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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Walk 129 Brixham to Kingswear (Devon)

Walk 129 Brixham to Kingswear (Devon)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End)

Map: L/R 202
Distance: 12 miles or 19km approx
Difficulty: challenging, some steep paths to the coves.
Terrain: mainly cliff coastal path
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: 18, 18A bus between the two towns.

Start the walk at Brixham Harbour. In the 1880s the town was the country’s leading fishery. Every year the town celebrates the old Brixham Trawlers (powerful fishing smacks) with a ‘sail’ race around Torbay.

At the inner harbour can be seen an impressive replica of the Golden Hind opened in 1963. It is very popular with tourists and is often used by schools as a learning resource. Look out for The Mayflower Garden near the quayside put together by locals as part of a Pride in Brixham event. A replica of The Mayflower (Mayflower 2) was built in Brixham and sailed to the USA in the 1950s.

Near here is Greville House which was built as an orphanage in 1813 as part of the Torbay and Dartmouth Mission. It provided for the sons of deceased British seamen and was last used as an orphanage in 1988. It was reopened by the charity in 1990 as an outdoor education centre.

Brixham earned a reputation for smuggling in the 18th century. In one famous incident contraband was transported in coffins during an outbreak of cholera. The town also played an important role during the D Day landings in 1944 when US troops destined for Utah beach embarked from here.

Continue the walk out of the town up to Berry Head which is part of a country park. The fort up here was built during the Napoleonic Wars of 1794 and 1804 and is on the site of an old Iron Age fort. Nearby is the lighthouse with a compass type guide naming the various views from this lookout point. Now for a bit of factual trivia. This lighthouse is the highest, shortest and deepest in England. Highest because no other lighthouse stands on a headland so high. Deepest because its 30 foot pit houses the clockwork weights by which it is driven. Shortest because the lens is just 6 feet above ground level. The lighthouse was built in 1906 and is now electrically operated.

Continue the walk around to St Mary's Bay which has a sand and shingle beach accessible only by footpath. The area around here, some owned by The National Trust, is a haven for rare species that depend on the thin limestone soils. These include the greater horseshoe bat which has been encouraged by introducing cattle. Cow pats are produced by the cattle, these in turn produce dung beetles which are food for the bats!

The walk continues with coves, remote beaches, rugged rocks and steep paths. Continue around Scabbacombe Head, soon the path turns inland alongside the estuary. Look out for the Mew Stone and the caves near it.

At Mill Bay Cove is Brownstone Battery which is one of the few surviving Second World War defence positions. Further buildings are hidden among the trees including gun and searchlight positions. It was built in 1940 to protect the Dart Estuary and was manned by 300 soldiers who watched for the invasion that never happened. It was decommissioned in 1950 and is now in the care of The National Trust. Look out for The Mill at Mill Bay Cove. This was a disused limekiln that was converted into a watermill and boathouse in the 19th century in the form of a 'castle'. Across the estuary is Dartmouth Castle.

The walk ends at Kingswear where there is a ferry to Dartmouth. The lower ferry slipway has been a landing place for a long time. In 1170 pilgrims from Brittany landed here en route to Canterbury. The TV series The Onedin Line and the film of The French Lieutenant's Woman were both partly filmed here. Look out for the wishing well built into the wall near the main ferry.

Highly recommended is a trip on the Dartmouth Steam Railway. This is unusual in that it is run as a business for profit not charity. The original line was opened in 1864 and sold by British Rail in 1973. It runs to Paignton and back, with stops on the way, and links with the Dartmouth Ferry. Pay extra for an observation carriage if you can.

Top photo shows: Replica of The Golden Hind at Brixham, Bottom one: Berry Head Lighthouse.