Walk - Hope Cove, Bolt Tail & Bolberry 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 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From the entrance to the beach car park at Outer Hope, turn left to follow the lane past the Hope and Anchor Inn and on to Hope Cove.

Torbay was the principal anchorage for the English fleet during the seventeenth century, with its high cliffs and hills providing shelter from north and easterly gales. The navy anchored here for long periods during the Napoleonic wars, and many officers bought houses here for their families. In the nineteenth century, several dozen ships were sometimes anchored in Hope Cove at any given time, sheltering from the storms. Large trading vessels still take advantage of the safe anchorage, and oil tankers and container ships can often be seen offshore.

In 1588, in a huge swathe of more than 130 galleons, the Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel. A chain of beacons had been set up around England's southern coastline to warn of any possible invasion, and they were quickly spotted and the alarm raised. The English fleet set sail from Plymouth, with Devon adventurers Francis Drake and John Hawkins among its commanders, and it quickly routed the Spanish fleet, which fled northwards, travelling around the top of Scotland and creeping back down Britain's westerly coastline.

A storm blew up as they crossed the Channel again, and a transport ship fitted out as a hospital ship - the San Pedro el Mayor - was driven onto Shippen Rock, between Hope's two beaches. The 140 survivors were sentenced to death, but won a reprieve when it was decided to ransom them instead.

The deadly rocks on this part of the coast were responsible for many a shipwreck over the centuries. The most tragic was the wreck of an elderly 90-gun warship, the HMS Ramillie, in 1760, when 700 lives were lost. Seeking shelter in a storm, the captain mistook Bolt Tail for Rame Head, and turned straight onto the rocks, thinking that he was heading into the safety of Plymouth Sound.

  1. At Hope Cove carry on along the lane ahead to pick up the South West Coast Path by the slipway. From here the path travels around the headland to the substantial rampart across the headland.

Bolt Tail was the site of an Iron Age cliff fort, thought to date from around 600 BC. The headland's sheer cliffs defended the fort from an attack by sea, and the rampart was built across the promontory's neck to enable the occupiers to repel any land-based invasion.

People lived and worked in the area even before then. Archaeologists have found a number of prehistoric flint tools nearby which date from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period, around 6,000 years ago.

  1. Detour to the tip of Bolt Tail to visit the prehistoric promontory fort. Returning to the Coast Path afterwards, carry on along above the cliffs and on through Bolberry Down, ignoring the path back to Hope Cove and several others heading off to the left.

The coastline from Bolt Tail to Sharpitor is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its insects, bird and plant life. The National Trust owns the land around Bolberry Down, and it has put a number of conservation strategies in place to maintain the rich variety of wildlife in these coastal grasslands. Using grazing animals to control the scrub, the Trust has encouraged more delicate species to proliferate, and in summer the cliffs are bright with wildflowers. Look out for the thatched pink globes of the thrift, and the feathery leaves and white umbrella flowers of the yarrow. Overhead skylarks and meadow pipits trill, while from the bushes yellowhammers call, and there may be a sighting of the rare Dartford warblers and cirl buntings.

  1. When the Coast Path hits a lane joining from above, below the mast, turn left onto it and walk to the junction beyond. Carry on over the cattle grid, past the houses and the mast, ignoring the green lanes to your right and then left, to the T-junction at Bolberry.
  2. At the T-junction turn left, forking right by the fingerpost after the barn and dropping downhill before climbing to where the road turns sharply right at the top.

During the Second World War, a busy radar station at Bolberry Down was part of a chain protecting England's south and east coasts. RAF Bolt Tail's brief was to monitor shipping and low-flying enemy aircraft, so that RAF fighter planes could intercept them. It was run by the Womens Royal Air Force, and there was an operations area near the cliff, protected by blast walls, fences and ditches. The Port Light Inn was the dining area for the RAF personnel, and it was at the centre of a cluster of Nissen huts. The inn, now closed, was originally built in 1909 as the clubhouse for the Bolberry Down Golf Club, which closed five years later. More recently the Port Light Inn has closed and the site is being redeveloped into holiday homes.

  1. Turn left onto 'Sweethearts Lane', and left again at the T-junction beyond, taking the footpath signed to Galmpton. The footpath swings right just before Higher Barton, bearing slightly left in the first field to go through the hedge into the next field. Carry on alongside this hedge to the track at the top.

In summer this green lane is awash with wildflowers, and banks of honeysuckle tumbling over the hedges scent the air. Many butterflies are drawn to the flowers, including the silver-studded blue, the marbled white and the brown argus.

  1. Turn left to take the footpath heading over the stone stile by the tall waymarker, and follow it along the hedges of several fields, back to Hope village. Cross the road to take the path down the steps beside St Clements Church, turning right On the Coast Path to retrace your steps to the car park.

Nearby refreshments

Hope Cove has a selection of pubs and cafes.

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