SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 19: Mothecombe to Plymouth
Monday, May 19, 2014
After almost a year's absence, I returned to England in the middle of May 2014 for a four week visit and another lengthy encounter with the South West Coast Path. Having covered just over 300 kilometres from Poole Harbour during my previous visit, I still had around 710 kilometres to go to Minehead. For this visit, my goal was to get at least as far as Lizard Point in Cornwall, around 250 kilometres further along the path.
I had ended my previous walk some distance off the Coast Path at Sequer's Bridge -- the lowest road crossing of the River Erme -- as I hadn't arrived at Wonwell Beach on the east side of the estuary close enough to low-tide to wade across the river safely, and had therefore opted to follow the long diversion route around the estuary instead.
A 45-minute bus ride over from Plymouth brought me back to the lonely bus stop beside the busy A379 just west of Sequer's Bridge. From the bus stop, the diversion route joins the signposted Erme-Plym Trail, following it westwards along a field edge to a stile where one must cross the busy A379 to cross another stile into a pleasant meadow (picture 1). The route climbs across the meadow to find another stile at the top, crossing it and following a shady sunken path to the left.
This path is lined by flowers for a while (picture 2) before passing under an old bridge and emerging into a sheep-grazed pasture. The route now heads downhill past a stone cottage to join an unsealed lane. When this lane merges into another, the Erme-Plym trail heads off to the right, but the route back to the Coast Path continues ahead, following the quiet lane through the hamlet of Ford and then down Vicarage Hill to reach the main intersection in the larger village of Holbeton, in front of the Mildmay Colours Inn (picture 3).
To the left of the pub, the route takes Fore Street out of the village, bearing right at the next intersection and following the road straight ahead at an intersection by a large white house. The second turning on the left after the white house is a long and narrow hedge-lined lane that eventually leads down to the village of Mothecombe. Turning left at an intersection on the edge of the village, I followed a lane downhill to the slipway where the Coast Path resumes on the west side of the River Erme, exactly six kilometres walk from Sequer's Bridge.
From here, I could see across to Wrinkle Wood (picture 4), where I left the Coast Path almost a year earlier. As I had arrived at high-tide this time, the river looked very different to when I had last seen it. Unfortunately, I could also see the sunny weather rapidly disappearing as dark clouds swept over from the west.
For completeness, I walked down to the bottom of the cobbled slipway (picture 5) to rejoin the Coast Path in the proper fashion before setting off back up the slipway and over Owen's Point. I had barely gotten a hundred metres before the heavens opened and I had to stop to pull on my waterproofs -- not exactly the start I had been hoping for.
The path soon descends from the small wood on top of Owen's Point to Meadowsfoot Beach (picture 6), where a group of workmen who had been mixing concrete to repair the sea-wall above the beach generously invited me to shelter in their shed as the rain intensified for a few minutes. Setting off again, I climbed some steps past a curious building built into a higher section of the sea-wall (picture 7) to join a fenced path that soon passed through another small wood before becoming an open path that climbs steadily along the edges of several meadows that were carpeted in a variety of yellow and white wildflowers.
Leaving the Erme behind, this path cuts across the headland at the western extremity of the estuary before descending steeply into the combe of Bugle Hole (picture 8).
After a steep climb up the other side of the combe the path encounters several less severe ups and downs as it circles above the rocky Butchers Cove (picture 9) and Keaton Cove to pass just below the towering St Anchorite's Rock (picture 10). Pausing here, I took a look back over Keaton Cove in hopes that the worst of the weather was behind me (picture 11), but after crossing the next valley to gain the fenced path high above Ryder's Hole, the weather ahead didn't look much better (picture 12).
The path follows the clifftop above Ryder's Hole then bears a little inland, running to the right of a field boundary one field back from the cliffs. Initially I went on the wrong side of the boundary, finding myself with nowhere to go when I reached the far side of the field and having to backtrack to the signpost that I had missed the first time.
Now back on the right track, I was soon confronted with a very steep climb up to the top of Beacon Hill, where the path joins Revelstoke Drive in front of the ruins of the 18th century folly of Membland Pleasure House (picture 13). What kind of pleasure was to be had there can only be guessed at today.
The Revelstoke Drive, which the Coast Path now follows for around eight kilometres, is an unsealed track cut into the hillsides in the 19th century so that the local landowner, Lord Revelstoke, could conduct his guests around his land by horse and carriage. The Drive is generally a little further away from the clifftops than has been typical for the Coast Path so far, making the walking significantly flatter and easier.
Before long Revelstoke Drive heads around behind Sandy Cove, with two caravan parks visible in the undercliff beyond the cove at Revelstoke Park (picture 14). Revelstoke Drive runs around behind these, crossing a carpark at the top of Revelstoke Park before heading through Centry Wood and around Stoke Point. The path stays relatively level as it runs high above the sloping Netton Down (picture 15) and Hilsea Point (picture 16).
The Drive then snakes around Saddle Cove and Blackstone Point before coming up to Warren Cottage (picture 17); the name recalling the past use of this area for farming rabbits. The Drive turns left across the front of the cottage and continues through The Warren up to Gara Point at the mouth of the River Yealm, where the Great Mew Stone stands off Wembury Point across the river mouth (picture 18).
The Coast Path continues to follow Revelstoke Drive as it curves around the headland to run high above the river for another 500 metres (picture 19) before eventually dropping down into the lush Brakehill Plantation and temporarily losing sight of the river. The path emerges to circle around the high side of a large sloping pasture before joining a narrow lane by a row of old coastguard cottages. The lane soon heads into Passage Wood, following it eastwards parallel to the Yealm for nearly a kilometre to reach a signposted path down to the shore opposite the town of Newton Ferrers (picture 20).
On the path down to the shore is a semi-circular sign that can be unfolded to display a large white disc to summon the small ferry that takes the Coast Path across the river to Warren Point, bypassing Newton Ferrers, which sits in a fork between the River Yealm and Newton Creek.
The ferryman arrived promptly and within a few minutes I was walking back downstream on the western side of the river (picture 21), climbing up through scrub to pass Rocket House. The path then levels out and follows the clifftops beside fields for almost two kilometres before descending steeply past Wembury Church (picture 22) to the rather rocky Wembury Beach (picture 23), where the National Trust runs a handy café in an old mill building.
The Coast Path crosses a footbridge over the small stream that used to power the mill, then follows the low, crumbling cliffs around Wembury Point, where the path is at its closest to the Great Mew Stone (picture 24).
Around the point, the path reaches the secluded village of Heybrook Bay (picture 25), briefly joining Marine Drive to cross a stream then turning left into Beach Road to pass a few houses before taking another path along low clifftops above exposed rocks. This path soon leads around the point of Westlake Brake at the mouth of Plymouth Sound, with the massive breakwater in the middle of the Sound and Rame Head shrouded in mist on the far side (picture 26).
The Coast Path now winds its way northwards along the windswept cliffs for about a kilometre to Andurn Point, where a grassy park overlooks Bovisand Bay (picture 27). Crossing the park, the route follows a lane through a chalet park that stretches halfway around the bay. Just after the lane leaves the chalet park, a tarmac footpath on the left drops down to cross the lower end of a deep combe that is filled with caravans, climbing up to join another lane that runs through the long narrow carpark of the Cliffedge Café.
Beyond the carpark, a flight of steps between two rows of cottages takes the path up onto Bovisand Point, climbing high above Fort Bovisand, one of 24 Victorian fortifications built during the 1860's to defend Plymouth against a feared French invasion that never materialised. The path continues to climb steeply up to Staddon Heights, where there are good views over Plymouth Sound towards the city's waterfront (picture 28).
After passing below a radar station, the path starts a long descent through woods to eventually emerge in a large open meadow above Jennycliff Bay (picture 29). At the far end of the meadow the path passes the first of several large stone SWCP waymarkers to take a path through a patch of thick scrub to reach a park on Dunstone Point. Here the well-worn path curves away to the right, but the Coast Path continues ahead across the grass in the direction of Mount Batten Point (picture 30), a headland around which the River Plym flows into Plymouth Sound.
An enclosed path leads downhill from the corner of the park, passing a crescent-shaped apartment building before meeting Lawrence Road. A short distance along the road a footpath on the left skirts around a carpark then crosses another to find a path up onto the little hill on the point, where the Mount Batten Tower, completed in 1652, stands at the far end of the flat hilltop (picture 31). The Coast Path goes in the opposite direction however, descending to the landward end of the Mount Batten Pier (picture 32).
From the pier, there are good views across the water to Plymouth Hoe, where Smeaton's Tower has stood since being moved stone-by-stone from the Eddystone Rocks in 1882 (picture 33).
The Coast Path follows the promenade around the edge of the Mount Batten headland, passing within 100 metres of the point where it had earlier joined Lawrence Road on the narrow neck of the headland, before heading eastwards past the large Clovelly Bay Marina. At the end of the marina a path through a small patch of trees leads to Boringdon Road in the suburb of Turnchapel. A right turn into Undercliff Road eventually takes the route eastwards to Barton Road on the edge of the channel leading from the River Plym into Hooe Lake (picture 34).
The route now skirts around the western and southern sides of the lake for more than a kilometre to reach a causeway at the eastern end. In the middle of the causeway is the small Radford Castle (picture 35) and just beyond this is a signpost indicating the end of two other long-distance paths, the West Devon Way and the Erme-Plym Trail, which I had followed briefly at the start of the day's walk. Unfortunately, this signpost also indicated that I still had five kilometres to walk to the middle of Plymouth.
The route now heads northwards along the edge of the lake for a short distance before cutting through the suburb of Oreston to reach a little park on the edge of the River Plym. At the other end of the park the path leaves the waterside again, running along a narrow strip of woodland that skirts a large industrial estate for around 800 metres to reach a small park at the head of a long narrow waterway. The path crosses the park, which contains a large concrete statue of a rhinoceros, turning left to follow the busy A379 westwards along the northern edge of the waterway, finally crossing the Laira Bridge over the River Plym (picture 36).
Once over the bridge the Coast Path turns left down Finnigan Road, heading into the industrial area of Cattedown. At a roundabout the route turns left down Maxwell Road and at the end of the road turns left again into Shapters Way then right into Cattedown Road. The latter passes by a long row of old stone warehouses (picture 37), beyond which the road forks, with the coast path taking the right branch to climb over a hill behind the Esso Wharf. Just before reaching an intersection with Clovelly Road, the path passes by what must be the tallest waymarker on the Coast Path (picture 38).
The route turns left along Clovelly Road, which becomes Commercial Place at the next intersection. A couple of blocks further on the road ends and the Coast Path continues ahead on a footpath past the huge National Marine Aquarium and up to the pedestrian swing bridge over the lock at the entrance to Sutton Harbour, by which the Coast Path enters Plymouth's Barbican district.
At the far end of the bridge is The Leviathan, a giant statue of a prawn atop a tall post (picture 39). A few steps further is a viewing platform above the Mayflower Steps (picture 40), from which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed off to found modern America in 1620. This was my destination for the day, having covered 34.6 kilometres of the Coast Path.
This had been a very long day's walking, particularly with the bad weather accompanying me almost the whole day -- over 42 kilometres all up with the walk down from Sequer's Bridge to Mothecombe and the walk up through the Barbican to my accommodation. The last eight or so kilometres trudging through urban and industrial areas to get around the River Plym had seemed to take an eternity and I was quite glad to reach the end of the walk just on dusk and to get off my feet at the nearest pub very shortly thereafter.