Each year at this time when we visit Devon we spend an afternoon having the cobwebs blown away by walking from Overbecks to Bolt Head by coastal path and returning on a higher path a total walk of only 4 or 5 miles but sufficient to enjoy different coastal views and work up an appetite for dinner! We are on holiday after all.
Back in 1972 my husband, The Optimist, spent one heavenly summer working as the male assistant warden at Salcombe Youth Hostel. It was obviously a fantastic experience for him and he has relived it ever since, so much so that I now feel as if I worked there too. Besides the work itself which was fairly mundane, he enjoyed snorkelling and swimming and diving and generally messing about in boats and the sea through one long warm sunny summer … yes, those were the days! I don’t think a single drop of rain fell on South Devon that summer. I must say, that having seen this Youth Hostel, I do think it is located in one of the most idyllic locations imaginable.
The Tower Bedroom – reserved for the male assistant warden
So, as I say, each year when we spend a week in October/November in Devon we make an excursion to the Salcombe area and in particular to the National Trust estate of Overbecks Sharpitor. The gardens stretch steeply down the cliff face from the house and the influence of the local microclimate has lead to a singular garden of luscious tropical vegetation.
“A hidden paradise of subtropical gardens and eclectic collections…
An exotic and fascinating hidden treasure perched high on the cliffs above Salcombe. Explore the banana garden, meander through the woodland, or relax beneath the palms. Walk along the coast path and soak up the spectacular panorama across miles of beautiful coastline and estuary.”
So, walk along the coast path and soak up the panorama we did. A few paces down from the Overbecks car park there is a sign inviting one to join the footpath to Starehole Bay. This clearly defined path clings to the cliff face and in each direction are wonderful views down the ria (a tidal inlet with no major fresh water source flowing through it) to Salcombe or out, over the bar :
“This shallow sandbank, evoked by Tennyson in his poem ‘Crossing the Bar’, lies across the ria’s mouth and is barely 60cm (23 inches) below water on an ebb tide. Devon’s worst life boat loss occurred here on 22 October 1916, when the ‘William & Emma’ capsized rowing back from a rescue.” (NT Website)
to the English Channel.
Salcombe and Ria from the lower footpath
Salcombe and the Ria from The South West Coastal Path
The path is dotted with handily placed seats upon which one may rest and enjoy the view but last Friday there was a misty rain blowing so we tended to keep walking.
Official Long Distance Footpaths are indicated by an Acorn on the sign posts
Starehole Bay from the NT site :
“On calm days you’ll see the dark patch of seaweed beneath the north waters of the cove, marking the Hezogin Cecile wreck. This grain clipper ran aground off Soar Mill Cove on 24 April 1936. For seven weeks the ship lay stranded whilst sightseers in their thousands lined the cliffs, holding their noses from the stench of rotting wheat. The ship was smashed in a July gale after being towed to Starehole Bay.”
From Starehole Bay there is a steep a path up to Bolt Head and from there it’s possible to join the SouthWest Coast Path and return to Overbecks along the cliff top.
Bolt Head from the NT site :
“People have been farming at Bolt Head for centuries and the cliffs are dotted with the remains of field boundaries and animal enclosures, some dating back to the Bronze Age. Today, Dartmoor ponies graze on the cliffs, preventing blackthorn and gorse from smothering the slopes. Look out for grey bush crickets and their great green cousins (the largest in the British Isles). Fulmars, gulls, cormorants and shags bred on the cliff-faces. The headland was the site of a Second World War lookout until it was demolished in 2007, and is also a stop over for migrating swallows and house martins.”
Funnily we didn’t see a Dartmoor pony on Dartmoor this year – just cattle. We did see the cliff top grazing ponies at Bolt Head, though.
The cliff top path descends again into Starehole Bay before climbing up again for the final mile and a half or so back to Overbecks. There’s a tempting sign very strategically placed to encourage one into the tea shop (also the Youth Hostel dining room) but we had a table booked for dinner so didn’t linger for refreshments on this occasion.
Time for a Cuppa?
Final view of Overbecks and Salcombe from the SW Coastal Path