What a difference a day makes. Today, when I arrive at Dawlish station, the sun is shining!
Ahead I can see green fields, gentle waves, red cliffs and strange rock formations. In the far, blue distance is a low headland and beyond this an island. (Later, I realise this is Hope’s Ness, marking the beginning of the bay of Torbay. The island is Ore Stone)
At the end of the beach, the railway tracks dive into a tunnel and disappear. The path crosses the line via a footbridge and then climbs up over the cliffs of the headland.
This is a popular walk, although very steep. I meet people going up and down. As I stop to rest and take a photograph of the view, I find myself next to a man who is taking photos too. We keep stopping at the same places. He points out his wife waiting on seafront below. She is not making the climb. He already has a photograph of this view on his desktop computer at home, but he wants to update it.
Below lies Dawlish, with its beach and railway station and, in the far distance, I can see Red Rock (Langstone Rock on my OS map) where I walked in the wind and rain yesterday, alongside a fierce and unfriendly sea. How different it looks today in the sunshine.
In the far distance is Exmouth and the promontory where the rifle range sits. Beyond that is the low-lying landscape of Budleigh Salterton. I look into the far distance and try to see the hump of Portland, but it must surely be below the horizon from here.
The two pointed rocks in the photo are, I think, The Parson and The Clerk. Which is which? I am not sure.
Unfortunately, you can’t remain walking beside the sea – the way is barred by private property. I have to walk along residential roads for a short distance, before a footpath leads off to the left and takes me back to the edge of the cliff above the sea.
In this area, the South West Coast Path is marked by these acorn signs and not by the usual finger sign posts. This can make it hard to spot the correct route.
From here, I walk along the edge of fields. The railway line runs between the footpath and the sea. Tall fences prevent pedestrian access to the line.
As I begin the climb upwards, I find the path is muddy with red soil, as sticky as clay, and slippery underfoot. I am glad I have my poles.
I am puffing and panting, and nearly at the top, when I meet a man with two sons coming down towards me. “It’s not that bad,” he says. “Just you wait till you reach the slippery bit,” I think to myself. And they have no poles.
At the top, I sit on a bench and have a drink of water and get my breath back. The path heads inland again and follows the main road for a short section, before I find a rough lane leading back to the sea. I walk through trees and there is a tiny stream running along the side of the track.
The track reaches a little water inlet and there are a number of people here with dogs (dogs being banned from many sections of the beach, but not from this one). There is a slippery walkway leading under the railway bridge, to the beach.
When I reach the beach, I see a finger of rock sticking up, just offshore from the cliff face. I am pretty sure
this is Shag Rock. Not so-called because of any resemblance to a human appendage, but because of the sea birds that sit on it.
[Note: since posting this blog, I gather this particular rock might be the Parson and Clerk and not the Shag!]
From here, there is an easy walk along the sea wall, towards Teignmouth (pronounced Tinmouth). I make good progress. Trains pass by. I notice how the rail starts ‘singing’ before the train arrives. There is a fishy, salty, tang to the air. A gentle breeze. Lovely.
There are a few people are on the beach (it is chilly despite the intermittent sunshine), with many more are strolling along the wall walk-way. I am tempted to drop down to the beach too, and walk along the red-brown sand. But the steps down look frighteningly steep and I would only have to climb up again a few hundred yards later.
As I begin to walk into Teignmouth itself, the railway line peel off and heads inland to station. The sea wall widens and becomes a proper promenade.
It is midday. I stop at a cafe on the prom and have a cream tea for lunch.
I walk past the pier and, just inside the river mouth, I find a beach area called the ‘back beach’ and a ferry sign. The Teignmouth to Shaldon ferry is one of the oldest ferry crossings in England. The alternative crossing point is a road bridge, half a mile inland of here.
At first, I am the only person waiting but, by the time the ferry chugs across, there is quite a queue behind me.
The little ferry is very attractive and has a little gangplank. The crossing costs £1:50 and is over very quickly.
We arrive on the beach at Shaldon. This is a very pretty place. But I mustn’t linger. I want to get to Torquay by this evening and I have a long way to go yet.
The South West Coast Path starts up again at the far side of a hotel car-park. I head up a slope, walking on bare ground under old pine tress, towards the high point of The Ness. From the top, there is a break in the greenery and a chance to admire the fantastic view – down onto Teignmouth and back along the coast towards Exmouth.
I walk southwards with tall bushes on my left, obscuring the view of the sea, and woodland on my right. The path becomes difficult to follow – with hanging bushes, tall nettles and sticky mud underfoot.
I meet a young woman. She asks me if you can get down to the beach this way. I tell her ‘no’. She is frustrated because she has seen a lovely beach below, but can’t find a way down. She has been helping a friend with a stall at a craft fair and took the day off today to spend on the beach.
We walk together for a while. This path is narrow and overgrown, and very muddy. We can’t see the sea, although we know it is just on our left. Nettles lean in our way. Small trees have tumbled down and at one point we have to duck low to get beneath a fallen branch. I lose the rubber tip of one of my poles in the mud.
‘You go on,’ I tell her, and I begin searching in the mud, probing with my poles, to try to find the lost tip. But I have no luck.
When I overtake her, she points and I can see the beach below and behind us now. There are people on it. How do you get down? We decide access must be through a tunnel – maybe from the nearby zoo. You certainly can’t get down to it from this path.
There is a car park near here, and she keeps to the high ground, heading back to her car.
I walk through fields of wild flowers and distant cows.
The path ducks down and up. You could stick to high ground if you wish. But I follow the twistings of the proper coastal path.
I walk along by fences, through woods, up and down. Ahead I can see the curve of Babbacombe Bay and the distant headland of Hope’s Ness seems as far away as ever. I realise I am making little progress, despite all my efforts.
One section of the path takes me down a very steep flight of steps, I walk along by the sea – but can’t see the water because of the dense bush on either side. Then the path turns inland again and I find myself scrambling up a steep, muddy path. Arriving at the top, gasping for breath, I discover I have travelled less than a 100 yards from where I started my descent. And it took me over 10 minutes.
Is this some sort of cruel joke?
Now I follow a path that hugs the shoreline, overgrown with trees, part of a circular nature trail. I can’t see far ahead and I’m not sure where I am. I am beginning to feel very fed up, when I suddenly find myself at the end of a narrow lane. This is the village of Maidencombe and there is a pub here.
It is 3 pm. My cream tea ‘lunch’ seems a long time ago. I stop at the pub and eat a proper meal – a goat’s cheese tart with salad – and a glass of cider.
After this, I feel much better. I check my map and realise there is little prospect of reaching my hotel on the southern side of Torquay today.
Between Maidencombe and Watcombe, you can’t follow the coast. When I leave the pub, I walk up a very steep road (marked with two chevrons on the map) for a short distance, and then signs point me along a gentle track that winds through farmyard.
After that, I walk through lovely woods and really enjoy this section.
I come to a quiet road and there is a young family struggling up the road, presumably coming home from the beach. I think this must be Watcombe beach, but there are no signs telling me where I am. A young girl throws herself on the tarmac and wails ‘I’m not walking no more.’ Her father has to pick her up and carry her. I know how she feels.
The footpath crosses over the road, and I carry on, walking through an old forest with very large trees forming a dense green canopy overhead, and rich red soil beneath my feet. The light is dim. And it is very quiet. The only noise I can here is bird song. Fantastic.
After a while, I begin to meet a few other walkers, mainly men with dogs, and know I must be nearing Torbay. Here the path seems to come to an abrupt dead-end (I find out why the next day). But through a gap in the trees I have a good view of Long Quarry Point, with Black Head beyond and the finger of Hope’s Ness reaching out to the island Ore Stone rock.
Then I find myself on a road. I am in the St Marychurch area on the north side of Torquay. I am tired and have had enough walking for today. A man with a dog points me to the nearest bus stop.
Distance travelled = 9 miles.
Terrain = strenuous.
Torquay and public transport, a mild rant:
I came down to Torbay by train. Now, I very much liked Torquay, but I don’t think the local authority has properly grasped how useful it is for visitors to have easy access to public transport.
- The wonderful little station at Torquay is not served (as far as I could work out) by a public bus. In other words, if you arrive in Torbay by train, there are no buses to take you onwards. You have to use a taxi or walk.
- The Torbay Council website does provide a map of bus routes, but this involves downloading a massive 6MB PDF file (not easy for a visitor who may not have access to WiFi and may only have a smart phone display to look at)
- After you download the 6 MB map, you will find it consists of thick coloured lines drawn in a schematic way (like a London tube map). This means there is no easy way to work out where on earth the bus stops actually are. I spent at least an hour with my iPad, flicking between a Google street map and the schematic bus map before I gave up trying to work it out.
- There are no route maps on the bus stops, only bus numbers. So you can’t tell where the bus is going. The bus stops I used had no individual names displayed, making it difficult to return to the same stop.
- Needless to say, there are no electronic notice boards telling you when the next bus is due to arrive.
- When I asked where the bus station was, everyone kept telling me ‘All the buses stop at The Strand.’ No bus route on the map mentioned ‘The Strand’, which is a 100 yard stretch of road near the marina, and not the official bus station at all, though clearly local people regard it as the equivalent of a bus station.
- And finally, of course, when you approach someone in the street and ask for help finding the right bus stop, the chances are you end up talking to a tourist and they are just as lost as you are.
So, all in all, using public transport was a challenge in Torquay!