Designed to showcase the wonderful scenery you can expect to find in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, watch...
Start Bay in South Devon is a stunning 15 mile stretch of craggy coastline and secluded bays, and best of all, it is steeped in history and tales of old. Running from Start Point and its iconic lighthouse in the south to Warren Point near Dartmouth in the north, the bay is peppered with the picture perfect shingle bays of Blackpool Sands, Slapton Sands and Strete Gate, and also home to the coastal villages of Beesands, Hallsands, Torcross, Stokenham and Stoke Fleming. Start Bay encompasses so much that people love about the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – peaceful coves, rolling hills and unspoilt farmland, and fantastic pubs and beachside cafes where seafood is pulled in straight from the bay.
You won’t find yourself short of things to do when visiting the area. A hotspot for walking, Start Bay boasts a wealth of routes that navigate the South West Coast Path. Alternatively, if you would rather explore from the water, the crystal clear shores provide the perfect environment for kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and sea swimming. A haven for wildlife both in and out of the water, keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and seals who love feasting on shoals on mackerel, or head to the nature reserves for a spot of birdwatching. What’s more, you are not far from either Dartmouth or Salcombe should you wish to venture further afield…
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The village of Hallsands is located towards the southern end of Start Bay, as is one of South Devon’s most loved hidden gems. Whilst both small and secluded, you won’t find yourself short of things to do when visiting – expect wildlife in abundance, rambling countryside to explore, direct access to the South West Coast Path and calm bathing waters popular with anglers, kayakers, snorkelers and scuba divers. Hallsands Beach is a small shingle stretch, and is ideal for those seeking a little solitude – also dog-friendly beach, you will find various canine companions enjoying the beach too. There are no facilities on the beach, or in the village itself, so when visiting, be sure to come prepared.
Hallsands has a very famous and somewhat tragic local history, that is dominated by the precarious position of the village and the relentless force of the sea. In 1917, after a build up of unfortunate events, the village of South Hallsands was lost to the sea during a wild winter storm. Whilst aspects of the site of the old village can still be seen, it’s now closed to the public due to unstable cliffs and erosion, but there is a viewing platform and from here you can take in uninterrupted views of Start Bay, and learn even more about this historic fishing village.
Beesands is a thriving and very much active fishing village, where crab and lobster fishing are central to its economy. Fishing aside, Beesands boasts an award winning ‘Blue Flag’ shingle beach that stretches over a mile long, and is also backed by the freshwater nature reserve Widdicombe Ley. A traditional and tight knit fishing community, Beesands is a popular spot amongst both locals and visitors who like to take a slower pace of life, where life’s simple pleasures are indulged. Aside from a church and a small cluster of houses, Beesands also has a popular beachside café, Britannia @ The Beach, and an excellent pub, The Cricket Inn.
Widdicombe Ley (otherwise known as Beesands Ley), is a 12 hectare freshwater ley set just metres back from Beesands Beach. Surrounded by mature and young trees, it’s a sheltered and peaceful haven for wildlife, and as such, it thrives. Expect to see coots in abundance, and also sightings of the Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall and Shoveler. The best vantage point for observing the birds is in the bird hide, but another great spot is situated on the East side of the ley. Accessible to all, a car park is directly beside the ley, and what’s more, the hide is wheelchair-accessible, and also navigable for buggies. For more information, visit the Devon Birds website.
The Cricket Inn is an award-winning pub and restaurant serving freshly sourced seafood that is typically caught within the bay itself. Situated just a stone’s throw from the beach, and directly on the South West Coast Path it comes as no surprise that it has built an enviable reputation as one of South Devon’s best foodie pubs. Testament to this is not only the AA Red Rosette held since 2008, but also the recently awarded Gold in the South West Tourism Awards for Pub of the Year!
Britannia @ The Beach, affectionately known as ‘the shack’ offers a combination of a traditional fishmonger, village shop, takeaway and also ‘bring your own’ (for a corkage fee) café/restaurant. Recently refurbished to better withstand the winter storms, it is open year round, apart from a short break in January. The opening hours do change with the seasons, so be sure to check in advance should you wish to visit.
Torcross is situated at the southern tip of Slapton Sands (a long stretch of fine shingle beach in Start Bay), and is steeped in World War history. Also situated on the South West Coast Path, it’s a great location to explore by foot, and you will find the beaches of Beesands and Blackpool Sands nearby. Torcross Beach, the name given to this part of Slapton Sands, is a popular place with swimmers, sunbathers and keen anglers, and it is here that you will find several popular eateries with outside tables, allowing you to make the most of the scenery and sunshine, including the Start Bay Inn, the Seabreeze café and the Torcross Boathouse.
There is a council-run car park for which full parking permits are valid, and public toilets too, both of which are managed by the South Hams District Council. The car park is also home to the Exercise Tiger Memorial – this is a Sherman tank which was recovered from the sea and placed there to honour the 639 American soldiers and sailors who died in Start Bay on April 28, 1944. You can find out more about this tragedy here.
Slapton is a beautiful village nestled within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Home to two popular pubs, The Queen’s Arms and The Tower Inn, the village also enjoys several walking routes and is just a short distance from both Slapton Sands Beach and the Slapton Ley Nature Reserve.
Slapton Sands is a long, fine shingle beach that’s popular with sunbathers, swimmers, anglers and also watersports enthusiasts – fortunately, as it’s over three miles long, there’s no shortage of space for everyone to enjoy their favourite beach activities! In the middle of Slapton Sands, you’ll find the Slapton Memorial Car Park, which is also run by the South Hams District Council. There are public toilets in the car park and also a seasonal ice cream van for those deserving of a beachside treat.
Slapton Ley Nature Reserve is a unique and protected habitat, which includes and surrounds a large freshwater lake, and is the largest in the South West! A narrow bar – amazingly narrow when viewed from higher ground – is all that separates the fresh water from the salty sea. The landscape is home to a rich variety of birds including Cetti’s Warbler and rare collection of plants that have, over time, adapted to the windy and sunburnt shingle beach ridge, including the yellow horned-poppy. Slapton Ley is a popular day out with wildlife enthusiasts and families, who love to follow the varying trails, and watch birds from the hides.
Run by the Field Studies Council, a charity devoted to environmental education and research, the Slapton Ley Field Centre offers a variety of outdoor courses, both directly to enthusiasts and also through other organisations. The Fields Studies Council works with primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities to provide opportunities for fieldwork and adventure to children and adults. It also runs the Start Bay Centre, just outside Slapton village providing a range of free family events, including visits to the Beach Trailer for seashore adventures.
Strete is a quintessential South Devon village situated directly on the South West Coast Path, above Strete Gate Beach. Enjoying a large village green with sweeping coastal views, an active church, a post office / store and a well-loved pub, The King’s Arms, this is a popular spot, especially for ramblers given its prime location.
Strete Gate Beach sits at the northern edge of Slapton Sands, and furthermore, towards the tip of the beach there is an area regularly frequented by nudists. Strete Gate car park is run by South Hams District Council, where full parking permits are valid. There are also public toilets nearby and a seasonal van serving sumptuous ice creams, homemade cake and barista coffee!
Blackpool Sands, the northernmost beach in Start Bay, is a stunning Blue Flag-awarded fine shingle beach, hailed as one of the most popular family beaches in the region. Backed by evergreens and pines, and with calm crystal clear waters, it is easy to see why many people resonate with the Mediterranian when visiting!
There is ample parking here, even during the busy summer months, and a fantastic Venus Café and Takeaway, which is popular all year round with local residents as well as visitors. There are showers and toilet facilities at Blackpool Sands, but be aware these can be locked when the café is closed. The beach and car park are privately owned and charges do apply during the busier months.
The charming village of Stoke Fleming towers over Blackpool Sands and looks out across Start Bay. It’s a short but steep walk down to the beach, and provides breathtaking panoramic sea views en route. Whilst Stoke Fleming is a quiet village, there is a highly active community at its heart. Look out for events at the Village Hall, or pop over to The Green Dragon Inn on Church Street, or Radius 7 for a gourmet drink or meal. This popular pub is frequented both by local residents and groups of walkers, who often stop there to refuel as they hike along the South West Coast Path. One of the most popular routes from the village navigates from Dartmouth to Stoke Fleming, setting off from either Dartmouth Castle or the Little Dartmouth car park for an easier route.
Stokenham is a leafy, picturesque village situated just a mile from the coast of Torcross. The village is peppered with thatched roofed buildings, boasts sweeping countryside views and is home to two traditional pubs. One of our favourite things to do from here is to head to the coast for a circular walk, and on your return, pop into the Tradesman’s Arms or the Church House Inn for some high quality ‘pub grub’ or a cosy drink. Between Stokenham and Torcross on the A379, you’ll also find the cafe at Stokeley Farm Shop, excellent for breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas.
Start Point is one of the most exposed peninsulas on the English Coast and runs nearly a mile into the sea on the South side of Start Bay. Start Point Lighthouse, situated at the end of the headland, has been proudly guiding vessels through the English Channel for over 150 years, and is one of South Devon’s most iconic landmarks. With dramatic, craggy cliffs and expansive coastal views, the walks up to Start Point Lighthouse are highly regarded, and can be undertaken as a short loop, or as part of a longer trek along the South West Coast Path. If you’re really up for a challenge, navigate the path down to the rocks from the Start Point car park continuing westward around Start Point to Mattiscombe Beach, a fantastic spot for paddling, picnics and even shore angling if you have the stamina to carry your equipment up and down the hill!
As well as appreciating Start Point Lighthouse from the South West Coast Path, you can also go inside for a guided tour, which run hourly, on the days it’s open. Admission is charged at £4 for adults, £2.50 for children (5-16 years old) and £12 for a family ticket. The Start Point Lighthouse opening times change seasonally, and you will find that it doesn’t open every day, even during the summer. Therefore, it’s essential to check before you visit, and the best way to do this is to look on the Start Point Lighthouse website. There is no parking at the lighthouse itself, so you’ll need to use the Start Point car park, for which seasonal charges apply.
Encompassing a 15 mile stretch of the beautiful South West Coast Path, Start Bay is a popular destination for walkers, particularly for those bringing their dogs. Regardless of whether you want to spend your time hopping between beaches, navigating the full stretch (from Start Point to Dartmouth), or walking circular routes that also lead through countryside, Start Bay has a walk for everyone, irrespective of age or ability! One of our favourites is the Hallsands to Beesands circular, or for something a little more arduous, challenge yourself to the ten mile Dartmouth to Beesands walk. For even more inspiration, download our comprehensive walking guide.
Start Bay is peppered with shingle bays, including the popular beaches of Slapton Sands, Blackpool Sands, Beesands, Hallsands and Strete Gate. South Devon is the ultimate playground for beach lovers, and the region boasts not only shingle bays but also secluded coves and large sandy expanses, perfect for exploring! At Coast & Country Cottages we love the beach, so much so, we’ve created a South Devon Beach Bible – be sure to download our guide for even more inspiration.
At Coast & Country Cottages we boast an enviable collection of holiday cottages in Start Bay, from luxurious apartments and coastal cottages, to properties with swimming pools and even luxury dog-friendly cottages! We have cottages throughout Start Bay, in the villages of Beesands, Hallsands, Slapton, Torcross and beyond, so we are sure you will find something perfect!