Living in South Devon I am spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning walks and scenery. I can head to Dartmoor and hike the wilderness or I can head to the South West Coast Path and witness the power of nature.
Both options never fail to impress and each offer their own escape in the country moments. On this walk I headed to the coast and discovered some fascinating maritime history.
Coleton Camp – Kingswear Devon
Heading away from the bustling fishing port of Brixham and towards Kingswear you pass close to the National Trust property of Coleton Fishacre, a fascinating location in its own right.
There are three car-parks located at Coleton Fishacre, all owned by the National Trust but unlike the main property itself, two of the car parks are outside of the venue. These operate on a donation system. As it happens I am a member of the National Trust but if you are not, just make a donation in the box provided.
The car park at Coleton Camp could easily be dismissed as just that, a car park whereas in fact it was once the site of a WW2 radar station, part of the vital early warning detection system that played such an important role in keeping Britain safe during those dark hours of 1939 – 1945.
Sadly very little clues remain, except for an information board that explains the usage of the land.
Walking from the car park eastwards towards Scabbacombe Head it felt as though I was back in my beloved South Downs, the hedgerows and the fencing, a path running through gentle rolling hills. I was transported back to my West Sussex walks and for a moment I did feel homesick.
Scabbacombe Sands, Devon
As my pseudo South Downs Way met the South West Coast Path I was transported instantly back to South Devon and dramatic coastline. Scabbacombe Sands offers one of the few chances to get down to sea level, so I took a slight detour from my planned circular route and investigated.
If you are used to walking trails like the South Downs Way, the South West Coast Path is a world apart. Every few metres you are ascending or descending, walking on the edge of the world we live in.
Wild ponies were currently grazing part of the hillside, pasture with a view.
I walked down a very steep section of the coast path, would be an interesting climb back up in wet weather, a trekking poles route in winter for certain. Dave my border collie as always by my side, was giving the ponies a wide berth, he’s excellent around livestock. This allowed me to concentrate on not sliding down the Devonian mud on my backside!
I didn’t stay long at Scabbacombe Sands, I would save walking north towards Berry Head for another day, my destination today was the outskirts of Kingswear in the opposite direction.
Ivy Cove and Pudcombe Cove
Retracing my steps, albeit slowly now as I was climbing up a muddy section of path, I headed towards Ivy Cove and Pudcombe Cove. Names only known to me at the time because of my OS Map. The scenery was stunning, millions of years of winter storms had shaped the coastline into something we inexplicably find pleasing to the eye.
This fractal landscape appeals to our inner core, a long-lost sense of adventure perhaps.
Rock, grass, moss all tumbled downwards to meet the sea; our eyes drawn from cove to cove. From strata to strata. Natural shapes appeal to us and there wasn’t much unnatural about this landscape.
Brownstone Battery WW2 Coastal Defence
Rewind 75 years and this coastline was a battleground, at least it was preparing to be a battleground. WW2 defences were being built to prepare for the land-battle of Britain and this dramatic coastline had an altogether more sinister threat than coastal erosion; land invasion!
Dave my border collie walked off and investigated the searchlight installation whilst I took photos. You can imagine in the black and white age of WW2 a hungry dog making friends with the teenage soldiers on a cold November night.
Many of these impossibly young men probably had a dog at home, sat in the darkened lounge of an evening wondering when, if their master was ever coming home with a pound of tripe and a kiss for the newborn baby.
Memories keep me hiking, I want to feel the landscape as I capture it on camera; listen to the sounds and try to imagine life as it was then.
What did you do in the war uncle? Nothing, I never came home. 1st July 1916 battle of the Somme. Lance Corporal Henry Brookman never met his infant nephew, my grandfather.
As we walk the landscape, in 2015 at the time of writing this, we are keeping the memories alive, not just of the horrors of war but of the adventures of man and woman.
Living is about the senses, the coast brings these together. Sounds, smells, views – this part of the South Devon certainly has it all. The WW2 battery can be explored easily on foot and there are information boards telling the story. Do please make time to visit.
Leaving the evocative 20th century concrete behind I carried on walking north-west, towards eventually Mill Bay Cove, where I had a glimpse of Dartmouth Castle as seen in this photo across the River Dart.
Mill Bay Cove – Kingswear Castle
The coast path passes through a wooded section which makes for a different type of walking, pine needles underfoot and dappled sunlight. It would be a welcome section in hot summer sun or showery autumnal rain.
The Daymark – Defining
After climbing what seemed an endless amount of woodland steps up from sea level at Mill Bay Cove I finally reached a lane that would take me north-east towards Higher Brownstone Farm and The Daymark, an imposing structure resembling a quirky folly but far from it in reality.
I followed the tarmac track until it became a rough track and then once more a tarmac track. From Higher Brownstone Farm a tarmac roads leads southwards down to the coast and once more to the Brownstone WW2 Battery. I only walked a short section to my final landmark destination; The Daymark.
The Daymark is a 25 metre (80 feet) high navigational aid built in 1864. A lighthouse without a light, purely for daylight maritime navigation; built as the entrance to the River Dart at Dartmouth was notoriously difficult to see.
It is very impressive and photos do not tell the whole story. The low-cut surrounding vegetation and the obvious lack of trees or obscuring rocks makes for a striking feature. Towering over the land; as of course it was meant to.
I had the field to myself, a little earlier I had chatted to some friendly locals who had walked up from the WW2 coastal battery via the Daymark. Now I had The Daymark to myself and I walked around almost open-mouthed at the structure. I love the fact that we built things of such functional beauty.
With blue sky and low sunshine, I could have stayed here a while longer taking photos but I had to finally walk away back towards the lane to Coleton Camp. The other clues to look out for in this location are the rusting signs of barbed wire fences; a reminder that the tarmac lane was once the main route to the WW2 battery.
Standing proud and alone, The Daymark conjures up thoughts of maritime adventures, ships and boats coming home to the safety of Dartmouth. Guided by a majestic daylight marker. I walked the final half mile back to Coleton Camp car park and headed off home, with tall tales of my own adventure. What a wonderful walk it had been, commanding coastal views, iconic structures, dark history and guiding day light.
Route: Coleton Camp to Kingswear Castle and back.
Distance: 7.5 miles (15 km)