Walk - Bantham to Thurlestone
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the Bantham Sands car park take the road towards the beach, forking left at the bottom to go by the side of the Bantham Surf Life Saving clubhouse and onto the South West Coast Path. Follow the path around the rocky point and on along the clifftop past the golf course.
- Ignore the paths heading inland across the golf course to carry on around Warren Point to the small beach (Leas Foot Sand) at Thurlestone. Turn inland, in front of the golf clubhouse to the road, (look out for golfers ready to play their shots).
In the bay, the rock arch was first recorded in the ninth century but is thought to have stood here for much longer. It was formed by wave erosion after the crashing surf exploited a weakness in the cliffs to create a sea cave. Over time the pressure that built up in the cave as the waves washed around it caused the roof to fall in, and Thurlestone Rock was formed. It was originally known as the 'thirled stone', from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'hole'. The arch is a breccio-conglomerate of the New Red Sandstone series laid down in the Permian period some 250-300 million years ago.
- Turn left on the road, past the tennis courts, up the hill to the war memorial on your left. Be careful for the first 300 metres where there is not a separate footpath, and the road can be busy at times.
- Turn left immediately beyond the memorial, in front of the church, and then take the track on the right. Walk past the churchyard and over a stile into the field. The path runs next to the golf course on the left, through a pedestrian gate and veers slightly left through the next opening across the field before descending very steeply to join the track at the bottom
- Follow this track along the right-hand hedge to cross the stream. Bear left for 100 metres to reach a narrow lane running gently uphill. Go onto the lane in the corner and follow it gently uphill, to come out in Bantham, by the fourteenth-century Sloop Inn.
The village hit national headlines in November 2013, when it was announced that 750 acres in and around it were to be sold, including more than 20 cottages. Owned by the Evans Estate, whose fortune was made in coal-mining, Bantham was one of a number of properties to be put on the market including others in Wales and Dorset.
The village was once the haunt of notorious smuggler Nat Cleverly, who plied his trade between here and Roscoff. The houses in the village were called ‘smuggler’s eyes’, and most of the community was involved in the 'free trade'. When Cleverly was caught by the Revenue men, the magistrate to try his case was one of his best customers and was pleased to return a 'not guilty' verdict!
- Turn left on the road to walk down towards the beach car park. Walking past the path to the ferry landing, fork right beyond it to walk through the dunes around the tip of Bantham Ham and back along the beach to the car park.
People have lived on the headland at Bantham Ham since prehistoric times. Artefacts found here include a polished stone axe from the Neolithic (Late Stone Age) period, arrowheads from the Bronze Age, and Iron Age pottery. Archaeologists have found pottery and bone fragments showing that it was an important settlement in Roman times.
Spindle whorls and bone combs have also been found here, dating from between the fourth and seventh centuries AD. Sometime during this period, there was a temporary encampment at Bantham, with rough shelters and hearths, and a seasonal trading market. Other exciting finds from this time include iron smithing hearths, as well as Cornish pottery, amphorae (vases) from the Eastern Mediterranean and North African tableware.
In the ninth century, there was a Viking raid, one of several on Devon's south coast, but at Bantham there was fierce resistance and the Danes were all killed in battle. Later, the area around the car park was used for growing crops, and the strip lynchets (terraces) cut into the hillside for this can still be seen to the north of the parking area. There is also a remnant corn ditch.
Thurlestone and Bantham.