Walk - South Sands Hotel -Bolberrry Down
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.
Leave the South Sands Hotel heading towards Salcombe. Turn sharp left onto Moult Road and then follow the main road (single track in places) as it becomes Collaton Road. As you approach Marlborough turn left (just before you reach the main A381) into Well Hill, before bearing right into Lower Town. At the junction turn left and continuing past the church on your right, take the third turning on the right signposted to Bolberry. At Bolberry take the next left signposted to Port Light Hotel. Continue up a steep lane to the National Trust car park.
The area around Bolberry Down is looked after by the National Trust and you are free to wander the network of paths at will. The two paths highlighted on the map are fairly flat (generally a maximum gradient of 1:10, with a minimal cross-slope), and have been levelled and compacted to make access easier for people in wheelchairs or with buggies.
The National Trust manages the rare and vulnerable coastal grassland found here as a habitat for a variety of species. The area is grazed by sheep to keep the turf short and prevent scrub from taking over. Gorse is also cut back so that there is a mixture of old and young shrubs, which provide food and shelter for a wealth of wildlife. Some of the wildlife you are likely to see include skylarks (listen out for them singing as they fly high above), ravens (with their croaking call and acrobatic flight) and the rare Dartford warbler and cirl buntings hiding in the scrub. Either side of the path there's a wealth of wild flowers, which in summer attract many butterflies.
- To follow the loop path leave the car park and head along the sealed path towards the Port Light Hotel. At the entrance to the hotel (cattle grid across road, with pedestrian gate beside it), turn left and take the track towards the sea. After about 100 metres take the left hand path again, which leads to the viewpoint and resting area at Saltern Pike.
- From here continue along the coast for about 800 metres and you will reach the viewpoint and bench at Fernyhole Point.
Here you can look down over Bolt Tail with its Iron Age fort and then along the coast as far as Rame Head in Cornwall. On a clear day you should be able to see the Eddystone Lighthouse which guards a dangerous reef 8 miles out from Rame Head.
Bolberry Down was once the site of a busy radar station. During the Second World War this formed part of a chain to protect the south and east coasts of England. RAF Bolt Tail was designed to detect low-flying enemy aircraft and shipping. This would then allow RAF fighter planes to intercept them before they reached their target. It was largely run by the Women's Royal Air Force. There was an operations area near the cliff which was protected by blast walls, fences and ditches. There was also an accommodation area at the former golf clubhouse, now the Port Light Hotel. RAF Bolt Head was a nearby grass runway airfield that housed Spitfires and Hurricanes.
- From Fernyhole Point the Coast Path continues through a gate down to Bolt Tail and Hope Cove. To return back to the car park take the path across the field and past the Port Light Hotel.
- The other path starts at the bottom of the car park and runs along a rougher stone track and descends gently (maximum 1:10) for about a 300 metres.
A small number of the prehistoric flints found on Bolberry Down are characteristic of tools from the Mesolithic period, around 6,000 years ago. These objects tell us how people lived, hunted, fished and later farmed in this area at the time. Maps from the 18th and 19th centuries show the Down divided into strips. An open outfield was divided, but not walled or fenced, into different tenancies to mark different ownerships.
Look for the rows of upright local stone (called mica schist) in the 'hedge' on the left - these are Bronze Age field boundary stones.
- The path rises over a small stone outcrop, (1:8 ascent for 10 metres, 1:6 descent for 10 metres, with 1:10 camber) and whilst easy to walk over, could be difficult for a wheelchair user. About 100 metres past this is the bench and viewpoint at Cathole Point.
- From here the Coast Path descends steeply down to the lovely beach at Soar Mill Cove, known locally as 'Dartmoor by the Sea' due to the tor-like rock outcrops that surround the cove.
In 1887 the Halloween, a 791 ton speedy Tea Clipper, hit Ham Stone in rough seas and drifted onto rocks at Soar Mill Cove. Whilst trying to get a line ashore one man drowned but two safely reached the shore and raised the alarm. The Salcombe lifeboat was launched in the morning. 19 men were rescued, having spent the night in the freezing rigging. When the ship broke up, a three metre-high wall of tea washed onto the beach where, it is said, unknown “characters” organised transport to Kingsbridge where the tea was put on a train to London. Today the wreck lies 80m from the shore in 10m of water.
- If you decide to go down to the beach, you can avoid retracing your steps by taking the alternative path back that goes up the valley and rejoins the Coast Path at West Cliff.
Follow the Coast Path back to the National Trust Car Park. Return to South Sands Hotel by reversing the instructions at the start.