Walk - Wembury to Mount Batten 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 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Coming out of the entrance to the car park at Wembury Beach turn left, towards the beach, and take the South West Coast Path on your right. The path passes a boat park and continues along a flat open area that was once the shoreline. Ignoring the smaller paths heading away inland, carry on around Wembury Point.
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for both its geology features and the wildlife it supports, Wembury Point's rocky reefs are the perfect habitat for all kinds of rockpool creatures. Even at low tide, they provide shelter for a wide range of marine species, including the pipe fish (an armour-plated eel related to the sea horse) and the Cornish sucker fish, which looks like an oversized slug. Other unusual species to be found here are the sea scorpion and the spiny starfish, as well as shore crabs, spider crabs, edible crabs and lobsters. A rare type of herring known as the 'allis shad' is found here, as well as the unusual breed of dogfish known as a 'bull huss', which lays its eggs in a 'mermaid's purse'.
Geologically, Wembury is noted for its coastal sand and shingle, and its steep slopes of sea-cliff grassland and mixed shrub. Much of the shoreline is a wave-cut platform, a beach left high and dry when the sea level dropped after the last Ice Age, and the cliff-line features important areas of degraded fossils. One of Devon's largest populations of the rare plant Shore Dock grows here, and it is an important site for wintering and nesting birds. Listen out for cirl buntings in the bushes, and watch out for the swift and deadly dive of a peregrine falcon as it hunts its prey.
For almost a century the headland at Wembury Point was in military use. In 1956 it became HMS Cambridge, used by the Royal Navy for much of its gunnery training until 2001.
In 1744 the tiny wedge-shaped island of the Mewstone was the home to a local man 'deported' there after some petty crime. When his seven-year sentence expired he returned to the mainland, but his daughter elected to stay on the island, raising her three children there until her husband fell off a rock and drowned.
Subsequently, several other people lived on the Mewstone. The last was nineteenth-century warrener Sam Wakeham, who lived with his wife, Ann, in a turreted little house (still visible using binoculars on Wembury cliffs). He created a garden that he fertilised with sand and seaweed, and kept poultry and a couple of pigs. He also ran a ferry service 'to the Moonstone, for anyone on the mainland who holds up their white pockethanchecuffs for a signal'.
- At the far side of Wembury Point, the Coast Path merges with Marine Drive, the old access road around HMS Cambridge. Carry on ahead, bearing left with the road and then forking left onto Beach Road. At the end of this road continue ahead along the Coast Path, around Heybrook Bay and then Westlake Bay.
- Passing the lighthouse at Andurn Point the Coast Path heads takes a ninety-degree turn above the southern edge of Crownhill Bay and joins Bovisand Lane, making another sharp turn as it carries on in front of the rows of chalets and on above the beach below Bovisand Park.
- At the far end of Crownhill Bay, Bovisand Lane turns abruptly right around the chalets. Carry on ahead along the Coast Path as it rounds the sandy beach at Bovisand Bay and rejoins Bovisand Lane just beyond. Turn left to walk through the car park, taking the higher road beyond the terrace of elegant cottages to continue along the Coast Path.
Detour left here for a fascinating glimpse of Bovisand Fort, one of a ring of forts built around Plymouth in the nineteenth century to protect the naval base from anticipated French invasions (see the Tregantle Walk). In 1860, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston established a Royal Commission to produce a plan for the defence of Plymouth and other Royal Dockyards. Bovisand was one of two coastal batteries intended to cover the entrances to Plymouth Breakwater, with this fort covering the east entrance while Picklecombe Fort in Cornwall covered the west.
Bovisand's oldest structure is the harbour. This dates back to Napoleonic times and was built in conjunction with the breakwater so that ships at anchor could send longboats to collect water. An underground pipe still leads to the jetty from a large reservoir.
Bovisand itself was basically two forts. The earlier part, the Upper Fort, (Staddon Point Battery), was built in 1847 and consisted of a three-storey structure with four gun emplacements in front and a dry moat behind. The Palmerston commission strengthened it with a heavy casemated battery below it to the south, with space for 23 heavy guns. Lookout towers and further gun positions on the roof were added during the Second World War. The Lower Fort was finished in 1868 and consisted of 23 casemates with a magazine beneath. It was occupied by H.M. forces until after the Second World War when it was abandoned. It became a diving school in 1970.
On Shovel Rock, 35 yards inside the Breakwater, work started in 1861 on the oval masonry of the associated Breakwater Fort. The main structure was completed in 1865. In 1879 the fort was armed with fourteen 12.5-inch and four 10-inch rifled muzzle-loading guns. It was disarmed before the First World War but continued to serve as a signal station. From 1937 it was an anti-aircraft training school. It was finally released by the military in 1976.
- Beyond the fort, you cross a large footbridge over a cutting.
The cutting was excavated to enable munitions and supplies to be transported to Brownhill Battery, on the hillside above as you continue towards the partner fort at Staddon Heights, ahead.
- At Staddon the Coast Path carries on below Staddon Lane, travelling through the woodland that skirts Staddon Heights golf course.
- At Jennycliff the path passes the cafe with the knitted 'breakfast' sign and carries on above Rum Bay and behind the rocky arm of Dunstone Point and Batten Bay, beyond it.
From Jennycliff there are tremendous Views across the Plymouth Sound. From the Breakwater and Penlee Point on the left, via Kingsand, Cawsand and Mount Edgcumbe immediately ahead, the vista passes Drake's Island to the Tamar Estuary and Plymouth itself, leading on to the Hoe in the foreground.
- Reaching Lawrence Road at Mount Batten, turn left onto it to walk to Mount Batten Point.
From as long ago as the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago, Mount Batten was a major port and commercial trading centre. A number of archaeological excavations discovered evidence of very early Mediterranean trade links, Celtic coins from the first century BC and traces of Roman occupation until the third century AD. More recently, the defensive tower on the summit dates from the 1650s, when the Anglo-Dutch Wars were fought at sea.
In 1917 it became a Royal Navy Air Service seaplane station. This became RAF Cattewater the following year, and in 1928 it was renamed RAF Mount Batten. Its purpose was to provide a base for flying boats to defend south-west England, but it was also a base for high-speed air-sea rescue launches. In the 1930s, it employed Aircraftman Shaw, better known as T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who was the person to suggest its change of name.
There was an increase in operational flying from Mount Batten during the Second World War, and it was the target for a number of German air raids. At the end of the war, it became a Maintenance Unit and later the Marine Craft Training School.
Wembury Beach, Jennycliff, The Barbican.