Section 1. Plymouth to Noss Mayo - Devon Coast Path
Distance 15 miles on the full Waterfront Walk OR 10 miles taking the Barbican Ferry Option. Grade - Easy - What this grade means.
Ferry Crossing at Mount Batten Plymouth (Cattewater) if taking the shorter route of 10 miles. Ferry Crossing from Wembury to Noss May (River Yealm)
An absorbing first mornings walk through the Maritime past and present of Plymouth prepares you for an afternoon amble along gentle cliffs and beaches in the gateway to the South Hams area of Devon. By the end of the day you will have experienced both the bustle of the city and the emptiness and isolation of the rural Coast Path. A great introduction to the Devon Coastal Path which will have you well and truely inducted into the astonishing variety of environments to come over the next weeks walk.
The mistake of many is to see the section out of Plymouth as something to be avoided or rushed through, but have patience... there are more than enough wild cliffs and hidden coves to come. Here, in contrast, the South West Coast Path treads the Waterfront Walkway, which is a ten mile trail linking Plymouth's stunning viewpoints with a rich variety of maritime history, architecture, poetry and sculpture along what is rightly claimed to be the finest urban seascape in England.
For those arriving from Cornwall or embarking from Plymouth the walk begins at the Cremyll ferry which has linked the Devon and Cornwall since 705AD. En route to the Hoe you will pass an array of impressive 19C Naval yards, barracks and docks as views open out over Devils Island and the Plymouth Sound. Pause at the Wall of Stars commemorating the famous who landed here, Isambard Brunel’s Four Foot Dock Spanner, a life-size sculpture of a stack of gold heading for the American Fort Knox reserve.
At the open, grassy, West Hoe you find a fantastic sea panorama where the red and white Smeaton's Tower dominates, a miracle in itself as it used to stand 14 miles away on the deadly Eddystone rocks before being dismantled and rebuilt brick by brick on its present spot. Next, the Royal Citadel - a massive fortress built to protect the town and within which the infamous bowls game took place as Drake waited for tide to come in so he could set out to tackle the Armada.
The Devon Coast Path now enters the oldest part of the city, the former Saxon Fishing Village at the Barbican. With it's cobbled streets and quays now offering cafes and art galleries in timber framed houses laid in a jumble of jetties and small boats, everyone passing here should step onto the The Mayflower steps. Plaques commemorate this spot where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail to “discover” the new world in 1620, Charles Darwin left for his voyage of discovery on the Beagle and Captain James Cooke headed out to his infamous pacific adventures. It was also the embarkation steps for thousands of convicts in the 19th Century marked for transportation to the new lands of Australia. So much of the modern world began from such a small flight of steps.
For the impatient a ferry service from here to Mountbatten point can be used to cut short this section by five miles. For the rest of us, stay on the Coast Path and leaving the centre on a disused railway you will stumble across the almost landlocked Hooe Lake where St Walter Raleigh rowed his last and possibly shortest journey on the water before he went to be beheaded at the scaffold. The Devon Coastal path crosses below Radford Lake on a narrow causeway underneath the archways of Radford Castle.
To Mountbatten point, a former Iron Age fort and Civil War battleground. The hotel here was a guano processing plant in a former life. Pass below what looks like an old Martello / artillery Tower at Jennycliff with its swimming beach and onto Bovisand Fort. It's sturdy harbour was built to provide ships with fresh water, saving them from having to sail through tricky Devil’s Point to the city. Built in the early 1800’s, 23 huge gun casements sit within hefty granite walls, said to be up to 30ft thick in places.
The trail now opens out and it's easy walking for the rest of the day, wandering a gorse and bracken lined run of low cliffs crossing little streams on small footbridges as you head towards Wembury. Offshore is the steep sided triangular looking Mew Stone (Mew meaning Gull), now owned by the MOD. You can still spot the remains of a ruin - home to a prisoner incarcerated there for 7 years for some minor offence in 1744....his daughter Black Bess stayed on and reportedly brought up 3 children out there. In later years one Sam Wakeham ran a rabbit warren on this outcrop and would take curious visitors out to the rock for 2 pence or some snuff if they waved a white handkerchief from the mainland. You end the day entering the Voluntary Marine Conservation Area at the sandy village of Wembury and overnight either here or on the other side of the Yealm River in part of “the Noss Mayo triangle of villages”.