I walk along the pretty quayside of Dartmouth Harbour – crowded with visitors on this lovely August day. Passing the ferry slipway (where I arrived on my previous day of walking), I head up the steep road leading southwards and out of town. This will take me towards the mouth of the river and the open sea beyond.
On the way up, I stop for a breather and to take photographs of the great views looking down onto Dartmouth and the River Dart. The water is busy with yachts and the regular, crossing ferries.
[ And here is a wonderful painting made of the view, looking back at Dartmouth, as created by my Artist in Residence, Tim Baynes.]
Overlooking the narrow entrance to the river, there sits a church and a castle and a cafe. (On the opposite side of the river sits the counterpart castle – the one I couldn’t visit when on my last walk because it was ‘private’ and ‘dangerous’.)
There a lot of people milling about. You can look round Dartmouth castle which is run by English Heritage. But I don’t stop. I have walking to do.
The next section of the walk is tiring but lovely. I follow a winding path that dips up and down, following the coast line through woods. Between the trees I get glimpses of hidden bays and the path sends off narrow branches that drop down into secret coves.
A sign post tells me this is Sugary Cove, not marked on the map as such. What a lovely name!
I reach Blackstone Point and the scenery changes. I have left the shelter of the wooded slopes and find myself walking along an exposed rocky shoreline. As I round the point, the wind picks up. Here is the open sea. The mouth of the river and its sheltered harbour is left behind. An empty, wilder, landscape stretches ahead.
I check my watch. I’m not making good time. The ups and downs of the wooded walk past Sugary Cove took longer to navigate than I expected. I hope I can pick up speed.
To begin with, the path follows the top of a sea wall. I have to watch my footing, but make good progress. Further along, my pace slows as the path begins to climb.
High above the sea, I look back and stop to enjoy my last sight of the beautiful bay at the mouth of the River Dart. I am about to round a promontory and leave this view behind. I take more photographs. On the far shore, I can see where I walked on my previous walk – the wooded slopes where I struggled up and down towards the end of the long, hard trek between Brixham and Kingswear.
This section of the South West Coast Path passes across National Trust Property. These are grazing lands, although I see no livestock today, and the grass is neat and cropped. But despite the well-worn path and the lovely weather (after weeks of unrelenting rain) I meet very few other people walking along this beautiful section of the coastline.
I come to a promontory and notice some dramatic rock formations just off the shore – jagged little islands with their dangerous teeth poking above the waves. A young couple are admiring the view – the first people I have seen for some time. I check my map and I think these rocks are called the ‘Dancing Beggars’.
There are some hunched shapes moving about on the rocky islands. At first, I think some brave fishermen are perched precariously on these spiny outcrops, but I soon realise the shapes are not human, but cormorants. It is a long time since I last saw these birds and am pleased to find them here.
I continue walking along the path, which follows the shore high above the sea, before it begins to curve inland. I check my map and realise that at this point the footpath leaves the coast. (More private property with no right of way, I’m afraid.)
There then follows a rather boring walk along a narrow country lane where, thank goodness, I don’t meet any traffic, until I find myself in the village of Stoke Fleming.
I stop to rest on a bench and check my map. I was hoping to get to the village of Strete today, but I am tired and not sure if I want to walk much further.
Then I notice something strange about the house across the street. It took me a few seconds to realise what I was looking at. Can you spot it? The surreal sight of a post box suspended high in the air, between the windows of the first floor?
The next section of walk is along a busy coastal road. According to my map, the official South West Coast Path detours inland for a short section, following a quieter lane. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to detour or not (my ‘rule’ is to stick as close to the coast as I can). In the event, the decision is taken out of my hands because I miss the start of the detour.
The road has no pavements but, luckily, traffic is fairly light. And I am able to stop and take some photographs of the bay ahead. The light is poor – the sun being low and straight ahead of me – but I can see a wonderful, long, golden beach ahead. Tomorrow’s walk looks promising!
I find a footpath running parallel to the road and am glad to get away from the traffic. With bushes and trees between myself and the sea, I don’t get a view of where I’m heading. I only know the footpath is leading me downwards.
I emerge onto an access road leading to a beach and a car park. I walk down the road towards the beach and am amazed to find myself in a delightful cove with a beautiful curve of sand. Although it is late afternoon, there are people swimming and sunning themselves. And best of all, there is a beach cafe where I buy a cold drink and, after a few moments of indecision, I treat myself to an ice cream cone.
I phone my husband to tell him I’m not going to make it to Strete, but he can find me on Blackpool beach. He is momentarily confused – ‘Blackpool?’. Yes. That is what this lovely place is called, although I discover later that the locals refer to it as Blackpool Sands.
Tomorrow is another day of walking and, according to the map, I can look forward to a long section of flat land along Slapton Sands. After all the ups-and-downs and hills of the past few weeks, I am looking forward to it.
Distance travelled= 5 miles