Discovering the South West Coast Path in South Devon
July 30th, 2017 | By Ross Purdy
South Devon’s section of the South West Coast Path includes some unforgettable scenery, numerous sites of historic and natural interest and some expansive areas of wonderful seclusion.
Here are our favourite stretches of the South West Coast Path in South Devon, with tips on what you’ll see there, the best places to stop to eat and drink, and where you can find out more.
- Westcombe Beach, Aymer Cove and Challaborough Beach
- Bantham to Hope Cove (4 miles)
- Hope Cove to Salcombe (7.5 miles)
- East Portlemouth to Prawle Point (6 miles)
- Prawle Point to Start Point (5.8 miles)
- Start Point to Torcross (4 miles)
- Torcross to Stoke Fleming (5.5 miles)
- Stoke Fleming to Dartmouth (4 miles)
- After Dartmouth
Westcombe Beach, Ayrmer Cove and Challaborough Beach
Enjoying stunning views of iconic Burgh Island from Bantham Beach and Bigbury-On-Sea is simply a must for anyone visiting the area. Linked by a tidal land bridge to the mainland, the island is perhaps most famous as the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s ‘And then there were none’, said to be the world’s bestselling mystery novel of all time. It’s no wonder so many people flock to these famous beaches, whether that’s to sunbathe, swim, surf or simply see the iconic sight of Burgh Island and its iconic Art Deco hotel.
By contrast, comparatively few people seem to explore the more remote stretches and coves to the west of Bigbury-On-Sea, such as the beauty spots of Westcombe Beach and Ayrmer Cove. The views of Burgh Island from this side are arguably as beautiful as from the other side, and this area is ideal for those looking to escape from the summer crowds.
Bantham to Hope Cove (4 miles)
Just behind the beach on the edge of the car park, you’ll find the Gastrobus (seasonal), an al fresco café with a fantastic reputation for homemade, locally-sourced food. A few steps up towards the village, you’ll find the 14th century Sloop Inn, another nice place to stop for a bite.
From Bantham Beach, you’ll hug the coastline on a hilly trail along Thurlestone Bay, great for those who love to stay in sight of the glistening sea. Look out for Thurlestone Rock, a natural arch formation just out to sea at the southern end of South Milton Sands.
Here you’ll find the Beach House, a popular café-restaurant for daytime snacks and evening events.
Hope Cove to Salcombe (7.5 miles)
Leave the bustling village behind and follow the South West Coast Path around the headland known as Bolt Tail. Two and a half miles of rugged coastline later, you’ll come to Soar Mill Cove, a much-loved local beauty spot. The beach itself is right next to the path, making a quick rest at the water’s edge all but irresistible.
Continue for two more miles to reach Bolt Head and Starehole Bay, where the views are simply stunning.
This marks the opening of the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary. Along this section you’ll find some lovely elevated views of Salcombe. Look out for picnic benches slightly off the beaten path route on this section, but watch your footing at all times as there are many sheer drops.
Next stop is South Sands, a little further along the estuary. This is a great beach for swimming and watersports, with shallow, calm waters, equipment hire on site, and Bo’s Beach Café (seasonal).
Less than half a mile further you’ll reach North Sands, a similar beach that benefits from the fantastic Winking Prawn café-restaurant, located just a stone’s throw from the sand.
Enjoy special views of Fort Charles, the estuary and the beaches of Sunny Cove, Fisherman’s Cove and East Portlemouth.
Above North Sands is the National Trust-owned Overbeck’s House, home to a fascinating collection of art and artefacts that was once owned by the scientist and inventor, Otto Overbeck.
In 10 minutes or so you’ll be in Salcombe. This picturesque harbour town and popular holiday destination is home to:
- Traditional pubs serving excellent food
- Cafés serving delicious homemade, locally-sourced meals and treats
- Stylish restaurants for all occasions
- Fantastic shops, particularly when it comes to designer clothes and original art
From Salcombe, you can take the passenger ferry across the estuary to East Portlemouth beach…
East Portlemouth to Prawle Point (6 miles)
Walking along the South West Coast Path from East Portlemouth will take you from gently picturesque Salcombe to the South Devon coastline at its most rugged and remote. Follow the up-and-down trail past Gara Rock Beach – a lovely place for a tranquil break or perhaps a picnic – onto Prawle Point.
Prawle Point to Start Point (5.8 miles)
Revel in the continually craggy coastline as your work your way from Prawle Point to Start Point. With mainly windswept sheep for company, plus the occasional fellow hiker, this is a wonderful walk for those looking to get away from it all.
Time to break out the sandwiches perhaps?
The trail here is challenging – you’ll need a touch of stoicism, some serious stamina and above all sturdy footwear!
Start Point to Torcross (4 miles)
Planning to arrive at Start Point by car? There’s a privately-owned car park close by, from which you can walk steeply downhill towards Start Point or Mattiscombe Sands.
Walking from Start Point to Torcross will take you along two popular South Devon beaches. Historic Hallsands is a little cove, which is famous for sitting alongside the ruined village of South Hallsands.
A short, signposted detour leads to a viewing platform over the old village. This settlement was destroyed during the great storms of 1917, leaving just one house standing at the time.
From the disaster, some green shoots emerged, such as Prospect Hotel (now Prospect House), which was built by two residents of the old village, Patience and Ella Trout.
Book a break in one of these luxurious self-catering apartments in Prospect House, both of which offer stunning coastal views.
Walking tip: There’s a fantastic circular walk between Hallsands and Beesands, which takes in the two beaches, historic South Hallsands, lovely views of Start Point and some picturesque inland scenery too. Find out more here.
Next you’ll come to Beesands, a pretty 1.5-mile fine-shingle beach, which is home to the excellent Cricket Inn as well as Britannia @ the Beach, currently voted South Devon’s best beachside café!
A mile beyond Beesands on the South West Coast Path will take you to Torcross. This is a traditional seaside village with the unique distinction of being home to both an expansive fine shingle beach (Slapton Sands) and the South West’s largest freshwater lake (Slapton Ley).
The sea and the ley are separated by a narrow bar, upon which runs the coastal road from Kingsbridge to Dartmouth – making it one of the area’s most picturesque drives, as well a fabulous spot for hikers and nature-spotters.
Torcross is also home to a popular family pub, the Start Bay Inn, which serves tasty locally-sourced seafood as well as a range of pub classics. Find out more about everything the village has to offer in our Torcross village guide.
Take a look at our stunning range of self-catering holiday homes in Torcross and Start Bay here.
Torcross to Stoke Fleming (5.5 miles)
From Torcross, you can walk along the beach or through the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve as far as Strete Gate. For a five-mile circular walk, lots of people head to Strete Gate on one side and then return on the other, giving you a nice mix of greenery and coastal views in a compact area.
Being very flat, this is a great option when you need a break from the region’s hillier, more challenging trails.
The trail takes you a little inland on the way to Blackpool Sands, a Blue Flag-awarded fine shingle cove towards the north of Start Bay. Blackpool Sands is one of the most popular beaches in South Devon and it’s not hard to see why: first-rate facilities from showers to watersports equipment hire, a fantastic Venus Café and Takeaway, and special views.
Stoke Fleming to Dartmouth (4 miles)
Take a look at our dedicated guide to the walk from Dartmouth to Blackpool Sands for comprehensive details about this section of the South West Coast Path. It’s a classic local walk, repeated by residents often on Sundays when they can combine the hike with a traditional roast at the Green Dragon pub in Stoke Fleming.
As Dartmouth nears, you’ll pass a couple of isolated beaches. Compass Cove lies beneath Little Dartmouth.
On the other side of the hill, you’ll find Sugary Cove and Dartmouth Castle. Castle Road, lined by forest, leads onto pretty Warfleet Creek and then a pleasant paved walk along South Town and Newcomen Road towards Dartmouth Harbour. Enjoy the view of colourful Kingswear across the Dart as you stroll into this historic town to explore.
Dartmouth is a picturesque, tranquil yet vibrant harbour town with a busy programme of annual festivals and events. Find out more about Dartmouth here:
- Dartmouth’s best restaurants
- Our top Dartmouth cafés
- The best pubs in Dartmouth for all occasions
- Things to do in Dartmouth
Take the passenger ferry across the river to Kingswear for further walking options. Some hike as far as Brixham along the South West Coast Path, while others stop at Coleton Fishacre, a National Trust Property that takes visitors back to the Jazz Age.
Another popular walk is to hike along the Dart Valley Trail from Kingswear to Greenway, over the ferry to Dittisham and back to Dartmouth.
This challenging walk provides an unbelievable variety of views, sometimes as far as Torbay.
That was just a brief look at our favourite South Devon sections of the South West Coast Path. Please let us know which walks you especially enjoy, along with which you’d like to try. If you have any tips for little-known circular walks in our region, be sure to share them with your fellow hikers on our Facebook page!
The South West Coast Path and Dart Valley Trail are just two reasons why nature-lovers visit South Devon again and again. Why not make your next UK break a memorable holiday amidst fresh air and stunning coastal and rural scenery?