Walk - Labrador Bay
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.
- From the beach at Shaldon, pick up the South West Coast Path, heading eastwards along the narrow lane up the hill towards the Ness Headland (be aware of cars). Above the Ness Hotel turn left and follow the path as it climbs up and around the wooded headland taking in a panoramic viewpoint. Continue on around until the path drops down into the top of the car park.
Shaldon is a picturesque village with a number of listed buildings, some of them dating back to the seventeeth century, although the original settlement at Ringmore, upstream, has fifteenth century buildings and a Norman church that was probably built on the site of a wooden Saxon church. Shaldon itself formed as the estuary silted up over the centuries and reclaimed land downstream.
Like the Exe, the Teign estuary was very popular with smugglers during the eighteenth century, when the notorious Jack Rattenbury used it as one of his many drop-off points on the Devon and Dorset coastline. Estuaries were particularly favoured by the 'free traders' because the land-guard was usually based on one shore, with his only means of bridging the water some distance upstream, which took time. The tunnel through the headland to Ness Beach is an old smugglers' tunnel, where goods were carried through to be stored in caves at Teignmouth.
- Bear left here to carry on along the coast above Ness Cove, up the steps and past the pitch-and-putt fields, climbing steeply to come out on the A379.
Down on Labrador Bay Beach, at the foot of the cliffs below, are the remains of a concrete boat, beached and abandoned after the Second World War, when such craft were used in the D-Day Landings in Normandy. The remains of the boat lie among large boulders which have fallen from the breccia cliffs. This rock was formed in the Permian period, some 250 million years ago, when flash flooding carried limestone fragments through a red desert environment, embedding them in the sand which was later compressed to form the breccia, with the angular 'clasts' of limestone still visible in the sandstone (see the Maidencombe Walk).
- Turn left along the road for a short distance, and then pick up the Coast Path once more, to walk along the footpath leading off to the left. From here the path plunges up and down around the edge of fields, with a pretty woodland in the middle of this stretch. (Ignore the path to the right at the edge of this wood, unless you want a shortcut).
The land here was purchased by the RSPB in November 2008 to help secure the future of the cirl bunting, a small songbird related to the yellowhammer. Once a common farmland bird, by 1989 the cirl bunting population had declined to fewer than 120 pairs throughout the whole of Britain – all of them on the South Devon coastline. The greatest threat to their survival was the common practice of intensive farming, and in the last few years the RSPB, in conjunction with the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, has been leading a project working with South Devon farmers to revive traditional farming methods, using grazing animals to control scrub and invasive species and abolishing the use of artificial fertilisers. This encourages the growth of wildflowers, which in turn attract insects, a vital food source for the birds. In addition, spring barley is planted and the stubble left on the ground until the following spring to provide winter food.
As a result of these strategies the cirl bunting population has made a dramatic recovery, and by 2009 already there were more than 850 pairs breeding here. In spring the cirl buntings become territorial and the males' distinctive rattling call can often be heard frequently across the reserve. By summer they are well into their breeding season, and will be quieter and harder to see as they forage for crickets and grasshoppers in the grass. Autumn is a better time to see them, when they form flocks, often perching in the hedge around the car park. Look out, too, for skylarks, chaffinches and yellowhammers, as well as buzzards and peregrines hunting overhead.
- After about a mile, you come to a footpath leading off to your right. Turn uphill on this path and follow it a little way, until you come to another path off to your right, just before the trees.
In the 1950s some of the land here belonged to Stan Prosser, who lived in a cottage at the top of the cliffs. He ran a tearoom which he called 'Smugglers' Cove', also running a small but profitable business selling 'lucky wishing well water' from a well at the foot of the cliffs. He claimed that Bob Hope was one of his lucky water customers!
- Turn onto this path and follow it uphill through fields, heading back up towards the A379.
- Turn right at the top and walk about 300 yards through the field, parallel to the road. Here the footpath drops to the right and travels through the field below the Labrador Bay car park.
- Ignoring the car park, carry on along the footpath to head back up to the road at 3. Turn right on the road and walk back to join the Coast Path on the hillside below, to retrace your steps past the golf course, back to the Ness and Shaldon.