Walk - Bay Esplanade Hotel - Roundham Head
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.
- From the Esplanade Hotel head towards the seafront crossing the roundabout to walk up Roundham Road, past the harbour.
The area between Roundham and the harbour was once marshland, and there was a causeway running across it linking the sailors' Torbay Inn with the town itself. The marshes were not drained until the middle of the eighteenth century. There was a quay here in the sixteenth century, used for unloading stone for building work. Today's harbour was built following the 1837 Paignton Quay and Harbour Act, and it was used for landing fish, coal, timber and stone, as well as exporting the cabbages which were still grown in the centre of the town at the time. The other local export was Paignton cider. One of the directors of the Paignton Harbour Company was local farmer and cider-maker, Nicholas Prout Hunt, and when the harbour was being built it was estimated that the town might export up to 40,000 hogsheads (about 2.2 million gallons) of cider each year.
For many centuries fishing was Paignton's main livelihood, and a sixteenth-century survey listed 17 'cellars and fish houses', many of which were in 'Rowneham'. (A fish house is thought to have been larger than a cellar). The Harbour Light Restaurant was formerly a fish cellar and net store, and it is thought to have been the 'Great Cellar' mentioned in the 1567 survey. There was a terrace of fishermen's cottages beside it, but these were demolished in 1880 to make way for the Paignton Club. The small whitewashed building now housing the public toilets was the coastguard station, where customs men kept a watch for smugglers.
Beyond the harbour, the little crescent of sandy beach is known as Fairy Cove. The red sand and shingle shoreline is bordered by rocks, with interesting rockpools at low tide. The local bedrock is part of the Torbay Breccia Formation, which was formed from layers of sand and gravel in the Permian period, almost 300 million years ago. These were laid down in a hot desert, and their red colouring comes from iron oxide, which forms when there are no living organisms to use the oxygen. Flash flooding swept chunks of limestone through the desert, and angular fragments of these were embedded in the sandstone when it was compressed into the rock layers. If you look at the cliffs around the headland you will see the layers in the rock, and the fragments or 'clasts' of limestone in them.
- Take the second road on the left (Cliff Road), signed 'To the Cliff Path'. At the next junction turn left, walking slightly uphill and following the right-hand bend to where the Cliff Path heads away around the parkland to the left.
- Turn left onto the Cliff Path to join the South West Coast Path and follow it around the headland. Stay on the top path to avoid steps, coming out on Alta Vista Road; but otherwise carry on along the Coast Path as it descends towards Goodrington Sands. Turn right to double back on yourself just after the top of the steps to the beach, bearing left beyond to walk to Alta Vista Road.
At the foot of the headland's northern shoreline, the rocks are known as the Paignton Ledges. In February 1804, HMS Venerable stranded and bilged here on her way from Torbay to blockade Brest in the French Revolutionary War. The 74-gun sailing vessel was constructed in Perry's Yard in Blackall in 1784, and it took about 4000 mature oak trees to build her, at a cost of £3800. Of the 555 men aboard, only three were lost.
The Channel Fleet played a critical part in defending Britain from invasion, and in the past it often used Torbay as a sheltered anchorage. A few years earlier, in 1762, another sail-powered warship was lost off Roundham Head. In February 1762, a 144-ton wooden sloop-of-war, HMS Savage, was driven ashore in an easterly gale. This stretch of water is known as Savage Hole in her honour.
A very different kind of vessel whose remains are also said to lie on the seabed off Roundham Head is the 1911 German torpedo destroyer, the T189, built of steel with a steam engine. At the end of the First World War, she and her fellow sub S24 were being towed from Cherbourg to Teignmouth, to be scrapped, when she stranded on the rocks near the headland.
Known as Rock Walk, this path was constructed in the 1920s, along with the Promenade, by Welsh miners brought here on a work creation scheme when the British economy was struggling with the economic effects of the First World War, shortly before the Great Depression.
- On Alta Vista Road turn right, carrying straight on ahead at Roundham Road to return past the Paignton Club and then to the start of the walk at the Esplanade Hotel.