I was eye ball to eye ball with a pug and it was not the most pleasant of experiences. This cream ball of solid muscle had sat down two feet in front of me, its sole focus my sandwich and it was not moving.
Nor was I.
We were halfway through the longer of the sections we had planned on the South West Coast Path (SWCP) and had finally sunk down into a sheltered sunny spot of grass on Walls Hill above Babbacombe for some much needed lunch. However, the area was another dog walking patch and this was clearly the pug’s territory.
I munched. It watched. And it did not bat an eyelid. I have never seen a dog so still. No lip licking, no head tilted coyly with butter wouldn’t melt eyes, no barking, no tail wagging (well, bottom shimmying anyway), no nothing. Just a dog who exuded stubborn patience.
Its owner was somewhere out of sight so our impasse was unobserved except for a passer-by who I hailed.
“Do you know who this dog belongs to?” I asked.
“Yes, he’s somewhere along the path ahead of me,” she replied, “I’ll call him.”
We could hear the message being relayed down the path behind us and then a very loud “ALFIE” bellowed back in response.
And I got to enjoy the coastal view with my picnic instead.
We had started the day early. The intended route from Torquay to Shaldon was going to be around 12 miles with a small mountain’s worth of ascent factored in so we decided it would be best done at a relaxed pace. We’d left the car at Shaldon and caught the 8.30 bus into Torquay. Riding top deck gives an excellent introduction to an area and we could see how the various villages of St Marychurch, Babbacombe, Watcombe, Ellacombe, Shelston and Combe Rafford had been absorbed into the rolling constellation of Torquay. I could also see where Agatha Christie had garnered ideas for names for her crime drama locations. Born in Torquay, she maintained links with the area through Greenway House near the River Dart which she bought in 1938 and used as a holiday home. It’s a beautiful Georgian building full of collectables curated by her family and her own substantial global travels.
Torquay’s wooded peninsula makes for intriguing walking with the path closely trailing the coastline and its steep ups and downs. Infinity gardens drop away from terraced villas and hillside mansions, falling steeply to the red cliff edges. The sound of mowers and strimmers hummed under seagull calls. We walked alongside Thatcher Rock and Black Head and gazed over Anstey’s Cove to Long Quarry Point before finally coming to a lunchtime rest on Walls Hill with an animal who had no sense of personal space.
We were learning by now that some of the interminable sharp descents and associated ascents could be avoided by a judicious use of other footpaths which either stayed low around the coast or remained high over a headland. Walking through Watcombe and Maidencombe therefore became less knee taxing as we considered the contours in microscopic detail and came up with our own, less intense, route.
The remarkable number of steps on the path do make for easier walking on these steep sections, rather than the alternative of slippery banks and I salute those who have crafted and maintained them for the thousands of boots who have trod their treads over the years.
However, after a while, the novelty wears off.
We’d spent a wet afternoon enjoying Coleton Fishacre. Now owned by the National Trust, it has been restored to the Arts and Crafts and Art Deco glory of the D’Oyly Carte family who had it built in 1925. It is a beautiful home and sits in a garden and estate bounded at the coast by the SWCP. We’d walked this section earlier in the week and I was keen to return to see the house. It did not disappoint, especially with the backdrop of a soprano and pianist providing a glimpse of the music the D’Oyly Cartes would have enjoyed.
However, we drew the line at exploring the garden, despite being keen gardeners ourselves. The land fell away to Pudcombe Cove and all we saw were more ascents and descents and a multitude of steps and neither of us could be bothered. The Devon cream tea in the café was much more appealing!
Walking from Teignmouth to Starcross was much more knee friendly. Virtually the whole route involved promenades, sea walls or some roadside walking. And it was flat. Which made for very pleasurable tramping in trainers with extra shock absorbing capacity. These make all the difference to the intensity of sore joints in the evening.
It was a windswept day punctuated by showers and sunshine and regular local and long distance GWR trains on the railway we were following. There were few others out. Most of the coastal activity involved property and promenade maintenance. Even the seagulls were reduced in number.
We finished at Starcross. Sitting on the estuary of the Exe it is the ferry link, in season, to Exmouth, where we had started our SWCP journey last summer. We reminisced and then wondered where and when we would return to the SWCP next. We’ve explored Lyme Regis to Kingswear on this coastline so far. We have not taken the traditional approach of starting at one end and walking to the other, rather preferring to head to areas that work best in particular seasons and walking with the wind, rather than into it. We have also factored in time to explore the paths’ environs and ponder a little more of where we are rather than just journeying.
The sea is our one constant and we note its influence on everything. From the sea frets which bring visibility down to a few metres to the sheer volume of material and manpower required to keep a promenade and railway on land for a little longer. Clever and exceptionally creative humans over millennia have worked some remarkable magic at the land/sea interface, making the most of what is an everchanging landscape. Our survival on our coasts depends on this. The English Riviera has indeed been developed to maximise the Tor Bay’s propensity for sunshine and I hope that this creativity and resourcefulness does not diminish as we adapt again to a changing global economy and climate.
Those following the South West Coast Path will always have tales to tell of adventures had and people met. I wonder too how they will describe it in future times?
2 thoughts on “Walking the South West Coast Path: Torquay to Starcross”
Brixham Harbour with all the different coloured houses rising up the hill is very photogenic isn’t it
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With a blue sky and the morning sun, it is indeed gorgeous. On a wet and grey day it is a little less so!
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