SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 20: Plymouth to Cawsand
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
The poor weather of the previous day was still hanging around in the morning, so I stayed indoors. By lunchtime it seemed to be getting a bit brighter outside, so I returned to the Mayflower Steps to rejoin the Coast Path.
The path heads off southwards along Commercial Road to merge into the promenade beside Madeira Road below the imposing walls of the Royal Citadel, an active military barracks, parts of which date back to the 1660's. Madeira Road soon swings westwards around the corner of the citadel, taking the Coast Path westwards above the rocky shores of Plymouth Sound and the irregularly-shaped front wall of the citadel (designed to be a more difficult target for projectiles).
At the southwest corner of the citadel, Madeira Road meets Hoe Road which comes down the side of the citadel, separating it from Plymouth Hoe, a large park overlooking the Sound, where Sir Francis Drake reputedly played a game of bowls before sailing off to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. (There is still a bowling green in one corner of the Hoe.)
The back half of the Hoe has a number of interesting sights, including a very large and impressive naval war memorial, a smaller RAF memorial, and even a statue of Drake himself. Recently, the Hoe also acquired a large ferris wheel, for reasons that hopefully make more sense to the good folk of Plymouth than they do to me.
Visible from the promenade along Hoe Road below the Hoe is Smeaton's Tower (picture 2), which has an interesting story behind it. The 22-metre tower was originally constructed in 1759 as the fourth lighthouse on the Eddystone rocks, 22 kilometres out to sea from Plymouth. John Smeaton's revolutionary design, using interlocking granite blocks, became the model for many lighthouses to follow and made the tower strong enough to avoid the fate of its predecessors, the first two of which were washed away in fierce storms and the third destroyed by fire.
The tower turned out to be stronger than the rocks on which it was built. They started to be undermined by the force of the sea and in 1882, after helping to keep shipping safe for 123 years, it was decommissioned after a fifth tower had been built on the reef next to it. To prevent the possibility Smeaton's Tower collapsing and damaging its replacement, it was dismantled stone by stone and reassembled on a new base on The Hoe as a memorial to its creator and as an aid to shipping in the Sound, though no longer displaying a light. Smeaton's Tower is open to the public in summer and in addition to providing a fascinating insight into the life of an 18th-century lighthouse keeper, the views from the top on a sunny day are well worth the climb.
A short distance further along Hoe Road, the promenade passes above the Tinside Lido (picture 3), a Grade II Listed outdoor swimming pool built on a small rocky headland below The Hoe in 1935 and restored in 2005. From above the pool I could see several Royal Navy ships engaged in some sort of exercise out in the Sound. This vantage point was also a good place to view the various structures built into the low cliffs below the next curving section of the promenade (picture 4).
A couple of minutes walk further along the promenade, the path passes The Belvedere (picture 5), built into the steep side of the Hoe opposite the path. Known locally as "The Wedding Cake", The Belvedere was built in 1891 at the landward end of a pier that was destroyed by German bombing in World War II.
The road continues to curve around to the left, leaving The Hoe behind as it passes above a small harbour with views across the water to the heavily fortified Drake's Island (picture 6). Beyond the harbour, Hoe Road goes around behind a hotel sited on a small headland, but the promenade circles around the seaward side, where a number of model naval ships are fixed at intervals along the top of the sea wall.
On the other side of the hotel, the promenade ends, meeting Great Western Road beside the large Millbay Docks, which is Plymouth's main commercial dock. The Coast Path now has to leave the seafront and make a lengthy diversion inland to get around the docks, following Great Western Road and then West Hoe Road northwards for about 700 metres through an area that has recently been heavily redeveloped. Along the way, the road passes the Wall of Industrial Memories (picture 7), which displays various old signage, as well as one of the distinctive Coast Path waymarkers that appear frequently on the path in Plymouth.
At the top of West Hoe Road, the route turns left at a roundabout onto Millbay Road. Just off to the left of the next roundabout is the Wall of Stars (picture 8), bearing stars for various famous folk who have disembarked here, including Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin. One must be a bit careful here, as the Coast Path route doesn't follow the wall, but rather crosses the roundabout and continues along Millbay Road. I made that mistake and managed to walk about 500 metres along the back of the docks before figuring out that I had gone astray.
After backtracking and resuming the correct route, I followed Millbay Road, which runs parallel to the back of the docks but at a higher level, becoming Caroline Place as it leaves the docks behind and then Barrack Place for a short distance before the path turns left into the long Durnford Street, now in the suburb of Stonehouse.
On the left of Durnford Street are the neat stone buildings of the Royal Marine Barracks, before the street continues southwards through a residential area and past St Paul's Church (picture 9). A block past the church the street curves right then left then right again into Admiralty Road, finally back at the seafront.
The path used to make a sharp right turn here, immediately leaving the seafront to run along the wall of the Royal William Yard to the main gate, but in 2012 a new section of path was opened around Western King Point and Devil's Point, adding about a kilometre to the length of the Coast Path. The route now follows Admiralty Road for a short distance before bearing left on a grassy path around Western King Point (picture 10) below the site of the Western King Battery, which once guarded the mouth of the River Tamar on the western side of the point, and then on to Devil's Point.
On Devil's Point the path climbs up through the end of the battery to find a new flight of steps descending from the high stone wall of the battery into the Royal William Yard, a former naval supply base at the mouth of the River Tamar. The Coast Path runs along the quayside, passing two very smart stone buildings (picture 11) before turning right between the base's former Brewhouse and the small enclosed harbour, where the surrounding buildings have now been turned into apartments and chain restaurants. The path then turns left on the road along the back of the harbour, continuing ahead between the former Cooperage (where wooden barrels were made) and bakery to reach the main gate of the yard, which is topped by a statue of the Royal William after which the yard was named -- King William IV.
Passing through the gate, the path rejoins it's original route, crossing a roundabout and continuing into Cremyll Street, soon passing the small Victualling Office Tavern and a vinegar works. After about 300 metres, the route turns left into Admiral's Hard and down to the slipway of the Cremyll Ferry. The ferry crosses the River Tamar to the village of Cremyll, about a kilometre away on the north-eastern tip of the large Rame Peninsula, which forms the western side of Plymouth Sound.
In the process of crossing the Tamar, I also crossed from Devon into Cornwall, as the Tamar forms most of the border between the two counties. In fact, Cornwall is almost an island, with only about six kilometres of the border on land in the north of the counties. The first written records of a ferry crossing here date from the 1100's, but it is thought that this has been a crossing point for as much as 4,500 years.
Before the ferry could complete its crossing of the river, it had to pause to give way to HMS Severn (picture 12), a Royal Navy patrol vessel launched in 2002. The ship was sailing out from the Devonport Dockyard a little further up the Tamar, one of the three historic Royal Navy dockyards, along with Portsmouth (which I visited back in 2012) and Chatham (which I visited a few weeks after this walk). Devonport is the largest naval dockyard in Europe.
There were good views of the Royal William Yard (picture 13) before the ferry reached its slipway at Cremyll. Back on dry ground again, the Coast Path heads left to find a wide footpath leading into the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, the estate of the Earls of Mount Edgcumbe.
Once through the high metal gates, a long avenue of trees leads uphill to the mansion of Mount Edgcumbe House (picture 14), but the Coast Path instead turns left, passing under an arch in the middle of a castellated lodge to follow a path around The Orangery (picture 15) at the foot of an Italian-style formal garden (picture 16).
Mount Edgcumbe House was originally built in the 1540's, but in 1941 it was destroyed in a fire started by a German incendiary bomb. The house was extensively rebuilt and was completed in 1962.
A path on the far side of The Orangery leads out of the garden and around the corner of the park beside the sea wall, soon passing a raised gun platform with a good view back across the mouth of the River Tamar to Devil's Point (picture 17). A gravel path is then followed across a manicured lawn and into Barnpool Wood, where the sun came out briefly for the first time in the day (picture 18). The path emerges briefly to cross another lawn between a duck pond and a small beach before heading into the end of Amphitheatre Wood just to the left of a colonnaded rotunda.
A gate in a wire deer fence leads into the next clearing, below a small hill topped by The Folly (picture 19). Appearances are deceptive here, however, as The Folly was not damaged by some great catastrophe, but rather was deliberately constructed in a fashionably ruined state in 1747 to enhance the landscape. The Coast Path runs across the foot of the hill, but after detouring up the hill for a closer look, I discovered that there are steps up inside the structure, from which there are views over the treetops to Drake's Island, Plymouth's seafront and the hills of Dartmoor beyond (picture 20).
A much longer stretch of woodland walking follows as the path gradually rounds Redding Point and Picklecombe Point, where the path climbs up to pass a roofless stone shelter (picture 21). A little further on, the path detours inland to skirt around the top of a shady, bluebell-carpeted combe, the lower part of which is occupied by Fort Picklecombe, though the fort is not visible from the path. Near the top of the combe the path passes the Picklecombe Seat (picture 22), another folly, built in the 18th century from stone taken from a church in Stonehouse.
As the path heads back towards the coast, a gap in the trees gives a view across Plymouth Sound to the lighthouse on the western end of the massive breakwater and beyond towards the Great Mew Stone off Wembury Point (picture 23). The 1560 metre long breakwater was built between 1812 and 1841, using around four million tons of stone. The lighthouse was completed in 1843.
Around 500 metres after resuming a westward route parallel with the coast, the path descends to meet Fort Picklecombe's access road at the bottom of Hooe Lake Valley. This struck me as a curious name, as I had passed Hooe Lake towards the end of the previous stage of the walk on the far side of Plymouth.
A few steps along the road, the Coast Path goes through a gate on the left to join a track across the top of a grassy slope below woods. Soon the path enters the wood, climbing over Sandway Point (picture 24), where the sun finally returned for good.
After almost a kilometre the path emerges at the top of another grassy slope, looking ahead towards the conjoined villages of Kingsand and Cawsand sheltering at the end of Cawsand Bay (picture 25). The path runs parallel to the shore, descending very gradually to a gate on the edge of Kingsand, turning left a few metres beyond to go downhill past the tiny village green and the Rising Sun pub (picture 26) and on down Heavitree Road. The green used to be the site of houses until a German bomb fell on them in 1941.
At the end of Heavitree Road the path turns left through a narrow gap between houses then right onto Market Street. Market Street curves right then the Coast Path turns left into Garrett Street, where the second house on the left bears a marker with the labels "Devon" and "Corn". This is the boundary between Kingsand and Cawsand, and until 1844 it was also the border between Devon and Cornwall, with Kingsand formerly being part of Devon.
Garrett Street curves to the left and soon a gap between houses gives a view back over Kingsand's little beach (picture 27). Ahead, near the far end of the street is a corresponding view over Cawsand Beach (picture 28).
Above the beach Garrett Street bears right to pass between houses and the Cross Keys Inn to reach The Square (picture 29), where I left the Coast Path for the afternoon, with 12.1 kilometres covered. After a bit more wandering around the narrow streets of Cawsand and Kingsand, I went down to Cawsand Beach to wait for the day's last sailing of the Cawsand Ferry, which leaves from the beach.
The ferry soon appeared and I boarded for the trip back across Plymouth Sound to the Mayflower Steps. The ferry route passes Fort Picklecombe (picture 30), completed in 1871 but now converted to apartments, then rounds Picklecombe Point and passes the western end of the breakwater. In the calmer waters behind the breakwater, the ferry passed the fortified Drake's Island (picture 31) before crossing below The Hoe and the Royal Citadel (picture 32) to reach the jetty near the Mayflower Steps.
Despite the rather wet start to the day, this had turned into a very enjoyable outing and a memorable first foray into Cornwall.