Walk - Blackpool Sands & Strete
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.
- At the bottom of the road down to the Blackpool Sands car park from the A379 at Blackpool Hill, turn right into the main seafront car park, turning right again to follow the footpath out of the car park and back up to the main road. Cross the road carefully and follow the South West Coast Path acorn waymarker into the field on the left of Blackpool Valley Road, by the postbox. Follow the path beside the main road, crossing the stream on the footbridge and emerging on a small road (Norns Lane).
Just off-route, Blackpool Gardens were established in 1896 by Robert Lydston Newman, who was Deputy Governor of the Bank of England from 1914 to 1917. Together with the Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Cunliffe, Robert was the man responsible for financing Britain's part in the First World War. Historian Clive Aslet commented: 'Few people realise that England partly owed her victory to those two black-coated gentlemen ensconced away among a seas of papers and letters at the bank.'
Right up to the 1970s, the gardens sent vegetables and flowers to London markets, profiting from the warm climate in the sheltered valley. The gardens were restored in 2000 by Robert's descendant, Sir Geoffrey Newman Bt, whose son Sir Ralph Newman Bt later extended it, adding a range of semi-tropical plants from all corners of the globe. The gardens are open to the public every day throughout April to September (subject to fine weather), and there is a small entry charge. See the Blackpool Sands webpage for more details.
- Leave the Coast Path here, instead turning right to climb gently uphill, carrying on past the drive on your right and the footpath on your left. Keep going past the farm buildings at Southwood, ignoring the lane joining from the left just afterwards. Carry on ahead along Norns Lane to the T-junction at Horns Cross.
- At the T-junction turn left and follow the road into Strete. Carry on past the church and the restaurant beside it, following Totnes Road beyond, to the main road.
Strete was first recorded in 1194 when it was known as Streta, although by 1244 this had changed to Strete. The name comes from the Old English word Straet, meaning an old road. There is a steep zigzag path running down the Gara Valley to Starts Wood, to the west of Strete, which is thought to be an ancient packhorse route. The Gara Valley itself has provided inspiration to a number of artists and writers, including Alfred Lord Tennyson (who used to visit Gara resident Jack Yeats, brother of poet WB Yeats) and John Masefield, whose children's smugglers' tale 'Jim Davis' was set here.
St Michael's Church was built in 1836, incorporating the old tower of the medieval chapel of ease that stood here before it. Beside the church, the restaurant is housed in the old village school, which was built just 3 years later and retains many of the old features, including the original oak floors and the open fireplace.
Strete was one of the parishes evacuated during the tragic Exercise Tiger in 1944 (see the Slapton Ley Walk).
- Coming out on the main road in Strete, turn left.
- Pick up the South West Coast Path over the stile into a field on your right as you leave the village. Crossing the stream, continue ahead into the next field, turning right here to go through the right-hand hedge and into a high plateau field. Follow the hedge along the top of this field, turning left beyond and descending steeply to the next stream. Crossing the bridge, bear right as you climb the far hillside to come out on the main road.
- Cross the road and carry on ahead along the Coast Path as it follows the hedge to leftwards and then cuts the top left-hand corner to come out on a lane.
- Turn right on the lane and walk about 200 metres, to where a footpath drops through the field on your right. Take this path, descending towards the main road. Turn left on the road to return to 2 and retrace your steps from here back to the car park at Blackpool Sands.
The beach was the site of the fifteenth-century Battle of Blackpool Sands when notorious French pirate William du Chastel was killed. In 1403 du Chastel, a French military leader in that country's One Hundred Years War against England had led a devastating raid on Plymouth. In response, Dartmouth's mayor, merchant John Hawley (himself a highly successful privateer - see the Kingswear & Brownstone Battery Walk) joined forces with Bristol seaman Thomas Norton, and together they seized seven merchant vessels in the channel. This was followed by further raids on both shores.
In spring 1404, du Chastel gathered more than 2000 men in St Malo, and his fleet of some 300 ships sailed north for another raid on the South Devon coastline. Discipline was lax, however, and some of the ships wandered off en route to attack some Spanish ships carrying wine. By the time they had been brought back into the fold, a further half-dozen ships had wandered off on some mission of their own. When the French arrived at Blackpool, it was six days before the whole fleet had assembled.
Hawley took advantage of the opportunity to extend his own forces to include women and peasants as well as soldiers, and he dug a water-filled ditch crossed by a narrow causeway. when the French finally landed, they were quickly overpowered by the archers' arrows and the stones thrown by the women. They beat a hasty retreat, back to the ships; but not before du Chastel had been killed and two of his brothers captured.
A considerable number of both English and French coins have been found on the beach from that period, during the reigns of Edward III and Henry IV, and Charles VII of France.
Strete has a post office and general store, pubs and restaurants.