Devon is more than just cream teas and Dartmoor, it has some of the most dramatic coastline in England. I felt like walking to a lighthouse so I did some research online and found that Start Point Lighthouse was right on a dramatic section of the South West Coast path.
Hallsands Lost Village
I drove to the tiny village of Hallsands, made famous by the destruction in January 1917 of the village, caused by coastal erosion from shingle dredging in the late 1800s for many years.
The car park at Hallsands is only metres from the sea, the day of my walk the waves were slight but evidence was apparent of the constant battle the modern-day inhabitants face. Storms in 2013 / 2014 had damaged the only access road. The community had to raise funds themselves to try to restore the sea defences that protect homes and small businesses.
21st century Hallsands will eventually disappear under the sea, joining once more the building blocks and possessions from 1917.
Hallsands to Start Point Lighthouse
Like many coastal paths, Pembrokeshire springs to mind, the route of the path changes as the years pass. Erosion eats away at the land and diversions, many permanent are put in place.
I set off from Hallsands and walked south, climbing immediately up onto the cliff top. A look at the map reveals such descriptive names as Lobster Rock, Shoelodge Reef, Long Rock. An indication if ever one was needed of the dangers facing mariners along this south-west Devon coastline.
Unlike the linear coast I was used to in the South Downs, Worthing to beyond Brighton hardly has a nature curve in it, the coast line in South West England cuts a jagged mark across the sea, as it twists and turns.
Look over your shoulder and you will see your footsteps far behind you, look forward and you will see the next vantage point.
To The Lighthouse
Why do we as a nation love our lighthouses? Is it a romantic notion, a longing for isolation, being a lighthouse keeper with just 2 others for company. Facing the natural elements and the fury of the sea.
Is it the architecture we admire, very few lighthouses are built the same despite being built by many of the same people. Is it a reflection of our insignificance when it comes to the raw power of the sea. Do we find it easy to imagine the terror faced as a ship breaks upon the rocks below on a dark moonless night.
Lighthouses are part of us and remain very popular with young and old alike.
A short deviation from the coast path takes you along a tarmac drive to the lighthouse and keeper cottages. Start Point Lighthouse was built in 1836 and was designed by James Walker. It was fully automated in 1993.
Entry to the lighthouse itself is allowed upon payment of a fee, I’ll save that trip for another day. I took my photos and followed the access road back to the South West Coast Path itself.
Great Sleaden Rock- South Devon Coast
The South West Coast Path rises high above Start Point Lighthouse giving sweeping views out to sea. The wind was howling up on the ridge, I was struggling to stand still. At nearly 17 stone with full kit and boots on!
This was August, my sense of adventure told me I wanted to be here in a winter storm, no closer to the edge mind you.
The waves crashed against the rocks, white horses could be seen breaking far out to sea as submerged rocks twisted water and threatened imminent danger. Seals swam close to shore looking for a glimpse of friendly walkers and hikers.
The air was fresh with ozone, oxygen rich, the blues and greens of the sea a visual delight. The coast awakens the senses like no other landscape can, in my opinion.
The wind from the south west was driving the sea into the land, the eddies produced by the turbulence were mesmerising to watch. Wave after wave washed over part-submerged rocks. The height of the sea changed by many feet as the swell ebbed and flowed.
This was a landscape very much alive. Like an electrical storm energises the sky, the wind energises the sea into a water-colour worthy of a great master.
Great Mattiscombe Sand
I continued my walk, eager to see what was around the next cove, the next micro headland. I dropped down to beach level and watched the waves washing over the rocks up close, it was relentless the power.
I walked to a bench that overlooked Great Mattiscombe Sand at Pear Tree Cove, a beach accessible via a path from the car park by Start Farm. The view from the bench was of more headlands and coves, begging to be explored in any weather.
With time but not tide against me I retraced my footsteps back to Start Point Lighthouse, taking photos every few minutes. So much to see, so many changes happening all at once. The sky, the shadows, the sea. You can walk miles along the South West Coast Path, in fact you can walk nearly 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset.
Route: Hallsands Village to Great Mattiscombe Sand
Map of Walking Route
Distance: 4.6 miles (7.4 km)