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….

IMG 1061

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.

IMG 1067

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.

IMG 1062

IMG 1063

IMG 1065

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.

IMG 9484

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.

IMG 1070

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

IMG 1077

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.

IMG 1081

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.

IMG 9485

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

IMG 9488

IMG 9489

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.

IMG 9491

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.

IMG 9495

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.

IMG 9494

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

IMG 9496

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.

IMG 9498

IMG 9499

IMG 9502

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.

IMG 9518

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

IMG 9504

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.

IMG 9509

IMG 9510

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.

IMG 9512

These houses were left almost stranded in 2012 as well.

IMG 9511

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.

IMG 9517

IMG 1086

IMG 1087

IMG 1088

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!

IMG 9521

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

IMG 9522

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….

IMG 9523

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!

IMG 9525

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 ?

IMG 9526

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….

IMG 9527

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.

IMG 1089

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

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.

IMG 1035

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 !

IMG 1040

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…

IMG 1044

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.

IMG 1046

IMG 1050

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.

IMG 9395

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…

IMG 9387

IMG 9392

IMG 9398

IMG 9399

IMG 9401

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

IMG 9390

And across the river to Kingswear Castle.

IMG 9388

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.

IMG 9402

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.

IMG 9407

IMG 9412

IMG 9415

IMG 9416

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.

IMG 9411

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