93 Service Plymouth to Dartmouth via Kingsbridge
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2011-06-20
Walk Time
12:30 to 16:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Very wet day with thick mist and intermittent heavy rain

Walk Notes

This was the fourth day of a 8 day holiday walking the South West Coast Path from Exmouth to Plymouth. The day started with moving camp from Upton Park at Brixham, which had been a very friendly and conveniently located site, through to Parklands at Churchstow. The weather was very misty - a sort of fog that lingered despite the constant breezes. It was clear there would be no immediate let-up so we unpitched a very wet tent then drove via Totness to Churchstow and repitched an hour later.

The village of Churchstow was a little further from the campsite than we had anticipated resulting in a 1 mile walk along busy twisting roads with no pavements or verge. Unhindered, and with the tent still to be sorted internally, we ventured down to the village in order to catch the 10:47 bus to Dartmouth where we could begin the days walk. The bus stop was located opposite the church and although there was 10 minutes to spare on our arrival, it wasn't until 11:20 that the FirstGroup double decker pulled in. The driver blamed the lateness on an overheating engine which was causing a loud alarm to sound from the driver console. He assured us that he had been instructed by the company engineer that he had to keep the engine running in order to prevent seizure! He waited a further 5 minutes until the siren ceased then continued the journey with the warning of 'we may not get there'.

Beyond Kingsbridge, the road to Dartmouth becomes narrow, with just enough room to get two cars past each other. When a double decker bus arrives, traffic in the opposite direction has to find means of pulling over to allow it past. There were numerous occasions on the twisty road where arrogant drivers refused to budge and expected the bus to attempt to back up which was really not practical. When these encounters occurred queues of traffic built up in either direction until the hapless motorist reconciled themselves to the fact that they had to give way. It seemed fairly clear that the majority of these motorists were not locals and the bus driver seemed very patient with the constant harassment. My own criticism would be that First Group buses must take some blame as I am certain if they employed a fleet the small Optare like minibuses every half hour instead of double deckers each hour this would alleviate many of the problems. Look at the North Norfolk Coasthopper where this policy works wonders on the twisting narrow lanes that make up the busy Norfolk coast road.

Consequently, after these delays, we arrived at Dartmouth well over half an hour late which only left us a maximum of 6 hours to complete the walk and get the last bus from Torcross. With the weather being so miserable there was no inspiration to hang around so we immediately headed off from Dartmouth, only briefly stopping at Dartmouth Castle for a packed lunch before pressing onwards. There were highlights to the walk, despite the weather: we managed to get a glimpse of Blackpool sands through the gloom which was our first view of the sea since Dartmouth; and there was a memorable challenging hill in front of Landcombe Cove where the path descended steeply down a grassy hillside to a stream at the bottom. With the wet weather this posed a few problems and although there were a few makeshift steps worn into the hill, it was very slippery. Once across the stream the path ascended another hill which was not quite as steep The sheep grazing besides the stream looked on anonymously though I am sure some were quietly sniggering to themselves as they anticipated one or both of us ending up on our backside on the slippery slopes.

Due to the late start we unfortunately had to forgo popping into the Green Dragon at Stoke Fleming (though I include a little history of this establishment in the blog). By the time we got to Strete we hade made good progress and decided there was enough time to have a quick drink in the pub there. However, on arrival at the Kings Head we found that it had closed for the afternoon which was a disappointment. We had to content ourselves with a soft drink from the local post office when a local ale probably would have cheered our soggy spirits. From Strete the path heads down to Slapton Sands where the land flattens and opens up in front of Slapton Ley. Here, the rain really started coming down and with a brisk wind blowing against us it became a dismal end to the walk, heads down the trudging onwards through the open landscape at the mercy of the elements. As we approached Torcross village the late 16:08 bus from Dartmouth made its way along the straight from behind and I flagged it down to get us out of the wet day. Thankfully the bus stopped for us otherwise it would have been over an hours wait for the next bus and in this sort of weather that wasnt a prospect to contemplate. The bus driver obligingly dropped us at A379/A381 cross roads, only half a mile from the campsite. A disappointing day but it kept us on track to completing the full walk between Exmouth and Plymouth. That evening we watched the misty fog from the tent and at one point we could not see the tree across the other side of the pitch, a distance of probably no more than 20 yards. So we ended the day with a glass of wine on this typical English Summer evening - June, foggy, cold. Despite this our spirits were not dampened, it is all part of walking and camping. Love it really.

Slapton Sands
Slapton Sands

Directions

The path is fully detailed in the The South West Coast Path: Falmouth to Exmouth National Trail Guide.

From Dartmouth take the riverside road out to Dartmouth Castle from where the Coast Path is waymarked with the National Trail acorns.

Dartmouth CastleMemorial at Torcross commemorating the lives lost in the D-Day landings
On the left Dartmouth Castle; On the right Memorial at Torcross commemorating the lives lost in the D-Day landings

Pubs

Green Dragon, Stoke Fleming View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Address
Green Dragon, Stoke Fleming
Website

The name of this 12th century hostelry is said to have come from a Welsh knight returning from the crusades. The building was originally owned by the Lords of the manner who leased it out. The earliest recorded landlord is from 1607 who was registered as a 'Licenced Tippler' Local legend states that there was once an old Cuddy on the premises, which is a cabin type boat and this was made use of by King George VI when he was Prince of Wales. The building has a traditional stone floors, large fireplaces, wooden beams and it is rumoured that there is a secret tunnel, no doubt from the days when smuggling was rife in these parts. Of course, an old building with such a history as this has to have a ghost, or so some say though details are not forthcoming.

Review

Unfortunately we could not pay this pub a visit due to time restrictions. It appears to be an interesting hostelry and I would recommend anyone walking this section to take time out and check it out.

Blackpool Sands
Blackpool Sands

Features

Bayard’s Cove FortView in OS Map | View in Google Map

As the South West Coast path heads along the riverside out of Dartmouth it comes to Bayard’s Cove Fort which gives access to the road above. This fort was built in the early 16th century by the townspeople of Dartmouth to protect the town quay. The significance of its strategic position is best appreciated from the sea: it controls the narrowest point of the channel at the entrance to Dartmouth harbour. This is now an English Heritage site.

References

Dartmouth CastleView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Dartmouth Castle, together with Kingswear Castle on the opposite side of the River Dart, were built to act as a guard for the estuary. The structure is built on a rocky promontory close to the water's edge adjacent to St Petroc's church. A small fortalice was constructed in 1388 but the oldest part of the present structure is the Guntower which was built between 1481 and 1495 with additions in the 16th and 17th centuries. The civil war saw the castle taken by the Royalists who added an earthwork above at Gallants Bower. After 3 years it was attacked and taken by the parliamentarians in 1646. The Castle continued to be used as a fort right up until the nineteenth century and it was also put to use throughout the first and second world wars.

Today the Castle is owned by English Heritage and open to the public and hosts special events throughout the summer months.

References

Operation Tiger - SlaptonView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Slapton is probably most infamous for its part in World War II when it hosted Operation Tiger, a full blown exercise in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. Slapton was chosen due to its similarity to Utah Beach which was a gravel beach followed by a strip of land and then a lake. 3000 local residents were evacuated for the exercise to take place and nine large tank landing ships and 30,000 troops were involved in the mock invasion which started on 22 April 1943 and lasted 8 days.

The operation was far from smooth in its undertaking. On their approach to Slapton the convoy of ships was spotted by a fleet of German U-boats and attacked. Two ships caught fire with one sinking and a total of 638 soldiers lost their lives, many drowning whilst waiting to be rescued. Even on landing mistakes were made and 308 men died from friendly fire.

Despite the setbacks, lessons were learnt and although nearly called off, the D-Day landings went ahead as scheduled. Today a memorial and a Sherman Tank stand as testament to those who lost their lives in the exercise.

References
Tank Memorial at Torcross commemorating the lives lost in the D-Day landings
Tank Memorial at Torcross commemorating the lives lost in the D-Day landings

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15

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