The road is busy with traffic and I am pleased, after a short distance, to see a signpost for the South West Coast Path – but less pleased when I realise that, annoyingly, the ‘coast’ path heads inland. I puff and pant as I climb up a steep hill. But at the top there is a great view back down to the beach.
The path follows an old bridle way and then takes me through open fields and over the top of the hill.
I meet a couple walking from the opposite direction. They look at my walking poles and say ‘Oh, we wish we hadn’t left our poles at home.’ I feel a twinge of smug satisfaction because I remembered to bring mine this time. (Later I will realise exactly why they were eyeing my poles with envy.)
The path slants downwards, following a hedgerow, and I emerge from undergrowth surprised to find myself back on the coast road.
I realise I have managed to avoid only a very short stretch of road walking – and at the cost of climbing over the top of a steep hill. I feel worn out already, and the day’s walk has hardly begun!
On the other side of the road, I spot the coastal footpath sign, indicating the path simply crosses the road at this point. Oh good, I’m heading back towards the shoreline. But, after I cross the road, I gasp when I see the route the path takes – a zig zag ‘sheep’ trail down an incredibly steep grassy slope.
Wow. I’m glad I’ve brought my poles. And I’m glad the ground is dry – this would be treacherous if muddy. I zig-zag my way downhill. At the bottom of the valley is a small stretch of sandy beach but I don’t linger. (I realise I have only managed to progress a few hundred yards along the coast and I have spent about an hour doing it.)
The climb up the other side of this little valley is steep. But there are great views from the top, back to Blackpool Sands and beyond to the mouth of the River Dart and the island of Mew Stone. Just below me, overlooking the little beach, I see the private house and grounds that forced the detour away from the coast.
I come across a fields of cows. I’m not fond of cows. They are big and heavy and several walkers every year are injured by cows – some even die. I avoid looking at the animals and keep my eyes on the path – having been warned by another keen walker (The Helpful Mammal) that it is best not to look directly at cattle, because they regard a full-on stare as the mark of a predator.
As I make my way cautiously across the field, towards where the cows are huddled around the stile on the far side, I am reassured by the sight of a man with a bike over his shoulder. He swings himself down off the stile and starts walking, through the cows, up the path towards me. It must be safe!
As I walk towards the man with the bike, I realise the cows are following him in a menacing group, a few yards off his shoulder. We meet on the path. He seems pleased to see me. “I hope they’re friendly,” he says. The cows encircle us. I realise he is just as anxious as I am.
“I don’t like cows either,” I say. “But it’s best not to look directly at them.” “They’re not cows,” he says. And I risk a glance over his shoulder and realise he is right. They are bulls!(Well, OK, to be absolutely accurate – they are bullocks.)
We stand looking at each other while the circling bullocks come even closer.
“I did make the mistake of looking directly at them,” he says. “Then I saw you coming and assumed you knew it was safe.”
Oh crikey! That was his second big mistake!
There is a bull directly behind me now, I can feel its hot breath close to my ear. Then something warm and wet – on my upper arm. What? It’s licking me. I must taste of salt. Its tongue is remarkably smooth and reassuringly gentle.
“I think they’re friendly,” I say.
We stay still on the path while the bullocks continue to circle us. Then one bullock, overcome with excitement, tries to mount another. This causes a commotion and the animals turn their attention away from us, moving off in a little stampede away from the path. We take the opportunity to move on. He asks me if this path leads to Stoke Fleming. I say it does, but warn him the way ahead is very steep.
From a safe distance, I take a photo of the bulls and another couple of hapless walkers making their way across the field.
The path joins the road at Strete and, despite the lack of consistent pavements, I am almost glad of the traffic – it makes a welcome change from cattle.
As I leave Strete behind, I can glimpse great views over Start Bay and the distant finger of Start Point. I’m not planning to get as far as the Point today. In-between lies the low flat strip of sand with a lagoon behind. That is Slapton Sands and I am looking forward to some proper beach walking.
Slapton Sands is a great stretch of unspoilt beach of coarse sand and fine shingle. Although there are plenty of people around, there is plenty of space for holiday makers to find their own private areas. The weather is fine – intermittent sunshine and a light breeze – not hot but pleasantly mild.
This has been one of those long featureless stretches when I just get into the swing of walking and my mind can wander – free of my usual worries about getting lost and untroubled by thoughts of dealing with fierce farmland animals.
At the time, I am unaware of the significance of this area, but later I learn Slapton Sands was the scene of a terrible disaster during WW2, when nearly 1,000 American service men were killed during a rehearsal exercise for the D Day landings at Utah Beach. The exact nature and extent of the tragedy were kept secret for many years.
You can read more about Exercise Tiger on the website http://www.shermantank.co.uk and the efforts of one local man, Ken Small, to unravel the mystery.
Torcross is a tiny place – but I am spoiled for choice with cafes and pubs. I meet my husband and we have an enjoyable lunch sitting on the promenade, overlooking Start Bay.
After lunch, I continue southwards and make my way upwards and over the rocky promontory that separates Slapton Sands from Beesands. I stop to take photographs of the wonderful view – looking down onto Torcross and the beach beyond.
Beesands is another stretch of glorious beach, with a lagoon behind, and the promontory of Start Point curving round as a protective arm.
I had no idea this area of the coast was so beautiful. In fact, I had never heard of Slapton Sands or Beesands before. As I stop to take photographs, a couple come puffing up the path ahead of me.
“Isn’t it lovely,” they say. “It’s Devon’s best kept secret,” I reply. “Shhh,” they put fingers to their lips in unison, “don’t tell anyone.” Sorry. Just had to let it slip out on my blog…
Beesands is a small collection of private houses and there are fishing boats drawn up above the beach and a collection of lobster pots
I see the rather unpleasant sight of two gutted eels hanging from a pole. (At least, I think they are eels. They may be another type of sea creature – I am not a fisherman.)
I follow the short promenade and get ready to begin the climb up and over the next promontory.
My final destination is Hallsands, a couple of miles further along, where I am planning to meet my husband. Part of Hallsands has been washed away by the sea and I am looking forward to seeing what remains of the lost cottages.
From the top of the promontory, the view down into Hallsands is lovely. The path ends in a steep scramble down a grassy slope. Hallsands itself is a collection of houses on the other side of small beach. Beyond I can see the high land where the path goes over the top of the cliffs towards Start Point. It is going to be a great walk tomorrow, I think. With the failing light and increasing tiredness, I am glad my walk today is nearly over.
The two eldest Trout sisters became fisherwomen – taking out the family boat – after their father died. Ella Trout was famous for a daring attempt to save the lives of sailors after their ship was blown up by a mine. She was awarded the OBE for her bravery.
Unfortunately, the Trout sisters, along with other residents who lost their homes, appear to have been cheated out of proper financial compensation. You can read more about this shameful story on the BBC website.
Having lingered at the platform, I pick up a text message from my husband. He is out on his bike and has a puncture. He can’t fix it because his pump is broken. He can’t walk in his cycling shoes and is attempting to hitch a lift to a garage that has a pump. He may be some time.
There is no cafe in Hallsands and no pub in which I can wait. The countryside around is empty of towns and villages. I look ahead across blue water to Start Point and its light house. Well, I might as well carry on my walk.
I send my husband a text asking him to meet me at the Start Point car park.
The next section of the walk, between Hallsands and the car park at Start Point, is very beautiful. The path winds along the top of cliffs – across rocky areas and through bushes and shrubs. On my left is the blue expanse of Start Bay and open sea beyond. Ahead is the white tower of the lighthouse, growing steadily larger as I progress. I meet a few fellow walkers and there is the occasional motor boat in the sea below. Otherwise, the area appears deserted.
When I arrive at the car park, there are three or four cars parked but they begin to leave as their occupants return from along the track to the lighthouse. Soon I am alone.
The sun is very low and there is a chilly wind blowing in from the east. I curse myself for deciding to wear shorts today and not proper trousers,
I sit on a rock step below the stile that leads to the track. Here I am sheltered from the wind and have a great view of the bay and beaches along which I recently walked. It is getting dark. I wrap myself in my waterproof jacket, and set about eating the entire contents of my snack box.
My husband arrives in the twilight, an hour later. He hadn’t bothered to look at his mobile phone and failed to pick up my last message. He had been waiting for me back at Hallsands.
Miles walked = 8 miles
High points = the unexpected and beautiful views and beaches.
Low points = getting cold at the end of the day.