SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 15: St Mary's Bay to Kingswear
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Another cool and overcast spring morning greeted me for this short but fairly strenuous stage of the South West Coast Path. After the mostly urban walking through the resort towns and holiday parks of Torbay the previous day, this stage was a complete contrast -- a rugged stretch of coastline with no sizable settlements until the very end. With two brief exceptions, the entire coastline on this stage of the walk is owned by the National Trust.
The walk back from the town centre of Brixham to the Riviera Bay Holiday Park ensured that I was already warmed up by the time I rejoined the Coast Path above St Mary's Bay, heading along the clifftops towards Sharkham Point (picture 1). The undulating path around the bay runs through scrub and grassland, quickly leaving the urban sprawl of Torbay behind.
Once the path climbs up past an overgrown and boarded up old barn, there are good views back across St Mary's Bay (picture 2), before rounding Sharkham Point to be greeted by views of the ragged coast and green hills ahead (picture 3).
A few hundred metres later, the path temporarily loses sight of the coast, taking a rather strenuous zig-zag path up the back of South Down Cliff before a much straighter and gentler path over the next peak takes the path downhill beside pastures to the stony beach at Man Sands (picture 4).
The Coast Path runs along the back of the small beach, crossing a shallow stream that runs down from the hills, then climbing some rough steps beside an old lime kiln. A few metres to the left along a driveway are more steps leading to a grassy path that climbs up the edge of a field to the landward side of a row of former Coastguard Cottages (picture 5). The path continues uphill, cutting across the neck of Crabrock Point to rejoin the clifftop a few minutes later above Long Sands, the path now fenced off from the neighbouring meadows and surrounded by brightly coloured gorse and wildflowers.
The narrow beach at Long Sands is mostly out of sight below the steep cliffs, with the path climbing a little higher before beginning a long descent into a grassy valley behind Scabbacombe Sands (picture 6). This time the path doesn't quite go all the way down to the beach, but rather crosses the valley above it, where the fields were thickly carpeted with bluebells.
After dipping down to cross a footbridge over the tiny stream that flows down the valley, the path climbs steeply up the side of Scabbacombe Head, getting about halfway up before turning left to take a relatively level course around the flanks of the headland (picture 7). As I walked around the headland, I was accompanied by commentary drifting up from The Fairmile (picture 8), a World War II Royal Navy Motor Launch taking a party of tourists on a cruise along the coastline.
Part of the way around Scabbacombe Head, the route passes into the National Trust's Coleton Fishacre Estate, where the well-worn path covers a long series of ups and downs, some of them quite steep, on grassy hillsides above rocky granite cliffs and outcrops (picture 9). The most strenuous of these little climbs takes the path around the top of the deep fissure above Ivy Cove (picture 10).
Once past this obstacle there is some respite, with a long and easy descent giving nice views ahead towards Outer Froward Point (picture 11), atop which one can see a 24 metre high stone daymark, built in 1864 as an aid navigation along the South Devon coast. After about 500 metres, the path reaches the small Pudcombe Cove before diverting inland above the cove for a brief soujourn in the pleasant woodland of the sheltered Coleton Fishacre Valley, where every patch of ground beside the path was once again covered in bluebells (picture 12).
Emerging from the woods on the other side of the cove, the path continues to wind its way along the ragged clifftops towards Outer Froward Point, where the large Mew Stone sits just offshore (picture 13). After climbing around the small inlet of Old Mill Bay, the path finally rounds Outer Froward Point, from which one gets the closest available view of the Mew Stone and its smaller companions (picture 14).
Heading westwards now, there are views towards Blackstone Point on the far side of the River Dart and further along the South Devon coast (picture 15). After climbing steeply around the top of yet another small inlet, the path heads around the steep flanks of Inner Froward Point, passing several old military installations belonging to the Brownstone Coastal Defence Battery, built to defend the approaches to the Dart Estuary during the Second World War. The first of these is a searchlight emplacement (picture 16), which made a welcome place to rest and admire the scenery for a few minutes.
From inside the building is the first view across Newfoundland Cove and into the mouth of the River Dart, where rows of houses cling to the steep hillside in the town of Dartmouth beyond the small tudor fortress of Dartmouth Castle (picture 17). Behind the searchlight position a long and partially overgrown flight of steps climbs steeply uphill to a large gun emplacement (picture 18), where a large gun positioned in the centre would have been able to turn around for an almost 360 degree range of fire.
From here the path continues to climb higher on a concrete path with embedded rails that would once have been used to carry ammunition down the steep slope to the gun from a shell magazine further up the hillside. Up another flight of steps the path emerges into a clearing on the hilltop near a coastguard lookout station.
Turning left through a small carpark, the path heads into a quiet wood above Newfoundland Cove, soon passing a sign marking this as part of the National Trust's Higher Brownstone property (picture 19). After meandering through the bluebell-filled woods for about a kilometre, the path heads around the back of Mill Bay Cove, passing a curious castellated building, apparently the mill after which the cove takes its name (picture 20). One cannot look too closely however, as the building is boarded up and signed "Dangerous, Keep Out".
A short distance further, the path joins the narrow Castle Road, which is followed through quiet woods and past scattered houses for almost a kilometre to the edge of the town of Kingswear, with occasional views of the Dart Estuary (picture 21). Reaching a fork in the road at the edge of the town, the path branches left onto Beacon Lane, and a few metres later would normally branch left again onto a footpath leading to the end of Beacon Road. The footpath was closed due to cliff falls in January 2013, however, and the path had been diverted to continue into the town along Beacon Lane, a little higher up the hillside than the original route.
Beacon Lane eventually becomes Church Hill, which offers good views across the Dart to Kingswear's larger sister, Dartmouth (picture 22), as the road descends past the 14th-century Church of St Thomas of Canterbury to rejoin the original route of the Coast Path overlooking the buildings of Kingswear Station (picture 23), the terminus of the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway.
Below the church, the path descends the Alma Steps between houses to The Square and then heads through the arch under the clock tower beside the station to reach the embarkation point for the pedestrian ferry across to Dartmouth. The ferry would wait for another day, however, as I had an important date with a steam train, leaving the Coast Path with another thirteen kilometres covered.
I still had a while to wait for the next train, so I went for a wander up Fore Street, which climbs beside the station, giving views over Kingswear's large marina and along the Dart Valley (picture 24).
After a while a train steamed down the valley and into the station, hauled by Engine 7827, named Lydham Manor (picture 25). While the engine was detached from the train to run around to the other end for the return journey to Paignton, I went off to find myself a seat, discovering that each carriage was adorned with a female name - Nikita, Claire, Louise, Heidi, Emma and Anna. Emma seemed quite suitable, so I took a window seat facing the river, which gave me some good views along the Dart Valley (picture 26) as the train steamed off along the riverbank before going through a tunnel under one of the hills that separate the Dart Valley from Torbay.
Before long the train was running along the track above Broad Sands, where I had walked on the Coast Path the previous morning (picture 27), then behind Goodrington Sands and up to Queen's Park Station at Paignton (picture 28), where the heritage line ends and joins the National Rail branch line that runs up to the main line at Newton Abbot. I confess that it felt like a bit of a backward step changing to a regular train for my journey back to my accommodation in Exeter.