Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Thursday, 20 December 2018

South West Coast Path - Salcombe to Torcross


A 12.5 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Salcombe and Torcross

This walk begins with taking the ferry across the estuary from Salcombe to Portlemouth. The going at times is strenuous, navigating along the craggy cliff face through to Prawle Point, the most southerly point in Devon. Beyond there are some low lying pastures that is a real pleasure to wander through. The final stage negotiates the craggy cliff around Start Point before slowly descending the cliffs along Start Bay, passing the hamlets of Hallsands and Beesands and finally arriving at Torcross beach.

Salcombe to Torcross Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Salcombe View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Torcross View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
12.5 miles
Walk difficulty
Strenuous - some craggy sections to negotiate
Cliff top paths with many crags to negotiate
There is one point that rounds a crag that has a steep drop on one side. This is not a comfortable zone for anyone who suffers from vertigo


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)


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


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Tally Ho - Bus Service
Service Details
606 - Tally Ho Bus Service 606 from Kingsbridge to Salcombe. It is recommended that one uses Traveline website to determine the latest service and operator.
Tally Ho - Bus Service
Service Details
164 - Tally Ho Bus Service 164 from Sorley Green Cross to Kingsbridge. It is recommended that one uses Traveline website to determine the latest service and operator.
Bus Service
Service Details
At the time of walking the service that operated from Torcross to Kingsbridge, continuing onto Plymouth was the First Group 93 service. This was subsequently transferred to Stagecoach as the 3 service. It is recommended that one uses Traveline website to determine the latest service and operator.
Ferry Service
Service Details
Salcombe to east Portlemouth ferry service

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
07:30 to 16:00
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm and sunny

Walk Notes

This was the seventh day of an 8 day walking expedition along the South West Coast Path from Exmouth to Plymouth using base camps and public transport to cover each days sectional walk. As ever on these linear walks, the direction of travel is dictated by public transport and for this specific walk the best option was an easterly course as there was an early bus down to Salcombe from Sorley Green Cross which was the closest bus stop to the Churchstowe campsite.

The campsite proprietor had told us that the local bus operator, Tally Ho, ran the 164 bus service which could be hailed down at the cross roads despite there being no signed bus stop. It has to be emphasized that the Sorely Green cross roads is a very busy junction on the brow of a hill and therefore one should make sure a suitable position is found to hail the bus where the driver has plenty of opportunity to see you. For the unaccustomed passenger who waits at these crossroads the realization soon materialises that there is no indication of the direction from which the bus would arrive. With such doubts it is best to stand on the road signposted for Kingsbridge. Sure enough, this was a suitable position and the obliging driver dutifully halted his bus and welcomed us aboard. This is one of the pleasures of small independent bus companies as they always appear to have friendly drivers as opposed to the large national companies whose drivers often to be trained in being disgruntled and uninformative. This particular driver even advised that we would be best to get a through ticket to Salcombe which was cheaper than separate tickets for the two services required to reach the destination

Arriving at Salcombe before the first days ferry across the estuary to Portlemouth provided time to eat a handsome breakfast at Captain Morgans Cafe on Normandy Way. On all of these coast walks it is imperative to have a good breakfast to fuel up for the days exertions. In my opinion a full traditional English is the best one can get. It really does set one up for the day.

The ferry is located at the bottom of some steps between the houses on Fore Street as the road bends around to the right. There is a signpost and usually an A-board for the Ferry Inn which is also down the same steps. We was not the first in the queue at the ferry landing stage on this particular day, a fellow walker was already waiting, heading for the same destination of Torcross. There was not much time for chatting before the ferry whisked us across the river and our fellow walker headed off at a pace, not to be seen again.

The trail follows a track leading to Mill Bay and then a footpath leads off into the woodland which covers the cliff-side to the head of the estuary from where the cliff top path leads on to Prawle Point. The way ahead becomes increasingly challenging with respect to the effort required as the path meanders around the rocky crags that intersperse the grassy cliff slopes. At one point the path steeply descends down a grassy bank that looks like it leads into oblivion. As one get to the steeper section the path descends a little more and turns to navigate along the cliffside with the first challenge being a crag that juts out of the sloping sides. It has to be said that for those who suffer vertigo this is not a comfortable zone. The crag is not expansive laterally, a mere two or three paces over a solid piece of rock. There is a steep rock face on one side towering above. The other side is a steep vertical drop downwards. There is some four feet width around the crag and then it is over. In my humble opinion, and writing from the viewpoint of having now completed the whole of the South West Coast Path, this was the most scariest part of the whole route. It is only three paces at most. Either side of the crag, the cliff is a gentle grass covered slope. If you can do this, you can do anything on the path. The peculiar thing is that the guide book does not even mention this as an obstacle and the few warnings to vertigo sufferers that are mentioned in the Guide Book were of no particular consequence in reality. One can only assume that the book was not written by a person who is nervous about heights.

Having stated this, it should not put anyone off walking this section. The path on this particular day had plenty of walkers on it and immediately after this obstacle we passed a young couple with a small boy walking besides them and a baby strapped in a back cradle and an elderly couple walking a small dog heading for the same crag and all completely unnerved by the prospect ahead even though it was clearly visible.

The path beyond Prawle Point becomes easier for a time, ambling along the clifftops through to Start Point where the coast turns northwards and heads up to Torcross. Throughout this section a middle aged man would pass us, then we would pass him as he sat admiring the scenery, taking his time to take it all in. Then he would put on a pace and pass us again, the procedure repeating all the way along from Prawle Point to Start Point. He became a pleasant and familiar character and at each meeting a few more words would be passed between us. Start Point was the last meeting as we found a suitable place to sit down and have some lunch and he carried on down to Torcross. This lunchtime rest was above great Mattiscombe Sand, a sandy bay with plenty of grassland on the cliffs above to set up a picnic, if one can envisage that a pastie and crisps could ever be described as such. A hikers picnic maybe. At this point there is an option of either wandering around the coast to Start Point or taking the path that runs up the valley behind Start Point. These paths appeared to be a popular circular walk for visitors coming up from Torcross and Hallsands judging by the amount of folk doing just this. Quite surprising considering this was mid week out of the main holiday period.

There is a warning notice on the path that heads out to the Point path stating that care is needed. Despite this, a cyclist came hurtling around the corner and headed out in that direction without any heed or care as to what may lie ahead. One guesses that he had performed this feat many times before.

Once over to the opposite coast leading away from Start Point, the path starts a long slow descent down to Torcross. It passes the fascinating place of Hallsands where a viewing platform sits at the top of the cliffs and information boards depict the tragic story of the lost village which is attributed to the Navy dredging the shingle from just off the coast.

The path continues down, past Beesands where The Cricket Inn is a worthy place to have a drink before the end of the walk. Torcross is ahead with a more traditional inn in which to rest in the time before the bus departs back to Kingsbridge from the bend in the road as it heads inland.

Start Bay Inn Torcross
Start Bay Inn Torcross


The route follows the South West Coast Path throughout.

The Salcombe Ferry can be found on Fore Street by the alley down to The Ferry Inn. This operates regularly throughout the day. On the Portlemouth side of the estuary the footpath follows the lane to the right. From here it is simply a case of following the National Trail Acorns which are clearly marked throughout the entire route. Further details can be found in the The South West Coast Path: Falmouth to Exmouth National Trail Guide but it is difficult to get lost.

The Cricket Inn BeesandsThatched lookout
On the left The Cricket Inn Beesands; On the right Thatched lookout


The Cricket Inn, Beesands View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
The Cricket Inn, Beesands

The Cricket Inn was opened in 1867 by Phillip Prettyjohn, whose daughter Elizabeth Ann was born at The Cricket and was the last inhabitant of the old village of Hallsands which was swept away in the great storm of 1917. The Courtney family ran the Inn for over 75yrs, Elias Courtney acquired the Cricket around 1920 and subsequently sold it to Heavitree Brewery in Exeter around 1930 but his son Archie and grandson Cyril carried on the Courtney name until Cyril and his wife Maggie retired in 1995.

Over the years The Cricket has survived storms, a bomb in 1942 which destroyed the adjacent cottages, costing the lives of 7 villagers, and a mud slide that passed through the Inn from back to front. In 2003 a major refurbishment was carried out with further additions in 2010 to provide a large restaurant and rooms for letting.


A thirst quenching pint of Otter Bitter was enjoyed here. The open plan bar is very much in the minimalist and modern style.

Start Bay Inn, Torcross View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Start Bay Inn, Torcross

The Inn dates back to the 14th century when it was known as The Fisherman's Arms and was used by the local fishermen who worked their fishing boats from the village beach. The Start Bay Inn has been run as a family business since 1977.


Lovely old Inn full of charm and interest. A pint of Otter Ale which was a gratifying end to the days walk.

Start Point Lighthouse
Start Point Lighthouse


HallsandsView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The early history of Hallsands is unknown, but a chapel has existed there since at least 1506. The site of the village was located at a cave known as Poke Hole, and probably was not inhabited before 1600. The village grew in size during the 18th and 19th centuries, and by 1891 it had 37 houses, a spring, a public house called the London Inn, and a population of 159. Most residents of Hallsands at that time depended on fishing for a living, particularly crab fishing on the nearby Skerries Bank.

In the 1890s, following a scheme proposed by Sir John Jackson, it was decided to expand the naval dockyard at Keyham, near Plymouth, and dredging began offshore from Hallsands to provide sand and gravel for its construction. Soon, up to 1,600 tons of material was being removed each day, and the level of the beach began to drop, much to the alarm of local residents. The Board of Trade agreed to establish a local inquiry in response to protests from villagers, who feared that the dredging might destabilise the beach and thereby threaten the village. The inquiry found that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat to the village, so dredging continued. By 1900, however, the level of the beach had started to fall. In the autumn storms that year, part of the sea wall was washed away. In November 1900, villagers petitioned their Member of Parliament complaining of damage to their houses, and in March 1901 Kingsbridge Rural District Council wrote to the Board of Trade complaining of damage to the road. In September 1901 a new Board of Trade inspector concluded that further severe storms could cause serious damage and recommended that dredging be stopped. On 8 January 1902 the dredging licence was revoked. During 1902 the level of the beach recovered; however the winter of 1902 brought more storms and damage. On 26 January 1917, a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached Hallsands' defences, and by the end of that year only one house remained habitable. The villagers' fight for compensation took seven years.


Start Point LighthouseView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Start Point lighthouse was built in 1836 and is one of twenty nine towers designed by James Walker. The lighthouse is in the Gothic style, topped by a crenellated parapet. In 1862, a fog-signalling bell was added but this was replaced by a siren in 1877. In 1989, the erosion of the coast caused part of the lighthouse complex, including the fog signal, to collapse. A lot of the area had to be levelled as a result and retaining walls put in place. Other buildings which were used by the lighthouse keepers, who originally could only get on or off the lighthouse by boat, such as the well and piggery have survived. Automation of the Lighthouse was completed in 1993 and the station is now monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich in Essex via a telemetry link.


Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2018-12-20

2011-07-27 : Initial publication
2018-12-20 : Update notes + general website updates


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