Walk - Berry Head to Sharkham Point
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.
The walk starts at Berry Head which can be reached on foot from Brixham (roughly a 30-minute walk) if you are travelling by bus. Before heading off towards Sharkham Point, take some time to explore the headland - Torbay's most important wildlife site and one of England's 200 National Nature Reserves. Berry Head, designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, is an extensive limestone headland.
There are several species of rare and threatened plants here, including Early Gentian, White Rock-Rose, Honewort, Small Hare's Ear, Restharrow and Goldilock's Aster which are dependent upon the thin soils, mild climate and exposed conditions of the headland. The patchwork of grassland and scrub is also important for small bird species. The Guillemot colony on the cliffs below the Southern Fort is one of the UK's largest and live CCTV pictures of the colony from a camera mounted on the cliffs can be seen in the Visitor Centre.
At the end of Berry Head, beyond the coastguard station, is the lighthouse which was built in 1906. It came to be known as the smallest, highest and deepest light in the British Isles. The tower is only 5 metres high. It is, however, 58 metres above the sea at high water. The optic was originally turned by the action of a weight falling down a 45m deep shaft, now made redundant by a small motor. Its white light flashes twice every 15 seconds and can be seen for 19 nautical miles.
- The start of the walk proper is the Berry Head Car Park entrance. With the fort to your left, the Coast Path follows the road briefly before branching off to the left.
Early spring bluebells and a raven’s nest in the “gorge” add flavour to this sheltered section.
- Climbing the stile (and leaving the Country Park) the Path acts as the inland boundary of the Berry Head-Sharkham Point Site of Special Scientific Interest.
To seaward the coastal grassland provides a home for nationally important flowers and birds. Early autumn walkers will enjoy patches of the bright yellow Goldilocks Aster, which is found at only one other site in the UK. The landward patchwork of pasture and Holiday camps may not be everyone’s cup of tea but this readily accessible section will be many tens of thousands of people's first taste of walking The National Trail.
A pair of benches fronted by iron railings provides a superb viewpoint for St Mary’s Bay. The cliff behind is a wonderfully complex series of slip planes and dense scrub, marking a change in geology from the massive Devonian limestones of Berry Head. Here mudstones and shales succumb to the force of winter storms.
- The route now gradually climbs around the back of the bay giving constantly changing views of both headlands. A short bridge marks the point at which a large landslide closed this section for over a year, and provides another handy viewpoint. A surprisingly strenuous series of steps and slopes brings you to the access for the beach.
You may wish to detour down another set of steps if you want to paddle or hunt for fossils in the beach pebbles.
- Continuing on the Coast Path brings another stile and the entrance to Sharkham Point.
Beneath its cloak of trees and grass Sharkham hides a rich industrial heritage. Through the late 18th and early 19th century, it was home to a thriving iron oxide paint industry, the finished product being shipped all over the world. In the 20th century, these excavations became a municipal dump! Now capped and grassed Sharkham provides the quiet antidote to Berry Head's bustle.
Once you’ve explored this headland the return journey beckons. If it's not too late the Guardhouse Café at Berry Head does a very nice cream tea!
Berry Head: Visitor Centre and Guardhouse Café.