Walk - Start 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 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
For those travelling to this walk by car head for the village of Stokenham on the A379 Kingsbridge to Dartmouth road. From Kingsbridge turn right at the crossroads. The road continues towards Start Point by taking the second turning to the right and following the road straight on past Dunstone Cross, Kellaton and Hollowcombe Head. The masts are on your right as you pass Start Farm to the Start Point Car Park.
The car park at Start Point is a mix of gravel, grass and tarmac. It charges a fee for parking.
As soon as you leave your car at Start Point Car Park you have a great view across Start Bay. Looking down the coast to your left can be seen the remains of old Hallsands Village that was wrecked by storms in 1917, and an information panel gives more details of the events that led to its destruction.
Further along, the coast is the shingle ridge at Slapton with the ley behind (now a National Nature Reserve).
One of the next prominent features is the Day Mark Tower on the far side of the Dart Estuary which was built to help guide mariners into Dartmouth.
If you are lucky enough to visit on a very clear day you may be able to see all along the coast to the Isle of Portland, which shows up as a low wedge on the far horizon.
About a mile off-shore are 'The Skerries', a bank of sand and rock that at low tide can be only about 6 feet below the surface, and they can be identified by a line of 'white horses'. In calm conditions, they are a popular spot for small boat fishing. The incoming tidal stream is channelled between the shore and The Skerries and so speeds up, creating challenging sea conditions that have led to the demise of many ships.
- Leaving the car park you have to pass through a metal gate ( it swings easily) or over the adjacent stile, onto the Coast Path. Follow the track south-eastwards.
The first 100yds (100 metres) of tarmac track is almost level.
To look at the map along this part of the coast is to marvel at the names and wonder at their origins (some of which are obvious, but others intriguingly rather less so): Shoelodge Reef and Shoelodge Cove, Freshwater Bay, Yellow Rock, Froweder Point, The Halftide, Copper Stone, and Sea Rock. The track has a slight camber seaward (to shed water), but there is a wall or fence along its entire length.
- When a path branches off to the right above Nestley Point, stay with your track and follow it right the way down to the lighthouse at Start Point.
Just before the lighthouse is another metal gate that swings easily. When the lighthouse is not open to the public, the gate is locked and so this is as far as you can go. The lighthouse is frequently open in the summer to the public (see Other Useful Websites to access further details). The lighthouse was designed by James Walker and built in 1836. It owes much to the "gothic" movement in the architecture of the time, with its battlemented parapet. The light was soon found to be inadequate in fog, and a bell was installed in the 1860s. The machinery was housed in a small building on the cliff face and operated by a weight which fell in a tube running down the sheer cliff. A siren replaced the bell after only fifteen years. The lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1959 and fully automated in 1993, and has undoubtedly prevented the loss of many lives. The tower is 28 metres high, 62 metres above the sea at high water. Its white light flashes 3 times every 15 seconds and can be seen for 25 nautical miles. Its fog signal sounds once every 60 seconds.
The evocative names continue around the Lighthouse: Black Stone; Blackstone Lake; Chap and Crater; Fowhole Cove; Bullock Cove; Ravens Cove; Gull Island; The Warren; The Benches; Peartree Point; Sleaden Halftide; Great Sleaden Rock; and Little Sleaden Rock.
- After leaving the lighthouse, retrace your steps up the track back to the car park.
In spring and early summer, the coastal slopes of Start Point are covered with bluebells and other wildflowers, which in turn provide food for butterflies, some of which will have migrated here from France and Spain. This very special and increasingly rare habitat needs carefully managed grazing by livestock, as otherwise, it would gradually become overgrown with blackthorn and other scrub. Funding from Natural England helps support the work of the farmer to do this, but help is also needed from the public in ensuring that their dogs do not disturb the stock, as there have been instances where sheep have been chased over the cliff.
As you travel along, keep an eye out, as seals can frequently be seen hunting for fish in the shallows, or hauled out on the rocks just off-shore. There are two possible explanations for how Start Point got its name. The first is that mariners crossing the Atlantic didn't consider they'd really started their voyage until they went past the Point. The other explanation is the name was adapted from the early Anglo Saxon word 'steort' meaning 'tail'. The view of the headland from here makes this second explanation seem very likely.
Pubs at East Prawle, Beesands and Torcross.