Slapton Sands | South Devon Beach Bible

By Ross Purdy on August 17, 2017

 Slapton Sands at Torcross


Slapton Sands in South Devon is a beautiful and historic shingle beach which stretches for three miles along Start Bay. Find out more about this unique beach, with our comprehensive guide.

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Where is Slapton Sands?

Get directions from Kingsbridge and Dartmouth.

Map

Use this interactive map to find your way to, or around, Slapton Sands.

Parking

Get postcodes and charges for all four car parks here.

The beach guide

Click here for an at-a-glance guide.

Pubs, cafés and restaurants

Find out more about these excellent eateries:

The tragic history of Slapton Sands

Thanks in large part to the work of one Devon resident, Slapton Sands’ tragic World War II history has become better known in recent decades. Find out more about the evacuation and the Exercise Tiger disaster here.

Fishing at Slapton Sands

Being three miles in length, this beach offers an extensive range of conditions and species. Learn more about fishing at Slapton Sands.

Holiday cottages at Slapton Sands

Discover our ‘At the Beach’ holiday apartments on the very edge of Slapton Sands at Torcross.

Bringing your dog to Slapton Sands

Find out where you can take your dog, from the beach and nature reserve to the dog-friendly eateries.

Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve

Learn more about the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve, home to the South West’s largest freshwater lake.

Vote for your favourite South Devon beach!

Vote here and see which beach is currently voted South Devon’s favourite. You can also choose your favourite beachside café.

Similar beaches

Looking for other local beaches? Here are our recommendations.

Where is Slapton sands?

Slapton Sands, around 28 miles west of Plymouth, is on the east-facing coast of Devon’s South Hams. This three-mile fine shingle beach occupies a central stretch of Start Bay, which runs from Warren Point near Dartmouth in the north, to Start Point in the south.

The A379 runs along most of the length of Slapton Sands, from Torcross to Strete Gate, meaning access from Kingsbridge and Dartmouth is very straightforward.

Directions to Slapton Sands

Here’s how to get to Slapton Sands from Dartmouth and Kingsbridge.

By car:

Sat nav users, use the postcode TQ7 2TQ for Torcross.

From Dartmouth:

  1. As you drive out of Dartmouth up College Way, take a left at the mini-roundabout, signposted for Stoke Fleming and Strete.
  2. Then simply follow the A379 as it winds its way to the village of Stoke Fleming. Carry on through the village and after a few miles Start Bay will appear in front of you.
  3. Continue downhill, passing Blackpool Sands on your left. The road will then wind up and down a steep hill, offering some wonderful views. Carry on along the A379 passing the edge of the village of Strete.
  4. Half a mile later you’ll reach the beach. You can turn left and park at the northern tip of Slapton Sands, stop at the central car park or continue to the southern side of the beach, where you’ll find more parking and the village of Torcross.

From Kingsbridge:

Option 1:

  1. Drive to the outskirts of Dartmouth, go straight on at the first roundabout you reach, and then turn right at the second.
  2. From there, follow the above directions from (2).

Option 2:

This coastal option provides one of the most scenic drives in the South Hams.

  1. Leave Kingsbridge along the Promenade/A379, signposted for Dartmouth.
  2. Stay on this road, passing the villages of West Charleton, East Charleton, Frogmore, and Chillington.
  3. At Stokenham, you’ll come to a roundabout. Continue straight on and you’ll soon arrive at Torcross, and a stunning stretch of Start Bay will appear on your right.
  4. You can park at Torcross, which will give you the chance to see the poignant war memorial, continue halfway down the beach to the next car park, or drive the length of the bay and park on the Strete side of Slapton Sands.

By bus:

The Number 3 service runs between Dartmouth and Kingsbridge.

On foot:

Slapton Sands is on the South West Coast Path. It is a challenging walk from Dartmouth (around 9 miles which includes some steep slopes).

Slapton Sands map


Parking

There is ample parking at Slapton Sands, with four car parks all run by South Hams District Council. As an alternative to cash, you can use the RingGo app/telephone service at all of these sites. For more information, visit: https://www.myringgo.co.uk/parkinglocator

Parking at the Torcross end of Slapton Sands

There are two places to park at the southern edge of Slapton Sands. These are:

1. Torcross car park, Slapton Line

Postcode: TQ7 2TQ

This is the main car park on the outskirts of the village of Torcross, between Slapton Ley and the beach. Here you’ll find the Operation Tiger Memorial, a recovered Sherman Tank to commemorate the tragic death of almost a thousand US servicemen in Start Bay during World War II.

This car park offers quick access to the beach, pub and restaurant, and also has public toilets.

Charges:

Time 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours All day 18:00-8.00
25 Mar -31 Oct £1 £2 £3 £4 £6.50 £2
1 Nov -24 Mar 80p £1.60 £2.40 £3.20 £5.50 n/a

2. Torcross village layby

Post code: TQ7 2TQ

Adjacent to the main car park, opposite the Start Bay Inn, there’s a series of diagonal parking bays. These offer even easier access to the pub and cafés at Torcross, but they’re only for short stays in the daytime.

Charges:

Time 1 hour 2 hours 18:00-8.00
25 Mar -31 Oct 90 p £1.80 £2
1 Nov -24 Mar 80 p £1.60 n/a

Slapton Memorial car park

Postcode: TQ7 2PN

A mile from Torcross car park, there’s another large car park, also with public conveniences. The Slapton Memorial car park is a good choice if you’re keen to find a quieter park of the beach during busy times, or for if you’d like an easy walk back along the beach or the Ley to Torcross.

On sunnier days and in high season, there’s an ice cream van in this car park.

Charges:

Time 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours All day 18:00-8.00
25 Mar -31 Oct £1 £2 £3 £4 £6.50 £2
1 Nov -24 Mar 80p £1.60 £2.40 £3.20 £5.50 n/a

Strete Gate car park

Postcode: TQ7 2PN

Strete Gate car park is located a mile from the Slapton Memorial car park. It’s the northernmost car park, at around two miles from Torcross village. It’s almost a mile’s walk to the northern tip of the beach from here.

Charges:

Time 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours All day 18:00-8.00
25 Mar -31 Oct £1 £2 £3 £4 £6.50 £2
1 Nov -24 Mar 80p £1.60 £2.40 £3.20 £5.50 n/a

These charges are correct at the time of publishing and we’ll endeavour to keep them up to date. Please visit the South Hams District Council website for the latest information.

Facilities at a glance

  • Cafés
  • Shop (Torcross)
  • Showers
  • Toilets at the three main car parks
  • Pub/restaurant
  • Seasonal lifeguards in the central area


The Beach

Slapton Sands is a picturesque fine shingle beach, stretching to over three miles, with some of best scenery in the South Hams. It’s very spacious, with a traditional ‘out of the way’ feel, which means there’s usually plenty of space to spread out and have fun. This is what makes Slapton Sands such a good choice for families, as well as dog owners, as the beach welcomes your four-legged friends all year round.

Slapton Sands at Torcross

The water gets deep quickly at Slapton Sands, which is ideal for shore anglers (one of the reasons it’s a popular fishing spot). It’s perhaps less suited to young families with little ones who want to paddle or swim, but perfectly OK for more confident swimmers, who can often be spotted at the beach in the summer.

In some ways, Slapton Sands feels like three separate beaches: the busier Torcross side has most of the facilities, such as the bustling Start Bay Inn and the Sea Breeze Café and Takeaway, while the other two areas are typically quieter.

Torcross Beach

Torcross Beach

Sometimes considered a separate beach in its own right, Torcross Beach is usually the busiest part of Slapton Sands. It’s the best choice for visitors with limited mobility, as there’s disabled access to the beach as well as a level promenade, about 300 m in length, which is suitable for wheelchair users. From Torcross Beach you can enjoy picturesque views of Start Bay in both directions, on a clear day spotting the Start Point Lighthouse to your right and Blackpool Sands to your left.

Central Slapton Sands

In the central area of Slapton Sands, you’ll usually find fewer people if you’re prepared to walk a few hundred metres from the Memorial car park in either direction. This area is great for relaxation or spreading out with a big family group to play games, and there are toilet facilities along with a seasonal ice cream van too.

In the summer, this section is staffed by lifeguards.

Strete Gate Beach

Strete Gate Beach

Strete Gate Beach is the furthest from the facilities of Torcross, but there are public conveniences and a seasonal ice cream van at the edge of the car park. It’s a nice place to begin a walk along the beach to Torcross for a meal or drink, before walking back on the ley side, or vice versa. This gives the feeling of a circular walk even though the beach and ley are just a stone’s throw apart.

Slapton Sands naturist beach

Although it has no official status, the northern stretch of Slapton Sands, beyond Strete Gate car park, is widely considered a naturist area.

Pubs and restaurants at Slapton Sands

There are three places to stop for a meal, snack or drink at Torcross, all of which are popular with locals and visitors alike. See below for more information about the Start Bay Inn, the Boat House and Sea Breeze.

If you’re happy to jump in the car for a short drive, you have lots of other nearby eateries to choose from.

The Laughing MonkThe Laughing Monk in the village of Strete is an award-winning restaurant, just over a mile from Strete Gate. Find out more in our Strete village guide.


The Tower InnThe Tower Inn at Slapton, less than a mile from the Slapton Sands Memorial car park, is a popular gastro-pub that serves freshly-prepared, locally sourced food along with an extensive selection of wines and ales.


As a fantastic daytime option, the café at Stokeley Farm shop, under a mile from Torcross, serves a tempting range of meals, snacks and treats, including delicious Devon Cream Teas.

The Start Bay Inn

The Start Bay Inn

The Start Bay Inn is a family-friendly pub-restaurant in Torcross, with outside tables facing the sea which are irresistible for many a passer-by during the summer. The menu has a focus on fish and sea food, but the traditional pub classics are all served too.

The pub, which dates back to the 14th century, has been run as a family business since 1977. They source fish and sea food locally as much as possible, even using their own boat launched from the beach opposite the pub when the weather permits.

There’s a dedicated area for families with its own bar serving non-alcoholic drinks.

Dogs are allowed at the outside tables but not inside whilst food is being served.

See the menu here

The Boat House

The Boat House at Torcross is just a few steps away from the Start Bay Inn. This casual, sunny café-restaurant also serves as a takeaway, so you can pick up a hearty portion of fish and chips to take back to the shingle if you’d rather stay in the great outdoors. In the summer, you can also dine al fresco on the patio.

The varied menu includes salads, pizzas, burgers, a range of seafood options, cakes and other desserts along with a reasonably priced kids’ menu.

The Boat House doesn’t open every evening so check their website for opening times if you’re planning to go there for dinner.

Find out more

Sea Breeze

Sea Breeze Cafe


A few hundred metres walk towards the southern tip of the beach, Sea Breeze is a cosy traditional café with some outside tables. A popular place for light bites and desserts (including amongst our locally-based team!), Sea Breeze serves tasty teacakes and scones, American pancakes, soups and cakes amongst other delights.

Learn more about the Sea Breeze Café

Ice cream, snacks and drinks

If you just want to pick up an ice cream, cold drink or tea/coffee to take away, in the summer months you’ll usually find vans at Strete Gate car park and Slapton Memorial car park. At Torcoss, the Boat House café-restaurant also serves ice-cream cones (chocolate, strawberry or vanilla with a flake) to take away.

So you can choose any stretch of the beach, at least during the more popular periods, and have somewhere close by to pick up some refreshments.

Slapton Sands’ history

For many, Slapton Sands is synonymous with World War II, as this section of Start Bay and the surrounding villages played a major part in the preparations for D-Day.

WW2 and the evacuation of Slapton Sands

Slapton Sands was chosen for Exercise Tiger

The area around Slapton Sands was evacuated in autumn 1943, after the site was chosen as one of four exercise areas in preparation for the D-Day landings. The others were Bracklesham Bay, Hayling Island and Littlehampton. The beach at Slapton was selected for its close similarities to what the allies codenamed ‘Utah Beach’ on northern France’s Cherbourg peninsula.

The evacuated villages included Torcross, Slapton and Strete, as well as some settlements further inland, as far as East Allington and Blackawton. Almost all moveable possessions had to be taken, including farming machinery and church furnishings, as there was no guarantee that anything left behind would be undamaged by the military exercises.

This was a major undertaking. According to the historian Arthur C. Clamp:

‘A notice of requisition was passed to Devon County Council under the Defence Regulations Act of 1939, specifying that a certain area of the South Hams was to be fully evacuated of civilians and livestock by the 20th December 1943. They gave six weeks notice for the moving of about 750 families, comprising about 3,000 people, 180 farms, villages, shops, etc. Some 30,00 acres would have to be cleared in these weeks…’

The order obviously took the community aback, but the logistical problems and hardships were overwhelmingly overcome by ‘a willingness on most people’s part to pull together and make the most of it.’

For more information, pick up a copy of Arthur C. Clamp’s booklet, ‘Preparing for D-Day; American Assault Exercises at Slapton Sands’, published by Orchard, available at Dartmouth Bookseller on Foss Street and other local outlets.

Exercise Tiger

Six large-scale exercises were undertaken by the US forces based around Slapton Sands. Some, according to Clamp, were attended by high ranking officers and VIPs, including General Eisenhower, General Montgomery and Winston Churchill.

For tragic reasons, the operation that became best known in the years since, both in the UK and the US, was Exercise Tiger on 28th April, which culminated in the deaths of an estimated 946 American servicemen.

The exercise was designed to be long and arduous, and as close a simulation as possible of the conditions of actual warfare. Ken Small, whose research and campaigning played a major part in raising awareness of the disaster, explained that ‘it was decided to use live ammunition, fired over the heads of and in front of the invading troops on the shore, while naval and land batteries and forces would try to repel them.’

One of the reasons for this approach was a general fear amongst the Allied leadership that both young recruits and full colonels alike needed ‘toughening up’ for combat.

Harry C. Butcher, an aide of General Eisenhower, wrote in pessimistic terms:

‘I am concerned over the absence of toughness and alertness of young American whom I saw… They seem to regard war as one grand manoeuvre in which they are having a happy time. Many seem as green as growing corn… A good many of the full colonels also give me pain. They are fat, grey and oldish.’

In preparation for their simulated assault, eight heavily laden tank landing ships were making their way to Slapton Sands from Lyme Bay, unaccompanied by the Royal Navy Destroyer that was scheduled to join them but had to be diverted. Alerted by radio chatter, a fleet of German E-boats slipped past the UK’s naval defences and intercepted the convoy, launching an attack that proved disastrous for the largely defenceless fleet.

Many mistakes and unforeseen circumstances are said to have contributed to the toll, including typing errors that led to confusion over radio frequencies and the use of ineffective lifejackets.

An information blackout was ordered after the disaster – anyone caught leaking details about the Operation Tiger disaster would have faced court martial. Still, some first-hand accounts survived, such as a diary entry by hospital apprentice Arthur Victor, who wrote:

‘Men without lifeboats and in waterlogged clothing were in a constant struggle to stay afloat, holding onto others with belts or Mae Wests. Even those with preservers were struggling because of the freezing water and desperate state of panic most of us were in. Men were dying all around in those first few minutes.’

Those who did survive endured many hours in the bitterly cold water, braving fire and darkness through the night.

The Forgotten Dead by Ken SmallAll quotes from this section are from ‘The Forgotten Dead’ by Ken Small, published by Bloomsbury and sold at many local bookshops.

The Exercise Tiger Memorial


For decades, Exercise Tiger remained largely unknown amongst the Anglo-American public until a Devon resident, the aforementioned Ken Small, began a campaign in the 1970s to raise awareness.

Small was also responsible for the recovered Sherman tank that stands by Slapton Ley in Torcross, and serves as a memorial to those who died during the Operation Tiger disaster. After a 10-year search which began in 1974, Small, working with a team of local residents and businesses, had the tank raised from the depths off Start Bay and placed on a plinth.

In his note on the author in the current edition of ‘The Forgotten Dead’, Small’s son, Dean, wrote that ‘My father was a human landmark as, 364 days of the year, he would sit in his car by the Sherman tank, talking to visitors both young and old from around the world, giving talks to coach parties…” Nothing was said to give him more pleasure.

Thanks to Small, who died in 2004, the memorial has become a place of pilgrimage for American descendants of the fallen, as well as others keen to pay their respects.

Find out more at http://www.exercisetigermemorial.co.uk/ or pick up a copy of Ken Small’s book.

Slapton Sands accommodation

‘At the Beach’ is a striking development of luxury apartments and cottages on the very edge of the sea at Torcross. The development is the transformation of the former ‘Torcross Hotel’, a prominent local landmark since it was built in the late Victorian era.

At the Beach

Combining the original elegance of the development with an array of modern day comforts, our ‘At the beach’ properties offer the ideal seaside accommodation for couples and small families.

1 At the Beach (sleeps 4) is a beautifully presented ground-floor apartment with its own private beachside terrace. With a VisitEngland Five Star award, this sumptuous two-bedroom property combines comfort and style with a superb location and special coastal views. Find out more about 1 At the Beach.


2 At the Beach2 At the Beach (sleeps 4), also on the ground floor with a lovely private terrace, is a very comfortable contemporarily-styled apartment, with a spacious living and dining area, a well-equipped modern kitchen, and two attractively furnished bedrooms (one en-suite). Explore 2 At the Beach today.


15 At the Beach (sleeps 6) is a beautifully furnished and very well-equipped three-bedroom penthouse apartment, perfect for couples and families. Divided over two floors, this VisitEngland Five Star-awarded holiday home provides stunning views of Start Bay. Learn more about 15 At the Beach today.


The Barn, 20 At the BeachThe Barn, 20 At The Beach (sleeps 4) is stylish and tastefully furnished two-storey barn conversion. Awarded with a VisitEngland Five Star Gold rating, this recently refurbished holiday home provides a very high standard of contemporary accommodation, ideal for couples and small families. Discover The Barn now.

See all our properties in Torcross and Start Bay

Fishing at Slapton Sands

Fishing at Slapton Sands

Slapton Sands is a popular fishing spot all year round. The steep shelf means it’s easy to reach deep water and, at least in the central area, the shingle sea bed ensures that snags are rarely a problem.

On summer evenings, sections of the beach are often lined by anglers fishing for mackerel on feathers and spinners. Bass are also caught off Slapton Sands (most reports are from Strete Gate), using sand eel or lures.

Fishing off the bottom is known to bring in plaice, dab, dogfish, pouting and whiting in good numbers. Live rag worm is the typical ‘go to’ bait in the area, with sand eel also recommended.

Is Slapton Sands dog-friendly?


Yes, Slapton Sands itself is a dog-friendly beach all year round, with no restrictions as to the areas where your four-legged friend is permitted.

How about Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve

If you’d like to take your dog onto the reserve, the management request that you keep it on a lead and keep to the trails to avoid disturbing wildlife.

Dog-friendly places to eat

At the Start Bay Inn, dogs are welcome at the outside tables but not indoors whilst food is being served.

Similarly, Sea Breeze permits dogs outside but not indoors.

The Boathouse Restaurant is dog-friendly inside and out, and also serves food to take away so you can return with your pooch to the beach after picking up some tasty snacks.

Slapton Ley and opportunities for wildlife-spotting

Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve

At around a mile and half long, Slapton Ley is the largest natural freshwater lake in south-west England. Separated by a narrow shingle bar from the salty sea, it’s a unique sight, especially from elevated spots that emphasise its precarious position.

The ley (lake) is surrounded by reeds, marshes and trees and, although the trail runs close to the road, its low elevation means you’re nicely shielded from the sight and most of the sound of the traffic.

Being of considerable natural importance, Slapton Ley has been designated a National Nature Reserve.

To find out more, we spoke to Pete Moore from Forest & Beach, which provides outdoor educational activities in South Devon.

What’s special about Slapton Ley and this stretch of beach when it comes to nature?

“The wildlife in this area is just fantastic both big and small. Just offshore I have seen spider crabs whilst snorkelling along with bass and mackerel. The birdlife attracts visitors from far and wide and the geography of the land allows you to spot freshwater species and saltwater species within close proximity.”

How about your own highlights?

“From the shore looking out to sea I have been fortunate to spot the Humpback whale which visited this early spring on numerous occasions when it was around. There is however always a chance of spotting resident porpoises or grey seals, the latter of which have a colony around Start Point and Peartree Point.”

Do you have any general nature spotting tips for visitors to South Devon?

“Generally early morning or early evening is a good time to spot wildlife. Walking along the coast, say from Slapton to Start Point, also provides wildlife encounters as you become attuned to your surroundings and observant. The coast provides habitats for the bloody nosed beetle and oil beetle which may be crossing the path, and there is a really good chance of spotting peregrines which nest amongst the cliffs. You may also spot the common lizard from Spring onwards, basking on rocks or wooden gateposts. Being patient is also really important of course, allow yourself time to relax and you will start to see the wildlife all around us.”

Find out more about the holiday activities provided for kids by Forest and Beach, led by qualified, experienced teachers and pioneers of the ‘forest school’.

Slapton Ley Field Centre

Slapton Ley Field Centre, managed by the Field Studies Council, is an outdoor classroom offering curriculum-linked field work for GCSE, IB and A Level students, as well as Centre Assisted Courses for universities.

Find out more at: http://www.field-studies-council.org/centres/slapton/slaptonley.aspx

Polls


Similar beaches

There are lots of fantastic beaches in South Devon with similar facilities to those at Slapton Sands.

Blackpool Sands

Blackpool Sands is a smaller, privately owned beach a little further north of Slapton Sands, with supervised swimming in the summer and a range of watersports.

Beesands

Beesands is a 1.5-mile fine shingle beach just a few metres as the crow flies from Torcross. (about three miles by car, and half a mile on foot.) Beesands is home to the gastro-pub, The Cricket Inn, and the popular Britannia @The Beach, which is leading our ‘Best beachside café in South Devon’ poll.

For more beach options, browse our comprehensive South Devon Beach Bible.

South Devon is home to an array of beautiful beaches, ideal for swimming, sunbathing, watersports or simply a picturesque walk.

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