Walk - East Prawle and Prawle 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 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- With your back to the phone box on the village green in East Prawle, turn left to walk past the toilet block and then turn right to walk around the edge of the green and on to the lane ahead, signed as a 'no through road'. Carry on along this lane as it curves right and becomes a bridleway heading southwards down the hill. Turn left onto the footpath signposted to Gorah Rocks, a moment later, walking to another bridleway a short distance beyond. Turn left again, onto the green lane, and follow it to the South West Coast Path at the bottom of the hill.
These lanes are part of an extensive and complex network of ancient green lanes, some of which date back to the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago (see the Woodhuish & Mansands Walk). The sea was an important part of everyday life for people living near the coast, and for thousands of years, farmers and fishermen made frequent journeys to and from the shoreline along the lanes still in use today. In 2002 South Hams District Council launched the 'Right Tracks' project to restore its 191 green lanes, which together cover a staggering 300km.
The curious post in the field to the left as you descend towards the coast is an old coastguard rocket post. This was a mock ship's mast used by the Prawle Rescue Team, a volunteer Life Saving Apparatus Company formed in 1872, for 'rocket apparatus' training. This was a cannon used to fire a line onto an ailing ship, so that crew and passengers could be hauled to safety in a harness known as a 'breeches buoy'.
- Turn right onto the Coast Path, staying with it as it travels around Prawle Point, ignoring the two paths heading inland on either side of Langerstone Point. Carry on ahead above Willow Cove.
The 'raised beach', or 'wave-cut platform' above the shoreline was formed towards the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago, when sea levels were high as a result of the ice sheets melting. At the same time, mud springs were pouring over the cliffs and settling on the flat strip of land that was left behind when the sea level dropped again, creating a fertile platform. Sometime around 2500 BC, Bronze Age farmers cultivated this land, and the remnants of their field systems can still be seen in places. Residents continued to farm here throughout the centuries, fertilising the soil with sand and seaweed collected from the beach. At one time the area was famed for its cauliflowers.
The soft soil of the wave-cut platform, together with the shelter provided by the south-facing cliffs, gives the perfect conditions for bees and wasps. More than 100 species have been recorded burrowing into the cliffs, including the rare cuckoo bee and the mason wasp.
- Passing the rocky outcrops around Fish-in-a-Well Rock, ignore the path heading uphill and carry on along the Coast Path around Prawle Point. From here the path drops down the cliffs and heads around the back of Elender Cove before rounding a small headland above the tiny Maceley Cove.
The word Prawle comes from an Anglo-Saxon word, 'Prawhyll', meaning 'lookout hill'. At the end of the eighteenth century, Prawle Point was an Admiralty lookout, watching for French fleets during the Napoleonic wars. The following century it became a Lloyds signal station and then later a Royal Navy shore signal station. During the First World War there were Royal Naval Air Service biplanes stationed here, patrolling the English Channel on the lookout for enemy ships and submarines; and in the Second World War, there were radar stations at West Prawle and Western Cove.
Gara Rock, near Portlemouth, was the local coastguard station when the brief was to look out for smugglers. In 1903 they moved to the Prawle Point lookout building, with a new role of watching out for seafarers in trouble off the point. In 1951 HM Coastguard took over from the Admiralty, maintaining a constant 24-hour watch until VHF radio for distress signalling supplanted visual watchkeeping. By 1982 the local Auxiliary Coastguard company was manning the lookout only during bad weather. In 1994 the station closed. It was reopened as Devon’s first National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) station in 1997, with teams of volunteers keeping a daytime watch throughout the year. The NCI visitor centre beside the lookout has a wide range of displays and is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm (later in the summer months).
As Devon's most southerly point, Prawle Point is an important place for migrating species of birds and butterflies. The green lanes are especially popular with butterflies during the summer, and the many species to be seen here include peacocks, red admirals, painted ladies and clouded yellows. Bird species include the cirl bunting, stonechat and whitethroat, with an occasional rare vagrant spotted, such as a Chestnut-sided Warbler, only the second to be seen in Britain. Seals and dolphins can sometimes be seen offshore, and occasionally even basking sharks.
- Above the tiny sandy cove beyond a path heads off uphill to the right. Take this path, turning left at the next waymarker to walk gently uphill, arriving at another ancient green lane, leading away to the right.
- Turn right, onto this lane, and follow it to the road up from Prawle Point towards East Prawle. Turn left on the road and follow it back up into the village.
East Prawle's 500-year-old Pigs Nose Inn was once a smugglers' haunt, and there is a café in the village too.