Walk - Sharkham Point & Berry Head
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the statue of William of Orange walk up Fore Street, turning left into Bolton Street at the traffic lights at the end. At the next set of traffic lights carry on along Greenwood Road, passing the hospital, to turn left onto Castor Road. Follow Castor Road uphill to the junction with St Mary’s Road, by the large tree.
When Charles II died in 1685, there was much unease in Protestant England at having a Catholic monarch (James II). Three years later James's wife bore him a son, sidelining his Protestant daughter Mary, who was married to William of Orange. High-level Protestant rebels in England asked William to invade the country and depose his father-in-law. William and his men landed at Brixham in November 1688, and the statue was erected in Victorian times to commemorate his landing.
Since the 1963 TV series about Devon Tudor adventurer, Sir Francis Drake (which was filmed around Dartmouth), a number of replicas of his ship have been permanently moored in Brixham harbour. Drake sailed the Golden Hind in his 1577-1580 circumnavigation of the globe. She was originally named the Pelican, but as Drake prepared to enter the Strait of Magellan in 1578, he renamed her the Golden Hind in honour of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose family crest was a golden hind.
- Turn left along St Mary’s Road, following it around to the left. Fork right after the entrance to the South Bay Holiday Park, continuing ahead as the road turns to a green lane. Carry on along the lane when it turns left, bearing left through the kissing gate and then bearing right across the open ground to a gate.
- Turn left on the South West Coast Path, following it around Sharkham Point. Reaching a stile, cross it to turn right on the green lane beyond. Follow the Coast Path steadily uphill steadily above the cliffs, around St Mary’s Bay.
St Mary's Bay was once known as Mudstone Bay, and a nearby lane is still called Mudstone Lane. As the Industrial Revolution brought trains (and so tourism) to places like Torbay, it brought a backwash of romanticism too. In an area of outstanding geological beauty, mudstone doesn't easily capture the imagination and the name was changed.
The local bedrock is indeed mudstone, interbedded with limestone, laid down as sediments in warm shallow seas, some 392 to 398 million years ago in the Devonian Period. As you walk around St Mary's Bay you are moving over distinct bands of rock types, from the Sharkham Point Member, through the Mary's Bay Member and on to the Berry Head Member. They are all limestone and mudstone and contain many fossilised corals and shellfish.
- Do not cross the stone stile but instead turn right to continue along the Coast Path. At the next junction bear right to continue along the cliffs behind Durl Rock. Carry on ahead towards the ramparts of the South Fort, detouring right to visit it.
This stretch of coastline is a National and Local Nature Reserve, as well as being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its birds, bats and plants. The exposed conditions on the two headlands and the thin limestone soil provide an unusual habitat in the mild climate for a number of nationally rare species that are under threat. It is one of only two locations in Britain where the white rock-rose can be found, and the small hare's-ear, a delicate low-growing plant with tiny yellow flowers growing in clusters in spiky triangular-leaved bracts. Another rare plant found here is the small restharrow, whose pink flowers resemble miniature sweet peas.
One of the south coast's largest colonies of guillemots nests on the cliffs beneath the South Fort, as you will hear if you visit during the nesting season! They are known as 'Brixham penguins' because of their upright stance and their black and white (actually dark brown and white) colouring. Apart from the breeding season, when they rear their chicks on the cliffs, guillemots spend their whole lives at sea. This colony can be seen live on CCTV in the visitor centre.
Tor Bay provides a safe haven for shipping during southwesterly gales. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was used for the safe anchorage of the Royal Navy's Western Fleet. Brixham's role was as a ‘victualling’ port, supplying provisions to ships in the Bay.
In the last decades of the eighteenth century, there was increasing concern among European leaders about the unrest in France, which eventually led to the French Revolution in 1789. By 1779 it was decided that coastal defences were needed for Torbay, in order to protect the naval fleet at anchor on both sides of the bay. The French Revolutionary Wars of 1792 were followed in 1803 by the Napoleonic Wars, and construction started on the South and North Forts in 1795, amid fears of an invasion by Bonaparte's army.
The South Fort provided protection for the main fortification on the headland ahead. The North Fort was armed with a formidable battery of guns and was also the site of the barracks and store-rooms. The South Fort was designed to repel any land-based attack that might come from troops secretly landed elsewhere along the coastline. Although France was dominant in land battles in the early years of the conflict, the British Royal Navy reigned supreme at sea. By 1815 the conflict was over, and Napoleon was brought into Torbay as a prisoner of war on HMS Belleorophon.
- Heading out of the northern side of the South Fort, take the path across the open ground to Berry Head, detouring right through the main fort to the lighthouse on the tip of the headland.
There was a primitive cliff castle on the headland in the Iron Age, some two thousand years ago, consisting of ramparts and ditches forming a defensive settlement. The name 'Berry Head' is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'bury', meaning 'fort'.
Caves in the cliffs provide a roost for greater horseshoe bats, an endangered species. A herd of North Devon cattle has been brought in to graze around the headland so that the dung beetles attracted by the cow pats are themselves a source of food for the bats.
Berry Head Lighthouse was built in 1906. In 1921 it was automated and converted to run on acetylene. It was not until 1994 that it was adapted again to run on mains electricity. It is claimed that it is Britain's shortest lighthouse (5m), one of the highest (58m above sea level) and was once the deepest -because the optic was originally turned by a weight falling through a shaft 45m deep shaft. Today an electric motor is used instead. Its white light flashes twice every 15 seconds and can be seen for 19 nautical miles.
- Returning to the fort entrance, follow the path ahead. Bear right at the junction, towards Brixham. The path travels behind some old limestone quarries and then descends through the trees to the road.
The Berry Head Hotel was originally built as a military hospital as part of the Napoleonic fortifications. After it was decommissioned it became the home of Brixham's vicar, the Reverend Henry Francis Lyte. A poet and an accomplished flautist, Lyte composed the hymn 'Abide With Me'. After he arrived in 1824, his services were so popular that the church had to be enlarged.
- On the road turn right to walk to the Shoalstone Car Park, turning right again through the car park to take the steps down to the path above the swimming pool. Follow the path back up to the road and turn right. Go down the steps opposite the Devoncourt Flats and continue to the end of the breakwater. Turn left to follow the path signed to the town centre, walking through the parking area behind the marina and carrying on to the Inner Harbour. Follow the path round to the right to return to the William of Orange statue.
To the left of the breakwater car park can be seen the Torbay Lifeboat Station. Brixham Lifeboat Station was opened in 1866 but since 1924 it has been known as 'Torbay'. The lifeboat station was granted the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Torbay on 29 April 1988. Since 2005 it has operated an all-weather lifeboat and an inshore lifeboat. For the period 1875 to 1923 Torquay also had a Lifeboat Station located at the 'Ladies Bathing Cove' (now known as Beacon Cove) close to the Imperial Hotel.
In its early days, Brixham consisted of two settlements: an inland farming community (Cowtown) and a fishing community (known as Fishtown). In medieval days it was south-west England's largest fishing port and was known as the 'Mother of Deep Sea Fisheries'. At the end of the nineteenth century, there were some 300 trawlers in the fleet, and the town still has a fishing fleet and a fishmarket.
Brixham; Berry Head has a seasonal café.