Otterton to Babbacombe / Hope's Nose to Prawle Pont / Kingsbridge to Plymouth

The South Hams District

The South Hams lies on Devon's south coast, south of Dartmoor, and between Torbay and Plymouth. It is mostly within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a stunning coastline, rivers and estuaries, golden beaches and rolling countryside.


Many bustling historic towns and picturesque villages can be found within the area and the name - South Hams - comes from an old English word, hamme, meaning an enclosed or sheltered place.

Hope's Nose

Hope's Nose is a rocky headland marking the northern end of Tor Bay. Just off the Nose is Ore Stone, which has Devon's largest breeding colony of kittiwakes. On the Torquay side of the headland is Meadfoot Beach, whose sands completely disappear at high tide.

Hope's Nose Ore StoneMeadfoot Beach

Thatcher RockThere is a great example of a raised beach beside Shennell Cove and another one at Thatcher Rock. which is 25ft above today’s sea level.


PromenadeThe poet, Lord Tennyson thought this 'the loveliest sea village in England’. It is a town of genteel Victorian terraces, manicured gardens and wide promenades and became fashionable in the early 19th century, when war in Europe prevented wealthy people taking their holidays abroad.

Town centreMany grand villas and terraces were built during the time now forming many present day hotels such as the Bishop’s Court, Livermead Hotel and the Osborne Hotel.

Luxury boatsTorquay gained a reputation among the families of naval officers stationed in the bay for its pleasant climate and sheltered situation.

It is surrounded by the famous seven hills and has a Mediterranean atmosphere with a large, palm-fringed harbour, choked with sporty yachts and cabin cruisers. There is a new attraction called “Living Coasts” which is an exhibition of the wildlife that inhabits the coastal regions of the world.

PavilionPierThe Pavilion Shopping Centre started life as a theatre but now houses specialist shops with a restaurant above.

The Princess Pier is a preserved promenade where the young Agatha Christie enjoyed her roller-skating.

We went for an evening stroll to see the illuminations in the gardens by the promenade and there is a modern footbridge over the harbour that is lit up in blue.

IlluminationsHarbour footbridge

Torquay’s first harbour was established in the 12th century by the monks of Torre Abbey which was unfortunately closed for renovation while we were there. In 1948 the water sports events of the Olympic Games were held here and the Olympic flame burned for the duration at Torre Abbey Gardens.

Torre AbbeyDuring the reign of Henry Vlll the monasteries faced dissolution and in 1539 the abbey was adapted as a private residence. The Cary family, who lived there from 1662 until 1930, were Catholics who built a secret chapel under the roof of the west wing.

In 1930 the Abbey was purchased by the council and is today used as Torbay's municipal art gallery. The most popular exhibition is the Agatha Christie collection and many of her personal effects are on display here.


tHATCHED COTTAGECockington, with its leafy lanes, thatched cottages and pretty gardens has a recorded history stretching back nearly a thousand years when a family who became known as the ‘de Cockingtons’ were given the manor. The village (even the public toilets are thatched) is one of the most photographed places in the country.

dRUM iNNWe called for lunch at the Drum Inn which has been restored with homage paid to the original designer, Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Cockington Court is set in parkland with a Norman church; it has been converted into a very nice craft centre with walled gardens.


Compton Castle

Compton Castle The castle is one of the few fortified houses in Britain to survive without later alterations or additions and was the home of the Gilbert family for 600 years. The great hall, buttery and solar were constructed around 1350 but the fortifications date from the reign of Henry Vlll. The defences with towers, gun-ports, portcullis and a twenty foot high curtain wall could withstand an attack from a roving shore party.

Compton CastleIn the 16th century three Gilbert brothers spearheaded the colonial expansion in North America. Humphrey Gilbert claimed Newfoundland for Queen Elizabeth I and later explored southward as far as Cape Breton. Otho Gilbert's widow married Walter Raleigh of Fardell and became the mother of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Our cottageIn 1800 the estate was sold and neglected but in 1930 Commander Gilbert, 11th in line from Sir Humphrey, bought back the property and meticulously restored the house and rebuilt the great hall, giving it to the National Trust in 1951.

We rented a very nice house in the grounds of Compton Castle for the week.


Paignton HarbourParkPier

Elephant at Paignton zooPaignton isn’t as grand as Torquay but has a long sandy beach lined that is popular with young families. There is a modest harbour where you can get boat trips and a jolly pier with the usual amusements. The zoo has some 1300 animals and there are illuminations on the seafront at night.

Oldway MansionPaignton was a small fishing village well into the 19th century. Isaac Singer, the sewing machine manufacturer built Oldway Mansion in the 1870s.

Inspired by French and Italian architecture, its appearance is impressive. There is a grand marble staircase and the gallery was modelled on the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway

Steam train at Kingswear Our favourite attraction was the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway which was privately bought in 1972 when the main line closed. Not only is it attractive but also very useful, with a regular service in the summer.

Churston StationWe took a return trip for seven miles along the spectacular Torbay coast to Churston and on through the wooded slopes bordering the Dart estuary to Kingswear.

The scenery is superb, and was enhanced by the beautiful weather and the glass observation coach. We got pole position and videoed the entire trip

View from viaductFilming the viewObservation coach.Kingswear station

Goodrington Sands

This beach is one of Tor Bay's most popular stretches of sands for family holidays.

Between the beach and the railway is Quaywest, which is a water theme park that includes water rides and slides.

Broad Sands

ViaductTo get to the beach we had to drive under an impressive viaduct used by the steam railway.

Broad SandsThe sandy beach slopes gently to the sea and is surrounded by a ring of brightly painted beach huts.

A short walk over the cliffs leads to the relative seclusion of Elberry Cove, which has a shingle beach.

Churston CoveA path zigzags through woods and leads to Fishcombe Beach which is backed by red sandstone cliffs. You have to park in Brixham if you want to go by car to Fishcombe Beach and the neighbouring shingle beach of Churston Cove.


Brixham shop This is the oldest town in Tor Bay with narrow, cobbled streets and old buildings clinging to the steep slopes which almost encircle the harbour. Brixham has two main industries - fishing and tourism.

Golden HindThe Old Market House houses an innovative museum called the Deep, where you can explore a sunken pirate ship or descend towards the seabed in a bathysphere and there is an impressive replica of Sir Francis' Drake's ship the Golden Hind floating in the water.

William of OrangeWilliam of Orange landed here, to take up the throne of England and a monument on the harbour side overlooks an array of brightly painted boats. In the summer local artists display their paintings in true St. Tropez style.

Brixham HarbourWe climbed a viewing platform to see the main fishing port and there is an under-cover Fish Quay where you can buy a wide variety of fresh fish.

At the marina, which is located just outside of the inner harbour, are all the trappings of luxury boating - chandlers, marina-side pubs, restaurants, open-air cafés, with mega-yachts and sailing dinghies.

Brixham HarbourThe Brixham trawler, developed in the town in the late 18th century, proved so successful that Brixham became Britain's premier fishing port. When the rich North Sea fishing grounds were discovered the Brixham trawler was the prototype for the huge fleets of trawlers that became established at Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Lowestoft.

seawater poolYou can walk right around the port on a recently contracted walkway to reach the breakwater and pebbly Shoalstone Beach where there is an open-air seawater swimming pool.

Berry Head

Berry Head lighthouseA lovely walk took us to Berry Head lighthouse which is only 15ft tall, but because of the height of the cliffs on which it stands the light is 200ft above sea level. Berry Head is a country park and a nature reserve, with a large breeding colony of guillemots, known locally as Brixham penguins and you can see live pictures of them, relayed to the Visitor Centre.

There is a colony of greater horseshoe bats in the old quarry, but this species is declining at an alarming rate and is being carefully monitored. They depend on traditional cattle-grazed pasture because they love to eat dung-beetles.

Napoleonic fortThe remains of two massive Napoleonic forts guard this strategic headland with stunning views across Tor Bay to the north and Start Bay to the Southwest.

St Mary’s BayWe looked south over St Mary’s Bay where Pontin's Holiday Camp was a popular holiday venue for many years and I remembered spending a week there in the 1950s. There was a disastrous fire in the early 1990s and since then the old chalets have been derelict and vandalised.

Southdown Cliff

Southdown CliffThe 350ft Southdown Cliff can be explored by following the South West Coast Path from a car park at Sharkham Point. Some sections of the path are steep, including the descent from Southdown Cliff to the shingle beach at Man Sands.

Coleton Fishacre

Coleton FishacreThe house was built in the 1920s for Rupert and Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte who were the main beneficiaries of the opera company of the same name.

Oswald Peregrine Milne, a pupil of Sir Edwin Lutyens, designed the house and garden in an elegant Art Deco style with furnishings to match. In 1926 the D'Oyly Carte family set about planting the 25 acre garden. Close to the house there is a formal pool garden and elsewhere wooded areas full of wild flowers descend around streams to the sea.


This is another picture postcard village with lovely views over Dartmouth. The name Kingswear may be associated with a tidal mill at the head of the creek with its system of weirs, but why Dartmouth developed instead of Kingswear with its better communications to Exeter and London is not known.


A ferry to Dartmouth operated from at least 1365 from Kittery Point and in 1636 Francis Champernowne sailed from here to Maine in the USA to found the town of Kittery.

Lower Ferry Foot ferryHigher Ferry

There are now three ferries between Kingswear and Dartmouth. The Lower Ferry from the slipway in the village takes cars and foot passengers; the passenger ferry from the nearby pontoon connects the Kingswear railway to Dartmouth Station and the Higher Ferry takes cars and foot passengers and bypasses Kingswear village.

HotelDuring World War ll the hotel became HMS Cicala, the headquarters of the 15th Flotilla which made journeys to the beaches of Brittany to land agents and equipment for the French Resistance and bring back escaping allied soldiers and airmen.

Kingswear harbourThe harbour became a principal bunkering port for steam ships to take on coal brought by sea and on the railway but the trade suffered as ships became too large to enter the harbour.

Kingswear CastleKingswear Castle was built around 1502 for use with heavy cannon and was designed to work alongside Dartmouth Castle on the opposite bank to provide cover for the narrow entrance into the harbour. It is now a holiday let.


We arrived on the ferry from Kingswear with fine views of the embankment that runs along the length of the town.

Medieval housesThe narrow streets are steep and many are overhung by the upper floors of medieval houses. Some buildings have grapes carved on them to reflect the town's days as a wine port when merchants traded wool for French wine. The Cherub Pub and Agincourt House are both examples of 14th century buildings that have survived in the town.

ButterwalkThe Butterwalk is a row of merchants' trading houses built in the 1630s with the upper floors supported on columns that sheltered the traders as they went about their business below. One of the houses is now a museum which traces the town's nautical past.

Thomas Newcomen, who invented the atmospheric steam engine, was born in Dartmouth in 1663 and we parked near the visitor centre where a model has been reconstructed at the Newcomen Engine House.

New QuayWe walked through pretty gardens to New Quay which was built on reclaimed land and is surrounded by fascinating buildings, shops and cafes.

New QuayThe large modern marina has meant up-market shops being introduced, but the town's history is never far away. The walk along the river front has stunning views and numerous river trips on offer.

We reached the cobbled Bayards Cove which has changed little since 1539 and featured in the TV series ‘the Onedin Line’.

Bayards CoveHere there is a small artillery fort that was built in 1510 to provide additional protection to the harbour. A stone commemorates the Pilgrim Fathers, who put into Bayard's Cove en-route from Southampton to the New World.

Artillery fortIn the 12th century, Crusaders set sail from Dartmouth for the Holy Land. It supplied Edward lll with vessels for the Siege of Calais and 12 ships sailed from the town's harbour to join the English fleet opposing the Spanish Armada. In 1944, more than 480 ships left Dartmouth to take part in the D-Day landings.

Naval CollegeThe Britannia Royal Naval College dominates the hill overlooking the town. It was completed in 1905 to replaced training ships moored on the Dart. George V, George VI and the Prince of Wales all trained there.

Dartmouth Castle

The castle can be reached by boat from Dartmouth Harbour, which is the best way to go as the road to it is very narrow and there is hardly any parking. A small fort was built in 1388 to protect expensive stone-throwing machines whose range just about covered the narrow harbour entrance. Around 1495, a new tower was constructed to mount heavy guns and over the following centuries other gun emplacements were added in positions that allowed them to fire on ships well before they reached the harbour entrance.

Dartmouth and Kingswear were designed as protection against French pirates and had a 750ft chain strung between them in times of war. It was used at the time of the Spanish Armada and during the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Royalists captured the castle and held it for three years but when the Parliamentarians attacked the town, they surrendered the castle the next day. During the Victorian era it was equipped with a Palmerston Gun Battery that could hit a target at a distance of two miles.

Blackpool Sands

Blackpool Sands We looked down from the road to the lovely crescent of golden sand at the northern end of Start Bay. The village of Stoke Fleming perches 300ft up on the cliffs and the tower of its 14th century church served as a landmark for shipping for centuries.

In 1404 the French planned to surprise and burn Dartmouth by landing on Slapton Sands and advancing along the coast but a large force of local men and women gathered together and a great battle ensued. The Breton Knights, weighed down by their armour and lacking the cover of their archers, floundered in the water and were defeated.

In the 1870s a four-in-hand stage coach travelling through Blackpool experienced the last highwayman's coach hold-up in England. The coach was carrying thousands of pounds of silver coins but the attempt failed.

Slapton Sands and Torcross

Slapton Sands Since 1933 there has been a constant encroachment of the sea along the whole length of this coastline. In 2001, the coastal road was badly damaged and the gradual move inland is causing a headache for local councils and nature groups. The dilemma is whether to leave nature to run its course, or try to hold back the tide.

Slapton LeyPart of the road has been replaced further inland and as we walked the length of the beach we could see traces of the old road in the sand. Behind the narrow shingle bar is Slapton Ley, a shallow freshwater lake which is a national nature reserve and the haunt of great crested grebes and Cetti's warblers.

MemorialDuring World War ll, US troops used Slapton Sands to rehearse for the 1944 D-Day landings and the area had to be evacuated. A granite monument records the US Army's gratitude to the local people.

Sherman tankIn 1984 one of the Sherman tanks, which was lost when a landing craft sank, was recovered from the seabed and now stands at Torcross as a tribute to those lost on that fateful day.

Torcross lies between the sea and the lake and looks pretty vulnerable to the elements, in spite of the sea wall. On a sunny evening like this it was hard to imagine it being battered by storms.

We stopped at the pub and discovered a wonderful fishy menu.


Hallsands and Beesands

Remains of HallsandsJust down the road from Slapton, lies the lost village of Hallsands. All that remains are sections of walls from what used to be houses in the former fishing community. Everything else was washed away in 1917, when the tidal defences gave in to the pressures of the sea.

The village had been left vulnerable to the sea and wind when some 650,000 tons of shingle were taken to Plymouth at the end of the 19th century to make concrete for new docks at Devonport.

The erosion was dramatic and sudden, and there was nothing the villagers could do other than get out quickly to avoid the disaster turning into a tragedy. The lost village can be seen from a small observation platform set into the cliff.

BeesandsThe shingle beach is now backed by a strong sea wall that was built after more storms washed away defences in 1978-9.

A walk south along the coast path leads to Beesands, where a sea wall protects the line of cottages and a pub that make up the village. The shingle beach is popular with fishermen and slopes steeply down to the sea. The road to Beesands is steep and narrow.

Start Point

Start PointThe name "Start" derives from an Anglo-Saxon word steort, meaning a tail. There is a car park on the cliff top and it is only a short walk on this bracken-clad spit to Start Point. This is one of the most exposed peninsulas on the English Coast, running almost a mile into the sea on the South Side of Start Bay.

The rocks of the point are schists, formed by metamorphism of Devonian sediments during a period of mountain building towards the end of the Carboniferous Era.

Start Point LighthouseThere have been many shipwrecks and five ships were wrecked during a single night in 1891. The Lighthouse, at the very end of the headland, has guided vessels for over 150 years. It was designed by James Walker and with its battlemented parapet, owes much to the "gothic" architecture of that time.

Years ago pirates were executed here by being chained to a rock at low water and letting the sea do the rest.

Prawle Point

Prawle PointThis is Devon's southernmost tip and can be reached by a lane that zigzags down from East Prawle to a car park and then a short walk to a coastal lookout point.

Raised beachIt is a good place to watch the ships along the channel and see the cliffs and raised beaches that are features of the area’s ancient geology.

Mill BayAt Mill Bay there are sandy beaches and the foot ferry from Salcombe crosses the estuary. It is popular for swimming and boating, but in medieval times sea going ships where built here. In the Second World War landing craft heading for the French coast were loaded with men and equipment.

At Gara Rock there is an old thatched coastguard lookout. It was not permanently occupied but used as resting places for the coastguards who used to walk the coast. Gara RockThe hotel at Gara was also a lookout, built principally to stop illegal smuggling along the isolated coastline, but also to watch for vessels in difficulty.

Looking east from Gara Rock, there is a Celtic field system on Deckler's Cliff, dating from 300 BC. These have survived due to their proximity to the cliff edge and are thus protected from modern farming methods. There are also the remains of hut circles, further evidence of prehistoric inhabitants.