Thursday, 6 March 2014

Day 9 - March 4th 2014 - Dartmouth to East Portlemouth

At the tail end of the wettest winter since records began I returned to the South West Coast Path wondering what sort of conditions I might find myself facing. South Devon had taken a severe battering from winter storms since I last walked. Perhaps the most famous damage being at Dawlish where the railway line and adjacent coast path, part of my route on Day 7, were still closed for reconstruction a month after being destroyed by a gale.

After crossing The River Dart on the ferry with Lea I set off from pretty Dartmouth. I was on roads as far as Dartmouth Castle before making my way up through the woods, this being the first steep climb of the day. Soon I was approaching Blackstone Point with views to the east and the superb rugged section where I walked back in October. At Blackstone Point I came across the first path closure of the day, though the diversion to Compass Cove along the nearby cliff-top didn't deprive me of the view. Between Compass Cove to Combe Point were spectacular rugged cliffs, I could hear the unmistakable cry of Peregrine Falcons here and stopped for a while on the tip of Combe Point to enjoy the magnificent view.

After Warren Point the path was somewhat disappointing for a few miles, passing inland along lanes and through the village of Stoke Fleming. I briefly rejoined the coast at Blackpool Sands, a pleasant beach, before being taken inland again. There were a couple of seemingly pointless sections through steep muddy fields here. Though they keep you away from the road for a while they take you no nearer the coast and add a fair bit of extra leg work.

Soon after passing through Strete I was pleased to get back down to sea-level at the northern end of Slapton Sands. Despite being completely flat the 2 & 1/2 mile walk to Torcross wasn't as easy as you might expect. Storms had covered the path with course sand on both sides of the road most of the way and it felt similar to walking along a beach. Coming into Torcross I paused to look at the Sherman DD tank that was recovered from the sea in recent years. It's a memorial to the 946 American servicemen who lost their lives in a terrible tragedy here during Exercise Tiger during training for the D-Day landings in 1944, an awful incident that was kept top-secret at the time.

After meeting with Lea for lunch I saw the first major storm damage of the day at Torcross. Despite the protection of a huge concrete sea wall several properties facing the coast were still boarded-up and undergoing repairs. Most of the sand on the beach adjacent to the town at Torcross appeared to have been washed away.

There was more storm damage at nearby Beesands, a road along the beach having been lost to the sea. While I was here the the weather took a turn for the worse. The first of several short sharp showers dropped quite a lot of rain. For the rest of the day conditions would be tricky underfoot. South of Beesands I had my only mishap of the day, I slipped and ended up on my backside in the mud while descending a steep grass slope. Fortunately there were no people around to witness my embarrassment, though several sheep were treated to a 'You've Been Framed' type of moment. I washed off the mud as best I could in one of the many bubbling streams I needed to step over.

A little further down the rugged coast I came across the fascinating site of the ruined village at Hallsands, lost to the sea in the early 20th century after dredging removed it's natural defences. The viewing platform here was excellent, giving a great view of the site and explaining the history in detail. If I lived in the nearby modern settlement of North Hallsands I'd be nervous that history might repeat itself. The 2014 storms have brought fresh cliff falls uncomfortably close to inhabited buildings. Sea defences, a road and a car park have been destroyed.

Apart from mud underfoot it was fairly easy going from here to Start Point where I was amused to see a sign that told me there were 462 miles to go until Minehead. I walked down to take a look at the lighthouse which marks the western end of Lyme Bay, this was a pleasing landmark, it feels like a long time since I left the eastern end at Portland Bill.

The final 9 miles of the day between Start Point and East Portlemouth were spent passing along superb rugged unspoilt coastline, spectacular scenery all the way. The only people I saw in three hours were a lone fisherman on rocks near Start Point and a family exercising dogs on Lannacombe Beach. Though it's hardly a beach at the moment to be honest, storms have stripped away all the sand. Part of this time was spent passing along muddy field edges, at other times I was clambering over exposed rock and small boulders in perilous spots were a slip or a trip could lead to my demise in a rocky cove below. Perhaps my favourite spot was Maceley Cove which was being pounded by the increasingly rough sea. This was just west of Prawle Point the southern-most headland in Devon. With my boots caked in mud and the rocks slippery in the now persistant light rain I went very carefully, mindful that the path was completely deserted and there was absolutely no chance of getting a signal on my mobile phone in this area. I thoroughly enjoy these remote rural stretches, to me they're the very essence of a coast path.

With daylight fading and my legs tiring I made my way down out of the muddy woods onto the road that leads into East Portlemouth past the pretty beach at Mill Bay. After a tough but exhilarating day spent exploring many many wonderful places I'd never seen before I was pleased to meet with Lea who was waiting for me as planned in the narrow lane where the passenger ferry crosses over to Salcombe.

Distance Walked Today 23.49 miles (37.80 km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 21 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.2 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 202.16 miles (325.34 km)

GPS Track;

View from Combe Point
Looking back over Blackpool Sands after a steep climb
The Sherman tank at Torcross, memorial to 946 American servicemen lost in Exercise Tiger
Looking back at storm-damaged Torcross and Slapton Sands
Site of Hallsands ruined village, 159 people lived here in 1891, Start Point in the distance
Yay, only 462 miles to go!
Start Point Lighthouse
Approaching Prawle Point, southernmost headland in Devon
Don't look down, the path is not for the faint-hearted in places
Maceley Cove

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