Walk - Bolt Tail & Burleigh Dolts

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.

Route Description

  1. From the village hall car park in Malborough take the footpath out of the corner near the petrol station. Crossing the top of Collaton Road, turn left along Higher Town. Just beyond the Old Inn, turn right down Chapel Lane. Carry on ahead along Great Lane, turning left at the end, where it meets Luckhams Lane, and turn right a moment later, towards the fields. Follow the footpath along the edge of two fields to go through the kissing gate on the left and into the big field beyond.

Although there is very little trace of it now, in the mid to late Iron Age - probably sometime between 350 BC and AD 43 - there was a substantial hillfort here. At the time when the field was enclosed this was known as Castle Park, but around the eighteenth century, it was known as the Burleigh Dolts Camp. According to Bailey's Dictionary, published in 1745, 'Burley' meant big, or heavy, and 'doke' was a ditch or furrow.

The hillfort consisted of ramparts and ditches forming three concentric circles (circles inside each other). These provided shelter for a small ovoid central enclosure, which may have included a number of residential roundhouses. The site has far-reaching views in all directions, which would have enabled the inhabitants to keep an eye open for possible attack. Archaeologists believe that sites like this might not have been permanently occupied, however, and were probably used for trade, religious ceremonies and general gatherings, and possibly for storage too.

There are many of these hillforts around the South West Coast Path, dating from the same period, and it is thought that they belonged to the Celtic tribe known as the Dumnonii. These people occupied the area within today's South West Coast Path - all of Devon and Cornwall, with some parts of Dorset and Somerset included too. They were a scattered tribe, with no currency and no central organisational structure, but they were particularly noted for their hospitality towards strangers.

The commanding views over the countryside and the coast meant that this was a prime site at various other times too. A recent geophysical survey of the field found traces of what are thought to be burial mounds from the Bronze Age, which went before the Iron Age. In 1789 a seventeenth-century silver coin of Charles I was found, indicating that the hillfort may have been re-occupied then. Within the inner circuit, a brick bunker (now used as a reservoir) remains from the Second World War, when there was a radar station here.

In 1950 the landowner bulldozed the field to level it, in the post-war drive for agricultural development in rural areas, and much of the hillfort was demolished. The current landowner has returned the field to pastureland, which makes it easier to see where the ramparts once were.

  1. Retrace your steps via Chapel Lane and Higher Town, back to the junction by the petrol station. This time turn right down Collaton Road and right again a moment later, by the 20 mph signs. Bear left almost immediately to walk down Well Hill. Bear left onto the public footpath towards the end, just before the road curves to the right downhill, and carry on along the lane. In front of the farmhouse at Portlemore Barton carry straight on along the track signed to Furzedown, taking the track on the right as you approach Furzedown Farm.
  2. Reaching the road, turn left, taking the footpath on the right a moment later, by the National Trust's South Down Farm sign, to cross two fields. At the far left-hand corner of the second field cross the stone stile to carry straight on, turning left at the waymarker. On the far side of South Down Farm take the waymarked footpath, heading north-west, to a T-junction on a green lane. Turn left onto the lane (Jacob's Lane), signed to Bolberry Down.

Jacob's Lane is one of many green lanes in the South Hams. These are ancient pathways used by the local people for many centuries - in some cases for several millennia - as they travelled between home, the village, the church, the pub, the shoreline and their fields (see the Woodhuish & Man Sands Walk).

  1. At the road turn left, crossing the cattle grid at Bolberry Down and carrying on ahead until you come to the South West Coast Path. On the Coast Path turn right to follow the acorn waymarkers above the cliffs to the tip of the headland at Bolt Tail.

During the Second World War, there was a busy radar station at Bolberry Down, part of a chain protecting England's south and east coasts (see the Hope Cove, Bolt Tail & Bolberry Down Walk).

The rampart built across the headland during the Iron Age is very much easier to see than the bulldozed ramparts of Burleigh Dolts. This promontory fort is thought to date from around 600 BC (earlier than the Burleigh Dolts hillfort). It used the sheer cliffs as defences against any possible attack from the sea.

  1. From Bolt Tail retrace your steps to the Coast Path and follow it to Inner Hope, turning left on the road at the bottom of the steps by the slipway. Bear left towards Outer Hope a moment later.

In the past, the whole Torbay area was the English fleet's principal anchorage, and in the nineteenth century, as many as several dozen ships sometimes anchored together in Hope Cove, as they all sought shelter from storms at sea. Reaching the cove required careful navigation, though, and the deadly rocks around this part of the coastline were responsible for many shipwrecks. The most tragic of these was the HMS Ramillie, which went down in 1760, with the loss of 700 lives (see the Hope Cove, Bolt Tail & Bolberry Down Walk).

  1. By St Clements Church a public footpath heads up the steps signed to Galmpton. Turn right onto this path, crossing the road to continue up a private drive. Carry on along the footpath ahead, walking alongside the right-edge of several fields to where a track crosses yours, heading to Bolberry. Ignore this track to carry straight on ahead, heading to the far right-hand corner of the net field and then carrying straight on to cross a stile onto the road.
  2. Turn right on the road and follow it back into Malborough. Cut through the churchyard to walk along Higher Town and back to the car park at the start of the walk.

All Saints Church is sometimes known as 'The Cathedral of the South Hams'. The church was one of many along the south coast where a beacon bonfire was lit to raise the alarm when the Spanish Armada was sighted offshore in 1588 (see the Hope Cove, Bolt Tail & Bolberry Down Walk).

Nearby refreshments

Malborough and Bolberry Down.

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