[It turns out that, YES, this is the awful Japanese Knotweed and it’s running rampant in this area. Maybe this is why the car park isn’t signposted?]
The first section of the walk is through fields, high above the sea. I meet a few gentlemen, out walking their dogs on this sunny Sunday morning.
I look back, across St Mary’s Bay, to Berry Head, where I walked yesterday.
And I look ahead where the South West Coast Path stretches before me, crossing a grassy meadow and heading over Southdown Cliff. This is National Trust property and it looks lovely. I’m glad I didn’t try to attempt this yesterday, when I was tired and the light was dull.
The long grass is wet from last night’s rain and my lower legs are soon damp. I consider putting on my gaiters, but realise it is probably too late. And, in any case, I have nowhere dry to sit.
From Southdown Cliff, there is a lovely view. I stop to take photographs. Ahead I can see a small beach and a few houses beyond. This is Man Sands. In the further distance is the mound of Scabbacombe Head.
The ground slopes steeply down to sea level. The grass underfoot is wet and slippery. I pick my way down carefully, glad I brought my walking poles.
Then I spot the stream that crosses the pebbly beach. From this height, the water looks narrow and, even if there are no stepping-stones, I believe I can step across it in an easy stride.
In fact, the stream is swollen from the recent rain and, when I get down to the little beach, I realise the distance between the two banks is more than I can stride.
Meanwhile, a young family have arrived along the track on the far side. They are wearing wellies and cross the stream easily by splashing through it.
‘Don’t look,’ I tell them. ‘We won’t,’ they promise. I take a few steps back and begin running across the pebbly beach.
I almost make it. One foot lands on dry pebbles. The other foot lands in the shallow margins on the far side of the stream. Although the depth is too shallow to cover my boot, the water splashes up, cold and wet, onto my lower trouser leg and runs down onto my sock and into my boot.
The family, in the mistaken belief that I landed without problem, cheer and clap. Then they remember – ‘we weren’t looking really’ – and laugh.
I sit on some steps at the edge of the beach and take off my shoe and wet sock. Luckily my boot lining is only mildly damp. Ever since a particularly wet walk though Boyton Marshes in Suffolk, I carry a dry pair of socks. I change my wet sock for a dry one and then I continue on my way.
I walk along high ground. Some distance below me is a strip of beach called Long Sands. I am not sure if there is an easy route down. Perhaps the easiest way to access this beach is by boat.
Meanwhile, ahead I see another little beach. Scabbacombe Sands. There are a few people walking here.
This beach is accessible from a car park – although the car park is not visible because it is about half a mile inland, along a rough track. It is the remoteness of these lovely pebbly beaches that keeps the crowds away and contributes to the beauty of this unspoiled stretch of coast.
I scramble down the path to almost sea level and on the way back up the other side I stop for a breather and to take more photographs of this lovely little bay.
As I rest, I see a rubber boat with an outboard motor entering the cove. A man splashes off the boat and wades ashore, before pulling the boat onto the beach. The boat is full of young people wearing life jackets. They have arrived here the easy way.
Shortly after leaving the beach, I am overtaken by a lady with a dog. She looks remarkably fit and I would guess her age to be anywhere between late fifties and late sixties. She stops to talk to me. Apparently she comes here every day to swim at Scabbacombe sands – starting in March and continuing until November.
She tells me the way ahead is fairly easy, apart from the climb up to Scabbacombe Head. And she apologises for walking quickly, but she is cold from her swim and keen to get home. I ask her if she wears a wet suit or a body suit. She looks horrified at the thought. ‘Oh no, that seems like cheating.’
Then she disappears along the path and, walking much quicker than I, is soon lost from my view. I have no idea where she lives, but there is nothing around for miles, so she must have walked some way to get here.
After losing sight of the swimmer-lady, I meet nobody else for the next hour and a half. Compared to the crowded paths around Weymouth and the busy Lulworth Cove, where there were hundreds of people, this is bliss – and it is exactly what I imagined coast walking to be like.
The rest of my walk is fairly strenuous and the scenery is empty and beautiful. The path is narrow and hugs the shore, winding over grassy areas, rocky outcrops, going up and down with the contours of the coastline. Lovely.
Later, I decide this is the best day of walking yet.
Scabbacombe Head is a heaped mass of gently curving headland and it is difficult to decide when I have reached the top or rounded the point.
Beyond Scabbacombe, the coast curves inwards to Pudcombe Cove and beyond is a succession of small coves.
I have the mistaken impression that I am nearly at the end of my walk. In fact, the ups-and-downs of this section of coast make for difficult (albeit beautiful) walking, and I take far longer than I anticipate to reach Dartmouth.
It is early afternoon. I stop above Pudcombe cove for a snack lunch and after I have finished eating, I set up the camera for a self-portrait.
I have not met another human being for over an hour, not since the swimming lady, and I am not expecting what happens next. Just as the shutter clicks, a black labrador rounds a corner in the path and runs across in front of me. There he is. In the photo.
As I walk down into Pudcombe cove, through woodland, I meet people out for a Sunday session of bird watching. At the bottom, there is a wooden platform and a collection of men with cameras on tripods. And some bored looking wives.
Beyond Pudcombe, I walk along more lovely coastline, getting progressively more overgrown with trees, until I reach Inner Forward Point. Now I can see the wide water of Start Point Bay and, nearer to me, the mouth of the river Dart.
The light is dull and I am getting tired. The shore is woody and I lose track of where I am.
Then I come across some concrete bunkers, left over from World War II. Here were artillery guns, guarding the mouth of the river. And, leading up from the gun platforms, a set of rail tracks where a little tram used to run, carry ammunition down to the guns.
I make my way up the steep track.
From here, the South West Coast Path plunges up and down through dense tree cover. I barely see the sea, so thick is the foliage. Surely I am nearly there?
Through a gap in the trees, I look down on this little craggy cove – Mill Bay Cove – with a castle tower on the far point.
Sadly, when I finally emerge near the castle, the land turns out to be private property and you can’t get access to the castle. In any case, other warning signs tell me the ruined remains are unsafe. What a shame.
This is no longer National Trust land – but is privately owned. Signs tell me to stay on the foot path.
After another steep, punishing climb out of a valley, I arrive on a roadway. The walking is easy now. Following the track, and then passing through a park area, and another track, I head into Kingswear.
Kingswear is probably prettier from a distance. But when you approach the village along the coast path, you are constrained by tall walls and houses, and you can’t see the river below or really get a sense of where you are.
So it was almost a shock to suddenly emerge unto a road by the river and to find, straight ahead of me, a slipway with a rather scruffy little car ferry waiting to cross over to Dartmouth.
‘Do you take passengers?’ Yes, of course. ‘Oh good. I’m very pleased to see you,’ I tell him.
There is nowhere to sit. I stand beside the side rail. There is a single car waiting with me. No other passengers. The ferry is lying alongside a tugboat. This starts up with a great rumbling sound – making me jump – and pulls the ferry platform across the flowing river.
The journey costs me £1.10 and, when we reach Dartmouth, I take a photo of the ferryman in front of the ferry. Later, I realise this is the Lower Ferry . There is an upper car ferry too, and a passenger ferry – both much bigger than this.
Below is a photograph of the ferry with its tugboat. On the other side is Kingswear and the wooded headland at the mouth of the River Dart.
My husband is waiting for me by the passenger ferry. He sends me a txt to tell me I’m not on the passenger ferry as expected and he will wait for the next one. I tell him I’ve already arrived in Dartmouth and I walk up the river to meet him on the riverside wharf.
Miles walked = 9
High points = the wonderful unspoilt coastline.
Low points = none!