Well, we have managed another getaway to walk some more of the South West Coast Path. Just my son, Scott and I and we were travelling down by train this time so Scott had organised the itinerary like a military operation to ensure we knew what buses, trains etc we had to catch to get to the start of our walks and then at the end of the walks, how we got back to our Hotel. We caught the train from Paddington to Reading and changed there for the train to Torquay. (A note here for anyone who has a London Freedom Pass. I had seen on line that my Pass took me as far as Reading so I had bought a ticket from Reading to Torquay). However at Paddington station I was told that to get to Reading on my Freedom Pass meant I had to use the slower TFL trains which means we would have missed our connection! This is not at all clear when you look on the website and I therefore was a bit miffed that I had to pay out an extra £8 for a ticket to Reading!
Anyway train journeys are always more fun than driving down and after a sandwich lunch and a couple of games of Scrabble we arrived at Torquay and made our way to our accommodation, The Richmond Hotel, in Torquay. Now a lot of the old grand hotels in sea side resorts are now rather tatty but The Richmond Hotel took this to a new level of tattiness! We had stayed here a few years ago when it was a little shabby but now it was just awful. It literally turned out to be like Fawlty Towers! On arrival we were told we could have no towels or pillow cases until the laundry came back. At 11pm we finally got some (but I suspect the manager went out and borrowed them from another hotel!) The bar area was dirty and beer bottles hadn’t been cleared away and although the manager said they were in the middle of “refurbishment” this actually seemed to comprise of a little man trying to fit new bits of carpet into the worn sections of the stair carpet! However, we were only looking for a place to sleep between walking so we were happy to make the best of it.
TORQUAY – SHALDON 11.1 Miles
The next morning we got a free breakfast in the Hotel to make up for the missing towels and pillowcases. Although it is difficult to compliment the Hotel in any way, I have to admit the cooked breakfast was very good.
We then started our walk. We headed off past the Harbour and the ‘Living Coasts’ exhibition. This is a unique visitor attraction focusing on the conservation of coastal and marine life. We climbed Beacon Hill and turned along a tarmac path which ends suddenly overlooking London Bridge (obviously not THE London Bridge but a rock jutting out into Tor Bay). We climbed some steep steps and walked along Rock End Walk and then emerged on Doddyhole Plain after passing through an arch. Down again to Meadfoot Beach (there is an impressive building there, Hesketh Crescent, built in 1846 and now a hotel and timeshare apartments. Up again and we walked along Marine Drive (opened in 1924) and then around Thatcher Point. There was a turn off to Hope’s Nose where there is a nature reserve but it had been quite a strenuous walk so far so we decided not to make the detour. There was a lot of woodland walking today which was nice as it was very hot and the woods offered some cool shade. they were very attractive and calming (I have been reading up on ‘forest bathing’ and trying to make sure I appreciate the woods when I am able to walk through them). The nicest section of these woods was called Black Head. We then walked up and down an undulating path which took us to coves such as Anstey’s Cove and then back up to Babbacombe Downs. All along this route we kept looking behind us at stunning panoramas, we could see as far back as Brixham and it was nice to see how far we have come. Ahead of us were similar wonderful views of the red cliffs of Devon. Down another hill and we were in Babbacombe, which is absolutely lovely. We had an ice cream stop and then traversed the wooden walkways and steps to Oddicombe Beach. There is a cliff railway here, opened in 1926 and we decided to get this up the cliff side. (It normally holds 40 people but because of COVID there were only 6 people allowed in each carriage). Great views during the short ride. At the top we had to walk down a little to re-join the Path. We headed down to Petit Tor before passing a golf course and then the Path took us back into the cool woods. We passed Watcombe, where Isambard Kingdom Brunel landscaped the nearby Watcombe Park. We were then on the Great Path (I have no idea why it is called that!) but it had lovely views across Babbacombe Bay. We then headed down again to Maidencombe and by now we were both very hot, sweaty and tired. We had another 3.5 miles to go and it was all on a switchback cliff edge path until we got to Shaldon. We passed the headland called The Ness and across the river was Teignmouth. As we came into Shaldon there was a pub/hotel called The Ness House and we were both happy to get a nice cold drink and something to eat before heading back on a bus to Torquay. A lovely place if you are ever in the area. Back at the hotel (which we were now referring to as Fawlty Towers) it certainly lived up to it’s nickname. As we wearily headed to our rooms we found that my son’s room had been completely cleared of all his stuff (except, bizarrely, the clothes in his wardrobe!) Mohammed, the Manager, thought maybe the staff had thought he was leaving but this made no sense as the clothes were still there and who leaves shoes, toiletries, books and chargers etc behind when they leave. We then spent the evening trying to remember what was missing and searching for these items. The staff managed to “recover” most of the items but Mohammed had to make a midnight dash to an all night pharmacy to get contact lens solution, contact lens holder, toothpaste and a few other things! Unbelievable!
SHALDON – STARCROSS 8 Miles
After another free breakfast we headed off! Luckily, when booking our accommodation Scott could only get 2 nights in “Fawlty Towers” so before we started our walk today we had to move our stuff to another hotel in Torquay. This was The Tor Park Hotel and, although it was still a little shabby, it was like the Ritz compared to our previous nightmare hotel! We got the bus (a number 22) back to Shaldon and we had a little walk along the shingle beach and a look at the bridge leading to Teignmouth (built in 1931 and a toll bridge until 1948). The previous day when the tide was low we had seen fishermen digging for bait and also some young girls riding horses along the mud flats. However we were taking the ferry across to Teignmouth (pronounced Tinmouth supposedly) and this was a nice short crossing which dropped us on the promenade. We walked along the limestone sea wall that protects the railway line (one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great civil engineering achievements). The Guide Book and even the ferryman we had just met, mentioned that during high tide you cannot walk all the way along the seawall as the waves are too high. It said we had to take an alternative route which turned out to be a rather boring walk along the streets. During this section we met a local person who said we COULD have walked along the sea wall as it was only when it was stormy that the waves were a danger. (We have decided that we will therefore come back and do the sea wall walk at a later time). There was only one steep climb today and, as it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, that was a bonus! After the one ascent we took the zigzag Path down to Dawlish Boat Cove. We stopped to admire the black swans that this place is famous for then continued past Dawlish Warren Station and came across an enormous holiday resort. Chalets, caravans and camping sites abounded and also a small fun fair. However, in this hugely commercialised area there is also a lovely natural attraction. the sand bar here, across from the mouth of the Exe is possibly the best bird watching site along this stretch of the Coast Path. It has a two storey bird hide and vast numbers of birds can be seen here. To reach Starcross (our finishing point for today) there was no alternative but to walk along a busy road through Cockwood until we came to Starcross Station. We got the train back to Torre (which was nearer our new hotel) and we were pleased to find that the staff were very friendly and normal and our bags and stuff were still intact!
STARCROSS – LADRAM BAY 9 Miles
No free breakfast this morning but we were just happy not to be waking up in
‘Fawlty Towers’. We took the train back to Starcross and we got a ferry from right next to the station across to Exmouth. It was a nice start to the walk as we strolled along the very long esplanade. It was another hot day and there were a lot of people on the beach. The sea looked very inviting! At the end of the esplanade we took a zig zag path to the top of the cliffs and we were soon at Orcombe where we saw the Geo Needle. This is made of Portland Stone which has inlaid into it a representative series of stone panels placed in the order in which they were deposited during the last 250 million years! All along this stretch were beautiful beaches. Orcombe Rocks and Sandy Bar were two of them. There was another huge caravan site here right next to a Royal Marines Firing Range. We crossed through the car park and re-joined the Path on the clifftop, We had a short wooded area to walk through before rising upwards again at West Down Beacon. A gentler descent took us through more woodland and over wide grassy areas to The Marine Parade at Budleigh Salterton. This is a lovely little resort with Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian houses fronting the sea. Scott had suggested we either stop here or walk on another 5 miles. I (stupidly, maybe) suggested we walk on so we walked beside the River Otter on a dyke built by Napoleonic prisoners of war. We crossed the Otter River (lots of birds here and also more hides to watch them from) and then we headed back to the sea. The walk from then on would have been relatively easy as it was along undulating cliff tops with incredible views. However, there was a tractor cutting the long grass in the fields and this mowed grass seemed to catch on our boots and slow us down! We then had to leave the Coast Path to catch a bus from a small village called Otterden. We were nervous as it was a Sunday and there was only one bus we could catch. Luckily our information was correct and it was spot on time. We got this into Exmouth and decided to have a meal outside a pub called Franklins (really nice food) before heading back to our hotel. The train journey from Exmouth to Torre later was quite long and by the time we arrived back I just wanted to go to take my boots off and go to bed!
The next day we had a swim in the sea at Torquay before catching the train back to London. It was lovely! We had been waiting to do that for three days! At the end of this trip we calculated we have done 525.8 miles of the South West Coast Path. Only 104.2 miles to do!!! We are getting there!