Today’s stage was an enormous 19.5 miles, not counting the mile and a half to get back to Salcombe from the campsite and another mile or so to get to the campsite at the other end. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk quite so far in a day with all my gear, but I figured I’d give it a try and see how it went.
After an uninspiring walk along the A381 to get to the campsite last night I went back by the route recommended by the farmer’s wife instead. A vast improvement, it wound down the side of the hill and along the edge of the estuary: a relaxing and picturesque start to the day. The ferry ride across to East Portlemouth and the subsequent woodland path round Mill Bay carried on in the same vein, but if I was going to get to Stoke Fleming by evening I needed to keep up the pace. There was so much to see, however, I didn’t feel like hurrying past it all.
The rugged path to Prawle Point was similar to the walk I’d enjoyed so much yesterday, and the scenery was just as fabulous.
Then I had lunch at Kate Bush’s house. Or at least, on a cliff-side bench with a view of her house. Although it may not have been Kate Bush’s house at all; I only have the opinion of a local guy I’d bumped into earlier on the path on that point. Still though, it was a good spot for lunch with a good view of Start Point as well as possibly-Kate-Bush’s-house.
Start Point, when I reached it, was one of my highlights of the whole Coast Path so far. The anticipation began with a sign about a mile beforehand asking walkers to “Please exercise extreme care when using this section of the coast path.” What could be ahead??! It turned out to be a relatively narrow unfenced ledge, which wasn’t especially dangerous in the dry, calm conditions today but I can see could be risky in bad weather. The headland itself – one of the longest in Britain – made a dramatic sight as I approached it: a spiny ridge dropping down into the sea.
And as the path went up and over the ridge-line, suddenly revealing the wide expanse of Start Bay, the glorious unexpected vista took my breath away. Start Bay is an ever-changing coastline, it’s particular geology channeling the energy of winter storms in such a way as to continually change the contours of the shore. Human activities interact with these natural processes, of course, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. I walked past the ruined village of Hallsands, almost entirely destroyed by a storm in 1917 after decades of shingle dredging eroded the beach that protected it. The last remnants of the village clinging to the base of the cliff are a poignant reminder of the tragedy, for which the villagers were never properly compensated.
Sobered, and a bit tired, I arrived at the village of Torcross where a board on the sea-front advertised ‘The Best Cream Teas’. Clearly, that was a challenge I could not ignore! And the Sea Breeze cafe’s claim was no idle boast. de Wynns in Falmouth have met their match, though I’d be hard pressed to say which was the winner. I will have to declare it a tie until I can sample them both again…
Reenergised by such top notch refreshments it was an easy, relaxing walk to the other end of Slapton Ley, the largest natural lake in the West Country. With just five miles left to Stoke Fleming I started to think I’d actually be able to do it, and phoned ahead to book the campsite. Lucky I did: their field was flooded by all the recent rain and they weren’t taking anyone. No problem – the map showed another campsite at Strete a couple of miles closer. I googled for their phone number, just to check, and in the process discovered it was in fact naturist campsite. I entertained the idea for a moment: as Arnold Bax is reputed to have said, you should try everything once in life except incest and morris dancing. But I decided it was too cold. So I found myself staying in Slapton – my emergency fall back location if I didn’t think I’d go the distance – after all. But with a lovely pitch with a sea view, my laundry done and a belly full of homemade chicken and ham pie from The Queen’s Arms I can think of many worse places to be stranded for the night.