We set off early on Good Friday – my husband, myself and my mother-in-law – determined to beat the traffic. We arrive in Wembury, Devon, four and a half hours later and end up being the first people in the pub. Well, we wanted to have an early lunch, didn’t we?
From Wembury there is a footpath along a track, leading down to Warren Point, where the ferry would arrive from Noss Mayo – if it was running. It took us some time to find the start of the track. Wembury is littered with signs that warn of private roads and dead ends. A sign that said ‘footpath this way’ would have been appreciated, but is sadly lacking.
At the bottom of the track is a small cottage and here I stop to look over the mouth of the River Yealm, to the area where I finished my last walk.
I had assumed the seasonal ferry wasn’t running until April and I wondered why a group of young people were heading towards the ferry slipway, and assumed they would be disappointed. Unknown to me, the ferry service had resumed a few days ago – I should have checked the internet. So, I foolishly missed out on a wonderful ferry crossing.
I walk westwards along the coast, following the well beaten track of the official South West Coast Path. The wind is ferocious and cold. Luckily it is blowing from the southeast, unusual for this area, and remains behind me for most of the day.
Ahead I can see the Great Mew Stone, guarding Wembury Bay. This rocky island has been a constant way-mark over the past few days of walking and, in a trick of perspective, it seems no nearer now than it was when I walked along from Stoke Beach.
I arrive at Wembury Beach. This is a pretty place, with low sandstone cliffs above granite rocks, a wide beach and a church perched on the hillside. In the cold wind, there are only a few people around, all bundled up to keep warm. This is where I find a sign telling me the Yealm ferry had started running a few days ago.
It is too cold to stop. I walk on towards Heybrook Bay. There is not much here, just a collection of holiday homes. I am surprised to find my husband’s car parked by the shore. It is empty. Where are they? I can’t see a cafe. Or a pub. There is no mobile signal and I am too cold to wait. It is nearly 4pm already, and I have a long way to go before it gets dark.
The Great Mew Stone is behind me. At last. I am making progress.
I do stop for a rest overlooking Renney Rocks. Here I have a quick snack and a drink. The rocks look fierce and I wonder how many ships have been wrecked along this coastline. The far rock on the right is called ‘Shag Stone’. I have come across a great many stones, rocks and islands with this name. It always makes me smile – in a school-girl way – when I see it marked on the map.
As I head towards Plymouth Sound my phone kicks into life with a belated text from my husband. He and his mother are on a road above Heybrook Bay and can see me. But by the time the text reaches me, they have moved on.
After a while, I come to Bovisand Bay, where there is a collection of holiday cabins. I have a flash of recognition. Once upon a time, in the 1970s, I think I stayed here. I was on an elective attachment at Plymouth Hospital, living in a shared room in the hospital, and booked a chalet here for a couple of weeks so that my boyfriend could join me.
I try to work out where we stayed. But everything has changed. I think there were more trees and, in my memory, we were in a cabin a fair way from the coast and in the shelter of a wooded slope. Looking at the sea front, I think there may have been several landslips since that time. The cabins seem nearer to the sea. Or it might just be my memory playing tricks.
(My elective attachment at Plymouth hospital was ruined because I got pyelonephritis, a nasty kidney infection, and started shaking madly with rigors due to the fever. I remember sitting in the doctor’s mess, too ill to go on the wards, shaking violently, and watching TV. It was the day Elvis Presley died. I still remember my shock when I heard that on the news.)
Looking across Bovisand Bay, I can see some sort of fortification on the other side. Beyond this is the water of Plymouth Sound, with a few navy vessels moving around. On this grey, cold day, there are none of the sailing ships I would expect to be out on a bank holiday weekend.
The fort is called Fort Bovisand, and is part of a line of historic fortifications guarding the Plymouth naval base and known as the Staddon Line. After crossing over Bovisand Beach, I end up walking around the fort, by mistake, while I search for the South West Coast Path on the other side of the beach. There are signs up warning I am on private property.
On the other side of Fort Bovisand is a quay-side area and there are numerous 4×4 vehicles here, all laden with diving equipment. A large group of divers are in the freezing water. I feel anxious, knowing I am not supposed to be here, but nobody challenges me. Later, I learn that a diving group – Discovery Divers – use this as a diving base.
Turning back, I walk towards Bovisand Beach and meet a middle-aged couple who have come to spend the weekend in one of the lodges. They aren’t sure where the path starts but they walk with me to try to find it. The man spots the sign before I do. The South West Coast Park is marked by yellow acorns (Acorns? I don’t know why either.) The sign is low, next to a patch of yellow daffodils, cunningly disguised as a daffodil flower head.
Thanking the couple, I follow the path up some steep steps. I find I am walking above Fort Bovisand and I can look down on the quay-side where the divers were congregating. There is no sign of them! How odd. Either they are underwater or they have packed up and gone home.
Beyond the fort is the low line of Plymouth Breakwater, protecting the boats in Plymouth Sound from the worst of the waves. Beyond that is the coastline of Cornwall. Cornwall! I am nearly done with Devon. The place I can see on the far shore is the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand. Tomorrow, I am planning to have lunch there. But first, I must finish today’s walk.
This path is wonderful. I walk on a ledge, high above the water, with Plymouth ahead of me. The wind whips my back. I am cold, despite my gloves and woolly hat. My enjoyment of the walk is spoiled by my worry about time. I’ve wasted about half an hour walking around the fort and it is nearly six o’clock. I begin to worry about finding the next ferry – the one that will take me into Plymouth – and I try to remember what time it stops running.
I pull out my phone. It won’t work. I power it back on and get a screen for a few seconds, then it goes blank again. For a moment I assume the battery is dead. But last time I looked I had 30% charge left. What is happening? I waste more time powering the phone up several times, only to have it go blank after a few seconds.
Now I am really worried. If I don’t make the last ferry, how will I let my husband know? He is expecting to meet me on Plymouth Hoe at 7pm.
Walking quickly through trees, I round a corner and am delighted to see the Mount Batten area of Plymouth lying in front of me. The Mount Batten ferry leaves from the other side of the mound. It looks so near, I feel I could reach out and touch it.
I hurry as fast as I can, coming down off the slope, passing through some pleasant parkland, past a cafe, and finally arriving at a car park at the foot of the mound of Mount Batten.
I ask a man the way to the ferry. “It’s called a water taxi,” he tells me. “It’s just by the pub. You can’t miss it.”
It is lucky I found him and that he knew where it was. There are no signs. Just beside the pub there is a gangway, but it is not marked as a ferry crossing, although there are posters displaying information about various boat trips. I don’t stop to see if there are any ferry signs with times, but walk quickly along the metal walkway.
There is a man at the end. He too is waiting for the ‘water taxi’. And it should be here at half six. It might be late. I ask him if he makes this trip often and he explains he has come over for a beer festival in one of the pubs in the Mount Batten area. Later, when I don’t have the right change for the ferry (it costs £1.50), and the ferry man is tutting over changing a £10 note, my new friend insists on paying my fare for me. Thank you. How very kind.
On the other side, he points me up the road that leads off to the left. If I follow the road, I will get to Plymouth Hoe.
He is right. I arrive on the Hoe at 6:58. My husband is standing by the lighthouse waiting. Bang on time!
The lighthouse is called Smeaton’s Tower – a name that sounds like something out of The Lord of The Rings. It is actually the top part of the 3rd Eddystone Lighthouse, so-called because it was built by John Smeaton in 1759 on the infamous Eddystone Rock. At the time it was a brilliant, pioneering design. After it grew unstable when its rocky base became eroded, it was moved from the Eddystone rock to Plymouth Hoe in 1882. It is often open to the public but, at 7pm on this chill Good Friday, its doors are firmly shut.
Later, in the warmth of the car, I discover my phone is working again.
Miles walked = 9 miles
High Points = seeing Plymouth Sound and the coast of Cornwall beyond.
Low Points = my phone dying and worrying about catching the ferry.