Walk - Bovisand & Hooe Lake

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From the grassy area by the Jennycliff Café, turn right to walk along the low clifftop towards Plymouth, making for the large white stone. From here head to the next white waymarker and on to the bottom corner of the field. Take the path signposted to Breakwater, climbing the hill to Mount Batten.

The large white stones are part of Plymouth’s Waterfront Walkway project to enhance the Coast Path through the city. The Waterfront Walkway follows 9.3 miles (14.9Km) of Plymouth's South West Coast Path, between Jennycliff and Admiral’s Hard in Stonehouse, and features a mix of artworks and interpretation illustrating Plymouth’s rich heritage (see the Waterfront Walkway Walk).

Mount Batten has been a major port and commercial trading centre since the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago (see the Wembury to Mount Batten Walk). Archaeologists have found evidence of very early Mediterranean trade links, as well as Celtic coins from the first century BC and traces of Roman occupation until the third century AD. More recently, the defensive tower on the summit dates from the 1650s, when the Anglo-Dutch Wars were fought at sea. In 1917 it became a Royal Navy Air Service seaplane station. This became RAF Cattewater and later RAF Mount Batten. It was the base for flying boats defending south-west England, as well as high-speed air-sea rescue launches. Lawrence of Arabia famously worked here in the 1930s.

  1. Descending the steps towards the Breakwater, carry on along the waterside path by the black railings, which leads to the ferry from Plymouth Barbican. Continue along the waterside path, following the South West Coast Path acorn waymarkers through the Yacht Haven area, heading for Turnchapel. Turn left at the top of the steps and then left again, to walk through Turnchapel.

The River Plym joins Plymouth Sound at Cattewater, and the city of Plymouth grew around the early settlement of Sutton here. Cattewater was named after a rocky outcrop in the estuary, said to resemble a cat.

From Mount Batten Breakwater there are great views over Plymouth Sound. On the opposite bank, the Royal Citadel was built in the late 1660s on the site of a Tudor fort. It was built of local limestone, with an English Baroque gateway of Portland stone, and it incorporated Fisher's Nose Blockhouse, which had been protecting the Cattewater from its south-east corner since 1490. During the Dutch Wars in 1664-67, Charles II had realised that Plymouth was a strategically critical Channel port, and over the next 100 years, the Royal Citadel was the most important English defence. The guns were aligned to be able to fire on the town as well as out to sea, presumably because of Plymouth's support for the Roundheads during the English Civil War, and it was regularly strengthened. In the 1750s it was equipped with 113 guns. Today it is the base of 29 Commando Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

There is an artillery fort in Turnchapel, too, built in 1862-1869 for the defence of the south-east side of Plymouth. Fort Turnchapel was designed to cover the area from Laira, the merchant ship anchorage at Jennycliff Bay, to the north flank of Staddon Fort (see the Wembury & Staddiscombe Walk), and was built on the site of Fort Stamford, which was besieged and captured by the Royalists in 1643. Fort Turnchapel remained in military use until 1956.

  1. Beyond Turnchapel continue along the road, pass by the old ex Marines base (now known as Turnchapl Wharves) off to your left and walk along Barton Road keeping Hooe Lake to your left as you approach Hooe. At Hooe, you can easily cut your walk short if you like. From the main road, there are buses to Plymouth, back to Mount Batten and up to JennyCliff.  To continue the walk, turn left just before the main road and skirt Hooe Lake, to reach the Royal Oak pub. Beyond the pub walk uphill along the narrow road through the old original small village of Hooe. At the top of the hill follow the right of way track that runs just to the left of an imposing house entrance gate. At the junction at the end, where there are several signs, take the path downhill, with a sewage works to your right to reach a small folly known as Radford Castle at the bottom. Tidal Hooe Lake is to your left and Radford Lake is to your right.

Hooe Lake is a tidal creek running from the Plym Estuary. The piers across the water once carried the railway branch line from Plymouth to Turnchapel. Hooe Lake is said to have the largest concentration of hulks west of the River Exe, with between fourteen and seventeen vessels lying in the water, although not all of them are visible. Several of them are Tamar Sailing Barges, a type of wooden merchant sailing vessel. Tamar Barges were built at ports along the coast as well as in Plymouth, Devonport, Stonehouse and Calstock. These barges sailed right along the south coast between Salcombe and The Lizard until the 1930s.

Hooe Lake and the whole of the area ahead, almost as far as Staddiscombe, is part of the Radford estate, belonging to the Harris family. In Tudor times the Harrises were bankers and friends of local seafarers Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. On their return from their adventures, the two men would sail into Radford on a high tide to leave their spoils at Radford House for safekeeping before handing them to Queen Elizabeth I for her to apportion them. In 1588 Christopher Harris hosted a banquet celebrating the men's routing of the Spanish Armada (see the Hope Cove, Bolt Tail & Bolberry Walk). The unfortunate Raleigh, having aroused the queen's jealousy by secretly marrying one of her maids-of-honour, further blotted his copybook by upsetting the Spanish. In 1618 a sentence for treason brought against him 15 years before was reinstated, and he was held captive in Radford House before being transferred to the Tower of London and then beheaded.

Radford Castle and Causeway were built in the mid-nineteenth century, as accommodation for the estate’s keeper.

  1. Just past Radford Castle the Coast Path is joined by two more of Devon’s long-distance footpaths: the Erme-Plym Trail to Ivybridge and the West Devon Way to Tavistock or Okehampton. Turn right to follow the Erme-Plym Trail alongside Radford Lake. Emerging into open parkland, leave the surfaced path to bear right onto another path skirting the lake, carrying on along the path ahead to the main road.

Radford Woods is a Local Nature Reserve and a County Wildlife Site, with a network of paths running through ancient woodland. The extensive marsh and wetland area and wildflower meadows provide valuable habitat for a wide range of species.

  1. Cross the main road carefully to carry on along the Erme-Plym Trail on the opposite side, bearing left at the grassy area. Follow the path past some houses and into woodland. Bear right at the first fork and bear to the right throughout as you keep climbing through the wood. Cross the stile to take the path opposite, still walking uphill.
  2. At the top turn left to follow the Erme-Plym Trail waymarkers along the track and through three fields, bearing right to cross a stone stile into another field, before descending the steps to the road.
  3. Here you are on the edge of Staddiscombe village. Detour left along the lane for the village shop and buses to Plymouth; otherwise turn right at the foot of the steps, leaving the Erme-Plym Trail, bearing almost immediately left along the small road. At the bottom carry on ahead along the stony track beside the gate, following Bovisand Lane towards the coast. Reaching the drive at the end, bear slightly left along the path below, roughly parallel to the road, to rejoin the Coast Path at Bovisand.
  4. Turn right up the steps and carry on along the Coast Path towards Jennycliff, passing a small car park with a seasonal café and a bus stop. At the cottages bear right, turning right up the steps before the second terrace of cottages and crossing a bridge at the top.

Fort Bovisand is one of a ring of forts known as the Palmerston Follies, built around Plymouth in the nineteenth century to protect the naval base from anticipated French invasions, but never used (see the Tregantle Walk). Bovisand was one of two coastal batteries intended to cover the entrances to Plymouth Breakwater, with this fort covering the east entrance while Fort Picklecombe in Cornwall covered the west (see the Wembury to Mount Batten Walk). Fort Bovisand is now a diving centre. The large footbridge over a cutting was excavated to enable munitions and supplies to be transported to Brownhill Battery, on the hillside above as you continue towards the partner fort at Staddon Heights, ahead.

  1. Above Bovisand Fort, another flight of steps leads to the old rifle range. Stay on the Coast Path, bearing left through the wooden gate as you approach the road. Follow the steps down and then up, continuing through the field and back to the car park at Jennycliff.

    Nearby refreshments

    Jennycliff (café); Mount Batten (pub); Turnchapel (pub); Hooe (all facilities); Bovisand (seasonal café).

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