It is a beautiful day as I head down a quiet green lane, past the village church and onto a narrow tarmac road leading to Blackpool Sands. On the main road there is quite a lot of traffic but fortunately, a sign soon directs me down through some woodland where I am allowed a few tantalising glimpses of the beach.When I arrive I am pleased to see that the shop is open so I can buy some water – the shock of the Brixham to Kingswear walk without much water has taught me a lesson. Coming out of the shop I am momentarily dazzled by the display of coloured plastic paraphernalia – everything you need for a day at the seaside.From here I cannot walk along the coast due to a stretch of private property (and I still don’t understand how that can be legal) so following the directions of a friendly car park attendant I cross the road just in front of a row of pretty thatched cottages, to follow a track over a lovely stone bridge and then through into a steep green field.
Halfway across the field I realise I am heading for a corner with no apparent exit so retracing my steps I walk up the very steep slope to where I think I can see a coast path sign – I take another shot of Blackpool Sands from the top, it is such a lovely spot. Sure enough there is a sign pointing left up a grassy lane, ferns, nettles and brambles on both sides, not great when you’re wearing shorts.
Eventually I hit tarmac again – I am on the very busy road leading through Strete. There is a lot of traffic but just as I am beginning to worry about the very real possibility of having to jump into the hedge to avoid speeding cars, I am directed off the road and onto a purpose built lane for cyclists and pedestrians – relief.
After a while I come to Strete Gate and the landscape opens up with some wonderful views of a long swathe of sand on one side of the road and a lagoon on the other. This is Slapton Sands and I am not so enamoured when I realise it is actually very fine shingle. After five minutes of trudging I stop for a drink next to a striking piece of driftwood.There follows a bit of hopping from one tuft of wiry grass to another to avoid sinking into the sand until I decide to go back to the road.
At one point I walk past a war memorial erected to commemorate the loss of American servicemen involved in a secret rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Operation Tiger required the evacuation of 3,000 local residents from Slapton Sands which was chosen for its similarity to Utah Beach – a long flat stretch of gravelly sand backed by a lagoon. Nine hundred odd men lost their lives due to a combination of friendly fire incidents and an attack by E-boats of the German navy.After a stretch of easy walking on a grassy path, I walk into Torcross where I decide I need fuel. One of the many beneficial aspects of walking so many miles is that it allows me to quieten the guilt which would normally be brought on by eating Devonshire cream teas at any time of the day. Sitting in the glorious sunshine eating scones, jam and cream with a pot of tea is simply divine.
At the end of the Torcross seafront a flight of stone steps takes me up and over the promontory known as Limpet Rocks, down to a small shingle beach. Massive slate rocks sculpted by the waves are strewn across the beach – they make me think of Wales and the two large pieces we brought back from Snowdonia for our garden.The path now winds up through trees and shrubs but I am soon in Beesands where I have booked to stay the night. It is still quite early so after paring down my rucksack I set off to walk to Start Point. It is a strange thing about walking with weight on your back – you get so used to it that you only notice the difference when it’s taken off. I practically skip along the promenade and up the hill, over the next promontory and down to the beach at Hallsands. Hallsands is famous for its “lost cottages” washed away in the high tides and storms of 1917. Up until the late 19th century the village had been protected by a bank of shingle which was gradually removed as part of a scheme to expand the naval dockyard at Plymouth. Despite protests, the dredging continued for seven years – by that time it was too late.
The sea beneath me is a wondrous blue, the underside of rocks marked by bright purple smudges under the crystal clear water – despite the sunny day I meet very few people. Reaching the road down to the lighthouse I check my watch and wonder if I can cover a few more miles. A young couple wearing walking boots appear and I stop to get some local knowledge. I decide not to investigate the lighthouse but carry on walking to Lannacombe Beach. This last part of my walk is beautiful, the path winds along the top of the cliffs and at intervals looks down on small isolated coves where a few people are swimming – there is no road access.
And sooner than I expected I am looking down onto Lannacombe beach where a few families are catching the last of the sunshine. The tide is coming in and children are desperately trying to save the sand castles they have so painstakingly built during the day – their dismayed faces are a picture but in this day and age, taking obvious pictures of other people’s children can cause concern – sad.Lannacombe boasts a B&B, a horse, a few chickens and no mobile phone signal. It can only be accessed down a narrow dirt track which I start walking up to meet my taxi back to Beesands. I make a note to come back to this beautiful spot one day and stay a few days.