Walking the South West Coast Path – Torquay to Kingswear.

“I’ve got worms,” the bus driver announced to the sprightly, petite and white haired lady who had just boarded at Kingswear.

“Oh,” she replied, nonplussed.

“I got them from the dog,” he went on, “the dog’s now fine because I’ve wormed it, but I’ve still got them.”

“Oh,” she repeated.

“I used my mouth to feed the dog. My wife said I shouldn’t, but I did.”

“Covid has a lot to answer for,” the pensioner replied sagely.

“Yes, I should’ve listened to my wife,” he agreed.

The lady pushed her shopping trolley along the bus and sat down in front of us, a small figure suddenly swamped by high seats, her pink hair clips bobbing as she organised her luggage.

We were on the number 12 at Kingswear Banjo, rather relieved to be sitting down in the warm after what had been a long walk from Brixham.

Brixham harbour

The day had dawned blue sky glorious, the town’s picture perfect multicoloured harbour glowed bright in the morning sun as we set out on our first section of the South West Coast Path (SWCP). We had chosen to spend a week’s holiday based in the town with the intention of walking sections of the SWCP as and when the weather allowed. Our first two days saw us explore the route north and south of Brixham; twenty or so miles that offered a microcosmic taste of the area.

Headlands and coves in abundance!

Day one involved a southerly trail to Kingswear via the delightfully named Berry Head, Sharkham Point, Scabbacombe Sands and Ivy Cove. The path rollercoastered up, over and down into smuggler friendly coves offering shingle beaches interspersed by lookout views on headland after headland. It was easy to see how the black market trade had been more lucrative than fishing to the area; the geography would certainly challenge any law enforcement strategies!

The path however was strewn with more natural imports; primroses and violets peppered the banks alongside local celandine and stitchwort. Chiffchaffs, coal tits, wrens, larks and dunnocks added melody to the coastal soundtrack and we were suitably impressed with the sighting of a swift – our first of the year – and the keening cry of a peregrine over Pudcombe Cove near Coleton Fishacre. We had driven a few hours from Cumbria the previous day yet it felt we had crossed a time zone into a well-defined Spring that winter was still refusing the North West to enter.

“You’ll have to let the passengers off manually,” the new driver advised, “the automatic door opening isn’t working.”

He and worms man were swapping buses for their next shifts. Our new driver looked as though he wasn’t long out of primary school but he’d navigated a double-decker from Newton Abbot into Kingswear successfully and then went on to squeeze our smaller single decker through gaps I’d have baulked at with a car. And at speed too. We made Brixham in good time as a result.

Paignton harbour

Our second day took us north to Torquay in search of a more restful wander to give our legs time to recover from the steep ascents and descents of the day before. We returned to the number 12 in Brixham and took top deck seats for the best chauffeur driven view of the English Riviera. Torquay was bathed in the last of the morning sunshine when we arrived, an array of white hotels and villas contouring the north headland of Tor Bay. Before travel abroad became cheap, Torquay had been the venue of choice for the titled and upper class and those in search of the healing qualities of sea air. The town is still a tourism hub with a substantial marina and enough eating emporia to satisfy any appetite. We joined the Sunday strollers on the promenade and headed along to Paignton. The town’s name is derived from the Anglo Saxon meaning “people of Paega’s homestead” but I’ll remember it for the smell of paint. The men of the town were doing their annual maintenance on the beach huts and there was a certain pastel theme going with these coastal sheds

The tide was on the way out and unveiled the dog daily play area on each sandy bay which filled as quickly as the sea receded. We noted our favourite exercise regime; a couple nonchalantly kicking a ball between them with a chocolate Labrador running in chase for a ball it never quite managed to capture. The dog was the happiest piggy in the middle we had seen in a while.

Part of the fishing fleet

Our return to Brixham brought us in at the north end of the harbour past the University of Plymouth’s Brixham laboratories and one of the largest fishing fleets in England; it has over 100 vessels. The ‘Hollie Mai” had just berthed and was landing a scallops catch as we passed by. The town has been the workhorse of the Riviera with residents reliant on fishing for their livelihoods. Built on a steep sided cove, the town’s brightly coloured buildings jostle for cramped vertical and horizontal space, windows peering over rooftops as eyes fixed on the sea view. Historically, the area has been the poorer relation in Tor Bay; a fact still borne out by the high percentage of charity shops in the town centre. However, it also exudes an understated elegance, confident in its heritage and modern commercialism and the proud providers of the RNLI Torbay lifeboat, the crews of which have received 26 awards for bravery to date.

We spoke to a couple who, like us, were doing sections of the SWCP. For some reason, those doing The Path feel easy to spot. It may be down to the rucksack and boots uniform. Anyway, we exchanged long distance walking notes with each other.

“The paths provide a focus, don’t they?” the woman suggested.

I nodded.

“Indeed. We wouldn’t have come here if we weren’t walking The Path,” I confessed, “we’re not so keen on busy areas so thought we’d get this section done before the tourist season starts next month.”

The SWCP guidebook had actually highlighted that many walkers avoid this section of path, due to its mainly tarmacked state and numbers of visitors. The area had drawn us as a suitable location for walking whilst still in the low season and it has proved a wise choice with just enough buzz to give a feel for its character.

Which brings me to the joy of following a footpath, whether long or short. At a path junction, we paused to check the route and were overtaken by another Path follower who headed off in what turned out to be the right direction.

“I think he knows where he’s headed,” I said to Nick, “we’ll go that way.”

The gentleman overheard my comment and quipped, “does anyone know where they’re going?”

He may have a point but following a path is a good start – you’re never quite sure what you’ll find, who you’ll meet and what it could all lead to. And that is part of what makes it a curiously addictive pastime.

Brixham Harbour

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