Ruined villages, WWII tragedies and some nice scenery.

Tuesday 23 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

After all that walking yesterday and feeling quite weary when I turned the light off at 10:00 I fully expected to get a pretty solid sleep in, but sadly that was not to be, and I just dozed off and on all night. Maybe it was the two hours of photo editing I did before sleep!

I was up at 8:00 again and spent half hour writing part of a blog post on yesterday after breakfast before I packed up and headed out the door. My plan was to catch the bus to Torcross and walk to Hallsands and back. The B and B host could not find a bus timetable before I left which turned out to be a mistake as I missed the once an hour bus by five minutes because I detoured on a walk around Dartmouth on the way to the bus stop. Which meant forty five minutes in a cafe waiting for the next one, at least I got to drink a decent coffee.

My B and B is next to the Cherub Inn, the only surving medieval house in Dartmouth, being built around 1380. My B and B next door was considerably newer being built in 1635….

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I took the long way to the bus stop, walking up some of the narrow streets in the middle of town with the aim of getting a decent view of the Britannia Royal Naval College, a very large building that looms over the western end of town – and is off limits to most. The building itself is quite recent, with construction starting in 1904, though naval officers have been trained in Dartmouth since 1863. It is a mighty impressive building, though through the light drizzle it did take a rather poor photo.

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It took me a while to find a vantage point, walking up and down some of the many steep streets, my legs were feeling it at the start, but once they had stretched out I felt pretty good, which I was pleasantly surprised at.

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Dartmouth is a famous old town, with a long tradition of sailing, voyages and battle ships. From as long ago as 1147 when ships set sail on the crusades there have been vessels moving in and out of the Dart. The Mayflower left England for the last time on its voyage to America in 1620 – and landed in what became Dartmouth in Massachusetts. Sadly the museum was closed. But the bus stop had a nice outlook.

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The bus journey over to Torcross took about thirty minutes and I snapped a few photos out of the slightly grubby windows on the way, the first overlooking Dartmouth.

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There are some lovely beaches along this stretch of coast. Blackpool Sands for instance.

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I would really hate to be a bus driver, anywhere to be fair, but it must be extra tricky on the narrow roads of rural Britain, especially driving a double decker bus. I raise my hat to all who do it.

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Torcross Beach is about two and half miles long and is a narrow strip between the sea and Slapton Ley; a marshy lake, wetland area and scenic reserve. I got off the bus at what I thought was the half way point, into a howling gale and then a sudden downpour of rain. It then drizzled virtually the whole way along the beach to the small town of Torcross at the end. With its massive sand and pebble beach Torcross was used significantly during the second world war as an American training ground for the D-Day landings. The local population were all moved out of their homes during the training time and this memorial is a reminder of that forced evacuation.

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The beach itself is really nice, vast and almost deserted, and looking quite imposing under threatening skies.

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I remembered this is as the place where I almost lost my phone when I was last here, It had fallen out of my pocket when I had snuck into the bushes for a wee, and didn’t realise I had dropped it until a few minutes later. I was very relieved, and quite amazed, to find it again.

One of the many sad and terrible events of World War 2 took place in Torcross and I did not know anything about until It was mentioned to me over breakfast this morning. Operation Tiger was the name of the D-Day landing trials and the extra activity attracted the attention of the German navy and two boats were sunk by torpedo boats at the loss of over 700 US lives. To add to the pain, on the trial landing itself there was a mis-communication resulting in over 300 deaths in a poorly timed shelling. Over 1000 troops killed, just in a trial. A real tragedy. This tank was dug out of the sand and set up as memorial in 1984.

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The road runs between the beach and Slapton Ley and was severely impacted by the winter storms last year, the storms also changed the lie of the beach to a degree where the long term future of the wetlands, the village and the road are all in doubt. Nature can be a hard mistress, not that humanity is helping that much.

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The rain had stopped by the time I got to the village and started up over the hill to my next stop of Beesands. I spent ages trying to work out what the start point was far, and finally realised it was the name of the far headland and this was Start Bay. I had a mental doh moment when I realised.

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It was only a short walk over the top and blessedly not too steep either.

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Beesands did not really have any great redeeming features, it has been severely impacted by the downturn in local fishing, and is pretty much reliant on tourists passing through between Torcross and the more well known Hallsands – pretty much what I was doing.

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Beesands main claim to fame is the Cricket Inn, where Mick and Keith first performed to an audience, as a teenage duo before the Rolling Stones were started. Keith’s family had long holidayed here and the young Mick often joined them on their trips.

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You know a place is windy when the trees are all growing sideways!

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Hallsands was my final destination for the day, it had been a small fishing village for a couple of hundred years, growing to a population of just over one hundred and fifty in the late 1800s.

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In 1890 the building of a new naval dockyard was started further along the coast in Keyham near Plymouth. Too supply the sand for the construction dredging took place just off shore and within ten years the beach had been so undermined that the residents complained to parliament. Two years later dredging was stopped, but the damage was done and in severe storms in 1907 most of the village was washed into the sea. The build of the naval base was subsequently stopped – not due to the destruction of the village though.

Though a small village has been built since there is constant damage done during heavy storms, and you can see where the road has been partially washed away, as recently as 2012.

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These houses were left almost stranded in 2012 as well.

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There is now a small path and a viewing platform over looking the remaining houses from the first village, the reason why tourists come to Hallsands. The area below the houses used to be a sandy beach until the dredging ruined it.

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As the buses from Torcross to Dartmouth only run hourly I decided to try for a quick walk back and get an earlier bus, so I power walked back over to Beesands, stopping to take a photo of the clouds coming down over the hills – luckily it didn’t rain again!

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And this really cool football pitch with its drop off into the far corner!

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I decided to take a punt on being able to walk on the beach around the headland between Beesands and Torcross. I had seen dog walkers heading that way and it sort of looked possible, and it would save a bit of time as well. It was also nice to walk on the beach, two days on the coast and I had not actually set foot on the beach yet….

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The beach did go around to Torcross and luckily there were steps up the cliff and over this stream else it would have been a pointless short cut!

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I arrived back in Torcross with five minutes to spare, so I took a photo of this nice old farmhouse for sale – El are you tempted ?

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And a view up Slapton Ley. I wonder what it will look like if I make it back down this way again. So many broody dark skies….

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The bus ride back to town was good, I was the only person on the bus, I can see why they do not run more frequently. I had a really nice soup for a late lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening editing photos and watching some TV before heading out for a very nice fish and chip dinner at the Rockfish Cafe. 2013 winner of best fish and chip shop.

And that was it – holiday over. I had a good time, I really enjoyed the hills and the walks and weather, which was much better than I expected. All those spare clothes I brought down with me where not needed, thankfully. I think next time I go away I will bite the bullet on the cost and rent a car. While I like buses and trains, off season they can be restrictive and costly. There were a couple of other things I would have liked to have seen in the area too, but time and energy were in restricted supply

I am now on my way back to London on the train, after a bacon sarnie and a not unreasonable coffee at the Totnes Station Cafe.

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Looking forward to Christmas, but will miss seeing my kids, my grandchild, my mum and the rest of the family.

Brixham to Kingswear – a walk on the South West Coast Path.

Monday 22 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

Seeing as I am back on the road again, if only for a couple of days, it seems only fair that I continue with my traveling tradition of starting each blog post with a mention of how I slept the night before, poorly in this case. My room in the Cherubs Nest B and B is nice, comfortable and warm, I was (am) tired, but I did not sleep much at all and was awake before 6:00 as usual. I did not get up though. I was the only guest so enjoyed a really nice breakfast on my own, fueling up for the day ahead.

The forecast was for a cloudy day with no rain, so I decided to go west and walk from Brixham back to Dartmouth, via the ferry at Kingswear, a ten(ish) mile walk on the South West Coast Path. As is usual I woefully under-prepared for the walk, I did not take anywhere near enough water or snacks to munch on and perhaps should have tossed my head torch in my bag as well.  On the plus side though, I did have warm and waterproof clothing. Ten miles is not that far in flat London with corner shops every few hundred yards, but on a remote, muddy and often steep coast it is much harder going. I also did not fully realise how unfit I am for this sort of terrain, yes I can knock off an eight mile run on the flat without too much bother, but wow I have missed doing hills.

I left the Cherubs Nest about 10:00 and headed down to the nearby waterfront to catch the ferry over to Kingswear. There are a few ferry services crossing the River Dart, but the lower car ferry is the most frequent, crossing every few minutes, and it does take foot passengers.

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It is also a good spot to get a photo of some of Dartmouth old town. I really like towns on steep hillsides!

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The ride to Kingswear is only five minutes and the bus stop is just up from the ferry, luckily there was a bus about to leave as I arrived.

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The journey to Brixham was interesting, a bit ’round the houses’ as they say, and some of the houses were not exactly ones you would want to go round either. I have this rather romanticised view of what remote coastal villages and towns look like, all olde world stone and wood, with a thatched or tiled roof, occupied by wonderful friendly folk. Unfortunately the real world is not like that and outside of the original ‘old town’ part of these places, partly hidden from view – unless you are on a local bus, there is the usual swathe of cheap housing filled with those less fortunate than I. Brixham was like that.

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Brixham is a commercial fishing village and I did see a sign that said it was the birthplace of trawler fishing, I marched on through. Though I did love these tiny old crabbing boats.

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One of the things I recalled with little pleasure from supporting Mal on his run of the South West Coast Path was how poorly it was sign posted in and on the fringes of towns, and I definitely remember Brixham was no exception. I headed in the right direction, but ended up at a swanky hotel at the start of the headland, I wandered up a side road and just happened to come across the path again at Berry Head.

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As I wasn’t planning on sticking religiously to the coast path I was going to walk across the headland rather than around it, but once I was up there I was surprised to find an old fort. The forts that remains – there are two of them, were built around 1800 – sadly on top of Iron Age forts, to defend Torbay against the French. All that was left of the first fort was the very solid external walls and a (surprisingly open) coffee shop and information centre inside the walls.
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Berry head is also well known for migrating birds, and there are a couple of hides, but this was very much out of season.

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The second fort has a few more ruins in it, and I had a few minutes of fun trying to get decent photos before I realised with a minor sense of panic that it is almost the shortest daylight day of the year, I have ten miles to walk and it is 12:00. I have four hours to get to Kingswear before it gets properly dark, this seems like an extraordinary amount of time to walk ten miles, but there are no villages between Sharkham Point and Kingswear to exit the path and get a bus from, plus I want to take pictures on the way. So I left.

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St Mary’s Bay is very picturesque, though I did hurry past, casting my eyes in land only quickly.

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Just past the bay I came across a sign that almost made me turn back enjoy more of St Mary’s Bay and the old forts and then catch the bus back.

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I was worrying a little about time as I had not planned on having to take a detour, understandable as half the cliff face had fallen away. This detour took me back inland and around a recently built and monumentally hideous housing estate, and then dumped me on a street with no indication of which way to go. I headed back towards the coast and fortunately found the path again. I suspect the temporary signs had long been removed.

I slung my camera bag back on my back, fastened the straps and started jogging on the down hill sections, I wanted to try and recoup some of the last time faffing on the detour, and soon enough I was well on my way, back on the path – and at the top of one of the in-numerable climbs.

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Soon I was heading down towards Mansands Bay.

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Where I came across a sign telling me I had 6 miles to go, at this point I realised I was probably going to be fine, getting back an hour before sunset, though I did not slacken my pace that much.

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The climb out of Mansands was pretty tough, not long but really steep, and this was just preparing me for the climb out of the next bay which felt like it was near vertical in parts. But the view was worth it…

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What made the climb out of the next bay worse was that it had been used by live stock recently so it was completely chewed up, really muddy and a bit smelly.

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And the steep grassed section was quite greasy in parts, I was almost crawling at the top.

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For the next hour or so the track moved across the cliff tops, dropping down to small bays here and there and generally offering a constant array of beautiful scenery to gaze at.

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The track was quite cut up along the tops and I could see horse shoe prints in the mud, I was getting a bit pissed with the person that decided riding a horse up here on these narrow trails was a good idea, and then I discovered the source – a bunch of Dartmoor Ponies had been released here. That made much more sense!

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I think this is Old Mill Bay.

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A last look back west.

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I reached Froward Point about 2:45 and was thinking how well I had done in getting to Kingswear so quickly, before I saw a sign advising me I had two more miles to go. By this time I had only a couple of mouthfuls of water left and had long eaten my two muesli bars. Even though it was a little windy on the tops I had gotten a lot warmer than I had expected with my mix of light jogging and power walking had subsequently sweated more than a small bottle of water was good for. I was thirsty!

Mew Stone and Shag Stone from the point.

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The walk from the point into town seemed to take forever and my lack of hill fitness was showing on the climbs as I got quite slow. There was a good view of both Kingswear and Dartmouth Castles through the trees at one point, which I ruined with a bad photo.

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I was hoping to walk past the castle, but discovered that it is privately owned and is not accessible, or even readily visible to the public. Shame…. I did find this small tower though, which partly made up for it.

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Soon after that the path ended and I was on the edge of town.

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I found a tap outside some flats that were empty so I refilled my water bottle with some rather earthy tasting but very refreshing water, said a small thanks to the absent owners and carried on marching into town.

It was nice to find even rural Kingswear has the same issues as NE London…

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Just down by the ferry I found a sign pointing back the way I came, and for the first time I had an indication of how far I had travelled, I was not 100% sure at the start.

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And then I was on the ferry back to Dartmouth.

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My first stop was one of the few cafes that was open and serving food for a very late lunch and a much needed coffee. I was a bit rank, a bit muddy, and very hungry! I ate and left (for the benefit of the other customers) and headed back to the B and B for a shower and a sit down before tea. I was knackered….

I will say it was a really good day. Followed by a really good pizza!


Back to the coast!

Sunday 21 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

The past few weeks have been rather busy, with work taking over far too much of my life again, not quite to the levels it did before I left New Zealand in 2011, but far more than I want it to – the price that is paid for delivering systems projects, and being a bit too hands on. In a sustained effort to meet the deadline date for the project I have worked quite a few evenings lately as well as the past five Saturdays, effort worth putting in, but I ended up delaying the project for a couple of weeks anyway. It was close but not quite.

The good news is that I am now banging away on my laptop keyboard while sitting on a train heading down to Dartmouth on the Devon coast. I have been looking forward to getting away by myself for a while, taking some time to do some photography and some walking and enjoying a bit of solitude. I surprised myself by really badly wanting to get out of London for a few days, something I did not think was possible. I, of course, miss the sea and the hills a lot, but have found places in London that have allowed some relief from the madness of living in a city of eight million, and while I have always taken the opportunity to escape the clutches of the city – I have never before felt an urgent NEED to.

I have taken a week off work – it was going to be two, but there is too much to do so I return to the office next week with the expectation of being able to knock off a load of stuff while the school is effectively closed. With a week off under my belt, the start of the new year will be a little more relaxed then the end of this one.

Dartmouth was chosen for a number of reasons, mainly through lack of choice as to places to go, but it does have a castle and is on the South West Coast Path, so fulfils my most basic holidaying needs. I was hoping to go somewhere wilder, but rental car prices quadruple this time of year so I have been limited to place I can access by public transport – and with it being a Sunday in winter in rural England there is a surprising lack of that as well. Even Dartmouth – which is fairly well known, albeit small place is not accessible by public transport on Sundays. There is no train service at all and the bus from the closest train station in Totnes does not run on winter Sundays. I will be forced to take a cab.

The journey has been a pretty good one, starting at Paddington.

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The train was a little late out of Swindon but made up time before Taunton and hit the coast at Dawlish Warren to schedule. Dawlish Warren holds a special place in my memories – and not for a good reason !

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When I was supporting my friend Mal on his epic run of the South West Coast Path back in June 2012 I was on walking/running duties when we arrived in Dawlish Warren late one evening, we misplaced the path and ended up doing an hour long and pointless loop of the golf course that juts out into River Exe. We were tired and hungry and it was dark by the time we got back to where we supposed to be. I think some bad words were said…. I briefly cover the run here. I should mention that Mal is about to embark on an even bigger venture next year – running 50 marathons on 50 days, each with a classic New Zealand peak. Massively epic and you should read about and support it here

We saw way too much of this place…

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The train line through Dawlish is right on the coast and was washed out this time last year in the winter storms, it must have been a great relief to the people of Devon and Cornwall that the line was repaired after some major work. It is a short, but lovely piece of railway and I managed to get my camera briefly out one of the windows in the doors. Unlike Sri Lanka, there is no standing in an open doorway in the UK! There is something magical about looking at the view and the side of a train as it winds its way around a bend on the track.

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I arrived in Totnes to discover the taxi was almost twice as much as I was told, a slight uplift on the week day rate, but still I was definitely mis-informed on the taxi price, I hope the price increase is not the same everywhere else in Dartmouth or this could be a very expensive holiday.

After checking into the B and B, I dumped my suit case (I cannot believe I am travelling with a case and not a backpack!) grabbed the camera bag and headed off into the drizzle to check out Dartmouth Castle. To avoid the disappointment of finding it closed I had looked it up on the internet and knew it was open until 4:00 today, but closed during the week – so I had to visit it today. I made it there with plenty of time for a change.

The all too familiar sign, some good – mostly good memories.

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As a castle, it was not overly interesting, though it has been well preserved as it was used by the military up to the end of the second world war. The castle was started in 1388 to defend the small town of Dartmouth just up stream from the mouth of the River Dart. The tower was an addition in the fifteenth century and was the first coastal castle built to take big cannons, covering the width of the river. When the tower was built to house cannon a similar tower was built in Kingswear on the other side of the river – and I hope to visit that soon as well…

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It was a rather damp exploration of the castle, drizzling for virtually the whole time I was there. Looking back towards the town.

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And across the river to Kingswear Castle.

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I was surprised to find this wee robin sitting on a sign just outside, I shot this photo on my wide angle lens. I was that close to it.

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I was quite keen to get back into town to find a pub to watch the Liverpool v Arsenal football match at 4:00, being a keen Arsenal supporter I was desperately hoping to not see a repeat of the 5-1 thrashing we received at Anfield last season… I took a few photos on the way back into Dartmouth.

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Hopefully more on Dartmouth later in my visit as the old town, where I am staying is quite quaint and worth a good explore.

The small town of Kingswear is on the opposing bank of the River Dart and I will visit there either tomorrow or Tuesday.

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Oh yeah, the football was a two all draw, not what I wanted, but better than last time!