Walk - Westcombe & Wonwell
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 car park by the church in Kingston turn right to walk past the Dolphin Inn, turning right again beyond it to walk uphill. In front of Rock Cottage turn left along the road marked as a 'no through road', carrying on ahead along the public bridleway at the end of the lane.
The Church of St James the Less was built in the thirteenth century and extended early in the fifteenth, with a heavy oak door thought to date from the fourteenth century. The Dolphin Inn dates from the sixteenth century.
- When you come to a gate carry straight on along the permissive footpath signed to Westcombe Beach.
Above the rocky shoreline at Westcombe Beach are the ruins of a stable that belonged to the Flete Estate. At the heart of the estate and several miles upstream on the River Erme, Flete House was built in the sixteenth century, although the estate dates back to Saxon times. In the nineteenth century, the estate had several miles of carriage drives running down to the coast on both sides of the river, with teahouses on the beaches at both Westcombe and Mothecombe, and the stable at Westcombe was built to accommodate the horses bringing the guests to the beach parties.
- Coming to the South West Coast Path at Westcombe Beach, turn right, climbing steeply to walk on the clifftops, around the edge of fields.
The next small beach is Hoist Beach. This was named in honour of the farmers, who hoisted seaweed up the cliffs to the fields above, to spread it on the soil as a fertiliser.
The bedrock changes as you walk along these cliffs. To the east, the slate, siltstone and sandstone of the Meadfoot geological group were formed at the bottom of shallow seas, approximately 398 to 411 million years ago in the Devonian Period. As you approach Beacon Point they change to similar rocks, known as the Dartmouth group, formed just a few million years later in the same period, but in an area of lakes and lagoons. In the tiny sandy coves around the headland, ridges of rock run out to sea, with extensive reefs underwater and numerous stacks and tiny islands just offshore.
At around 100m above sea level, Beacon Point was one of the sites on the south coast where bonfires were lit to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada in 1588.
At the mouth of the estuary are Mary's Rocks, which are notorious for the number of ships which ran aground on them. The most noteworthy of these was a tin-trader's vessel from the Bronze Age, carrying rough ingots made by melting tin in earth moulds. 42 of these have been found on the sea-bed, thought to be made from tin mined on Dartmoor, and it has been suggested that nearby Burgh Island was an international tin-trading centre at the time.
- Past Beacon Point the Coast Path heads into the mouth of the Erme estuary, dropping to Wonwell Beach. If the tide is out it is possible to follow the shoreline around to the old slipway to reach the road; otherwise, carry on along the Coast Path to the road.
Some 3,500 years ago there was a forest across Wonwell beach, which has since been drowned. It has been identified as Scots pine, and at low tide, the remains of tree stumps and branches are still visible in the sand.
On the foreshore, there is an ivy-clad chimney, where fishermen used to boil their crabs and lobsters, as well as several ruined cottages. One of these was home to the local pilot, who guided boats through the shifting sandbanks to the wool factories and limekilns upriver. There was a limekiln on the beach, too, for burning limestone to make fertiliser.
There is also a large slate slab near the former boathouse at Malthouse Point, just beyond Wonwell beach. Dated 1700, it was once a boundary stone or a waymarker, later being used as a gatepost.
Across the water, Mothecombe House is now the home of the Mildmay family, formerly of Flete House. The beach teahouse was built here in 1875, and a seawater swimming pool was constructed nearby at the same time. It had a sluice gate which opened at high tide to allow the water in and then closed as the tide fell in order to hold it there. It is said to have been blown up by the Home Guard, during the Second World War.
- Carry on up the road a short distance, to where a narrow path heads into the trees on the right, signed to Kingston. Take this path to climb through the woodland, keeping to the right-hand hedges of the first two fields above and then following the waymarkers to the road.
- On the road turn right, turning left at the crossroads at Wonwell Gate Cross to return to the church.
Near to the start/end of the walk in Kingston the Dolphin Inn is recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.