Section 4 - Salcombe to Torcross / Beesands – Devon Coast Path Route
Distance - 13 miles : Grade - Strenuous - What these grades mean.
Ferry Crossing at Salcombe (Salcombe Harbour)
After yet another ferry ride the walk today quickly thrusts you back into the rocky South Devon Coastline with a switchback of ascents and descents along what we call the “swine trail”, passing Devon’s southernmost point at Prawle and the lighthouse out at exposed Start Point. After looking down on the tragic lost village of Hallsands your day ends with the promise of something very different to come as you arrive in Torcross on the shingle banks, ready to “walk the line”
From the ferry landing in East Portlemouth you move out of the overnight tranquillity of Salcombe and back into harsh rocky path, caught between dramatic drops to the ocean on one side and jagged crags and pinnacles on the other.
Traverse this on the “swine trail” overcoming Pigs Nose, Ham Stone and rocky Gammon Head - the best formation of the three. A stark rocky limb thrust out into the ocean, it sits high above its own gem of a cove at Maceley (Elander) where two towering pillars of rock guard a near perfect strip of golden sand from the rest of the world.
A long way from the road and civilisation, this is one place you should have to yourself. With some effort you will arrive at Prawle point (meaning Lookout Hill and it certainly lives up to its name). This is the Southernmost tip of Devon where the offshore island boils with rare Cirl Bunting, great Skuas, kittiwakes, shags and Cormorants. A national coast watch lookout with a small visitor centre focussing on the birdlife sits on the cliffs whilst close by is another impressive natural rock arch.
The walk onto Start Point (steort meaning tail) becomes wilder and wilder. Gorse, bracken, pasture and high cliffs frame the path, but keep looking down for seals on the rocks along this section. The finger like headland at Start is one of the most exposed on this coast stretching almost a mile into the sea.
The lighthouse at its tip, built in 1836, is worth heading for and you can climb the 30m tower, reached along an exposed pinnacled spine of rocks the area around it streaked by quartz and schist formations over 395 million years old. Beyond Start, after more effort, you drop to the Viewing platform for the haunting, hollow shells that are all that remains of Hallsands. A village of 37 houses, a post office and The London Inn, serving a population of 128 which in February 1903 was devastated by a storm that took the first row of dwellings to the sea. A second gale in 1917 took away the rest through the night, somehow everyone survived, but the village was abandoned dramatically in the dark gale, the community broken by the waves, the houses never to be returned to. Today, a few ruins still cling on improbably to the rocky ledge below. Dredging for shingle offshore to be used back at Devonport (Plymouth) was to blame when it lowered the beach by 15 feet. At the time the theory was that the tide would replace the shingle...the theory failed and so the village was lost. As a local paper put it, The beach went to Devonport and the cottages went to the sea.
The final descent today is to Beesands now hiding behind huge defence boulders and rock walls to prevent it going the way of Hallsands. The Cricket Inn is a welcome break and still kept in good use by the local shell fisherman. If the tide is out you can walk along the pebbles to reach your overnight stop in nearby Torcross if you are unlucky grab a second drink as it’s an inland diversion around the remains of Beesands Quarry.