Walk - Coleton Fishacre
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.
The Kingswear Lower Ferry is to be found around the corner at the end of South Embankment. Foot passengers need a single ticket for each crossing.
- Disembarking from the Lower Ferry in Kingswear, walk uphill to turn right through the archway onto the South West Coast Path. Climb Alma Steps and turn right at the top onto Beacon Road, following it around above the River Dart as it narrows to a small lane and then descends to Inverdart.
As early as 1365, and possibly earlier, a ferry operated between Dartmouth and Kittery Point, the present-day terminal for the Lower Ferry. The current ferry - nowadays a floating platform powered by a tug - has been here since the 1700s. In 1864 the railway arrived, and the Royal Dart Hotel was established beside the slipway to accommodate travellers. In the Second World War, the hotel became HMS Cicala, the base of the 15th Flotilla which took agents and equipment to the French resistance and brought back escaping allied servicemen.
Six centuries before, England and France were engaged in the Hundred Years' War over English claims to the French throne. At this time English kings had no navy to fight their cause, instead granting licences to privateers, giving them the authority to 'go to sea at their own expense to attack and destroy the king's enemies'.
With an orderly and well-armed fleet at his disposal, Dartmouth mayor and merchant John Hawley took advantage of this royal scheme to lead a number of lucrative raids on French ships and ports. However, in 1374 Edward III became concerned about the possibility of French reprisals on the Dart and ordered Hawley to build a castle at the mouth of the river. The mayor finally complied in 1388, building a 'fortalice' below the present site of Dartmouth's 'new castle', built a century later. The fortalice was completed in 1400. Later a chain was stretched across the water to Godmerock (Gommerock), below you through the trees on this part of the walk.
- Keep to the Coast Path when the lane turns inland after about half a mile, turning right towards Inner Froward Point and descending steep timber steps to Warren Wood. Follow the path to Mill Bay Cove, where another set of steep steps ascends to a nature reserve.
This stretch of the Coast Path is dedicated to the memory of Lt Col Herbert Jones, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions as commanding officer of 2 Battalion, Parachute Regiment, during the Battle of Goose Green in the Falklands War in 1982.
The building resembling a castle on Mill Bay Cove was originally a lime kiln, built early in the nineteenth century to burn lime for making fertiliser. Later the parapet and turret were added, both with battlements, as well as the pointed arch gothic doorway, and the kiln was converted to a boathouse and watermill, with an iron water wheel inside.
- The path winds through pinewoods for about a mile and a half. As it levels out there are views out over Start Bay, before it curves around the back of Newfoundland Cove.
Local explorers John Davis and Humphrey Gilbert operated from the River Dart between 1578 and 1605. John Davis discovered the Falkland Islands, while Humphrey Gilbert colonised Newfoundland, leading to strong links between Dartmouth and the Canadian province. A fleet of up to 150 vessels sailed to the fishing grounds there at the start of each season, salting and drying the catch before bringing it back to Europe where it was exchanged for wine and other luxury goods.
The South West Coast Path ascends to a clearing surrounded by the remnants of a Second World War battery at Inner Froward Point.
- Pause here to check out the displays in the information centre, and then descend the steps on your right, to the west of the lookout hut, leading to many well-preserved wartime buildings and platforms.
Brownstone Battery was built in 1940 to protect the Dart Estuary against the threat of a German invasion and was manned by up to 300 soldiers. It was one of several gun batteries placed strategically along the south coast and was decommissioned in the late 1950s. When the National Trust acquired the site in 1981 it was one of the few remaining WWII coastal defence positions and work has been undertaken to preserve its buildings.
These include an observation post, which was the main radio communication centre for the site, with range-finders to calculate the bearings of enemy ships before relaying the information by tannoy to the gunners in the two batteries. Each of these batteries was manned by a team of 13 and housed a six-inch ex-naval gun with a range of fourteen miles. Ammunition was transported to the lower gun position by means of a miniature railway, whose rails can still be seen on the hillside.
There were also two searchlights, each of which was manned by five men illuminating the sea in search of enemy ships. They were powered by generators housed in four generator stores, and there were general stores and workshops, and ammunition stores. There was also a Soldier's Mess, where the relief gun crew stayed while off-duty, and an Officers Mess, including a cookhouse, used for dining and administration. The remainder of the soldiers' accommodation was in Nissen huts, which have been removed.
- Follow this path around Inner Froward Point, forking right to stay low below the Coastwatch lookout station and bearing right ahead when a path returns uphill on the left. The path carries on around the coastline, passing Outer Froward Point before dropping to Old Mill Bay and then making its way past Kelly's Cove.
- Approaching the wooded area above Pudcombe Cove the path descends to cross a stream before winding uphill towards the trees. Take the path to the left, heading inland towards the Coleton car parks, and follow it up to the road.
Coleton Fishacre is well worth a visit. It was the home of the D'Oyly Carte family and is now managed by the National Trust and open to the public every day during the holiday season except Friday. Built in the Arts and Crafts style, with Art Deco interiors, the atmosphere reflects the Golden Age of Jazz of the 1920s, with more than a passing reference too to the family's Gilbert & Sullivan connections.
- On the road turn left, heading towards Higher Brownstone and ignoring the lanes travelling downhill towards the coast. From Higher Brownstone Farm follow the path as it climbs up to Pinewoods and then curves around to pass the top of the steps to Mill Bay. Rejoining the South West Coast Path at 2, retrace your steps to the ferry at Kingswear.
Kingswear and Coleton Fishacre.