Walk - Dart Marina - 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.
The best option to travel to the start of this walk is by car. Leave Dartmouth on the A379 signposted Kingsbridge.
Ignore the turning on the A3122 to Halwell and Totnes. continue on the A379 through the picturesque villages of Stoke fleming and Strete.
Make your way down the hill and around the hairpin bend and onto Slapton Sands. The landlocked Slapton Ley is on your right as you travel towards Torcross.
After Torcross the road heads inland. At the next village of Stokenham turn left 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 charges a fee for parking.
As soon as you step out of the 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.
- From the car park go through the gate, or over the adjacent stile, onto the Coast Path, and follow the track south-eastwards.
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, Sea Rock.
- 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.
The lighthouse is frequently open in the summer to the public. The lighthouse was built in 1836, converted to electricity in 1959 and fully automated in 1993, and has undoubtedly prevented the loss of many lives.
- After leaving the lighthouse, retrace your steps up the track for about a quarter of a mile, to the Coast Path fingerpost, and take the path leading over the spine of the headland. This next section of the path through to Great Mattiscombe Sand can be quite rough underfoot, and in places runs close to the cliff edge, so take care.
In spring and early summer the coastal slopes of Start Point are covered with bluebells and other wild flowers, 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 walk 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.
Pause a moment here, too, to look back at the Point and see the ridge of crags down its spine, so that it resembles a dragon's tail.
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.
The evocative names continue around the Point: Black Stone; Blackstone Lake; Chap and Crater; Fowhole Cove; Bullock Cove; Ravens Cove; Gull Island; The Warren; The Benches; Peartree Point; Peartree Cove; Great Sleaden Rock; Little Sleaden Rock; Sleaden Halftide; Frenchman's Rock and Barler Rock.
- At the Point, turn northwards with the Coast Path and stay with it to where a track branches off inland and to the right, above Mattiscombe Sand.
Whilst Great Mattiscombe is now a lovely, fairly quiet sandy beach, often used by families, it has a dark past. In common with much of the Devon and Cornwall coast, there are tales of 'wrecking' taking place here. One story is of a ship being lured onto the rocks, with the crew hanging on for their lives. A rope was lowered down, but it was too short to reach, and the cry went up 'more rope', but to no avail, and for years afterwards the beach was known as 'More Rope Bay'.
- Turn off onto this inland track, travelling uphill with it alongside the stream, to return to the car park at the start of the walk.
Text by Ruth Luckhurst and the SWCP team.
Pubs at East Prawle, Beesands and Torcross.