Walk - Salcombe & Soar Mill Cove

6.7 miles (10.8 km)

Salcombe's North Sands car park - TQ8 8JT North Sands

Challenging - Several stretches of ascent and descent, some of them steep or prolonged, with steps, stiles and paths that are rocky in places. There is a short section of narrow road with steep hedge banks: it is generally quiet, but listen out for traffic.

A loop through the woods and picturesque thatched villages behind Sharp Tor, returning along a stretch of high heathland seamed with ancient stone walls, where there are panoramic views from Dodman Point in the west to Prawle Point in the east. Ravens and buzzards circle the dramatic craggy cliffs above an estuary that is a haven for wildlife but a menace to shipping. Look out for dolphins, seals and basking sharks. In spring the hedges in the narrow lanes are alight with wildflowers such as primroses and violets, and the woods are carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic. Look out for early purple orchids too, and pink-headed thrift around the cliffs. It is a good place for birdwatching in the autumn, and is the only place in Devon where sometimes an American migrant bird can be spotted, such as a blackpoll warbler.

This is a dog friendly walk. Use this walk (or part of it) to visit the hidden beach at Soar Mill Cove which is a dog friendly beach. Have a look at our Top Dog Walks on the South West Coast Path for more dog friendly beaches and pubs. 

 

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Higher Rew Touring Caravan & Camping Park

Higher Rew is a 4 star family run park close to beautiful Salcombe and the South West Coast Path. The Squire family have, over many years, created a relaxed caravan and camping park for your enjoyment.

Rocarno B&B

SINGLE NIGHT STAYS. Lovely views. Free wi-fi, free tea & coffee, great breakfasts.

Bolberry House Farm, Marlborough

Nestled in the rolling hills of South Devon, between the old fishing village of Hope Cove and the boating paradise of Salcombe. An ideal base to explore the magnificent South West Coast Path.

Ocean Reach

Luxury holiday homes with 360-degree coastal & countryside views. Restaurant & Bar.Food locally sourced, cooked and presented to the highest standard.

Bolberry Farm Cottages, near Salcombe

Half a mile from the South West Coast Path at Bolberry Down. Short breaks available. Dog friendly.

Welle House B&B, East Prawle

A warm welcome awaits you in our family home in the unspoilt coastal village of East Prawle.

Kittiwake Cottage

Luxury holiday cottage, mid 19th Century, white-washed fisherman's cottage, perfect base for a wonderful holiday in all seasons.

Little Waverley, Hope Cove

Just yards from the South West Coast Path offering weekly lets & short breaks for 2-4 people – TV, wifi, parking, 2 mins walk to post office /shop, pub & cafe.

The Old Post Office, South Milton

The Old Post Office is a small friendly B&B with a big welcome for walkers and families in a great location close to the South West Coast Path.

Shute Farm, South Milton

16th Century character farmhouse in quiet position. A short distance from the Coast Path and lovely sandy beaches. 3 comfortable ensuite rooms. Open all year.

Ashleigh House, Kingsbridge

Ashleigh House is a 7 Bedroom 4* Victorian B&B with parking, used by walkers as a base for 2-4 day walks using local buses and taxis. There are good Restaurants, Pubs and Shops within walking distance of the house.

Down Farm Holidays, near Start Point

Lovely 600 year old Devon Farmhouse B&B using local and homegrown produce. 3 en-suite rooms with sea views. Close to the coast path. Self catering also available.

You'll be spoilt for choice for where to eat and drink along the Path. With lots of local seasonal food on offer, fresh from the farm, field and waters. Try our local ales, ciders, wines and spirits, increasing in variety by the year, as you sit in a cosy pub, fine dining restaurant or chilled café on the beach. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Coast @ Gara Rock

“Spectacular views and food to match”  Family friendly food that does not cost the Earth. Find us on Facebook, Twitter or website.

The Cove Café Bar

Multi-award winning, the best local produce, Little Sailors and takeaway options Over 70 craft beers, ales & ciders Live sport multiscreen.

What is on your list of things to do when you visit the Path? From walking companies, to help you tailor your visit, with itineraries and experts to enhance your visit, to baggage transfer companies and visitor attractions there are lots to people and places to help you decide what you'd like to do. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Kingsbridge Tourist Info Centre

Walking the Coast Path? Call in for all you need including books, maps and our popular accommodation guide, bus & ferry times and much more!

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From the entrance to the North Sands car park turn right to walk above the beach, along Cliff Road, bearing right at the end to follow the brown sign towards South Sands. Carry on around the double bend uphill, past 'The Moult', to the junction at the top of the hill.

Looking back across North Sands, you can see the ruin of Fort Charles on the rocks. In 1646, during the English Civil War, it was the last fort in England to hold out against Cromwell's men, when the Royalist troops occupying it held out for five months while under siege (see the East Portlemouth and Gara Rock Walk).

Originally a small fishing village, over time Salcombe's picturesque waterfront, combined with its deep waters, made it a lively centre of maritime activity. Its remote location meant that its main communication links were by sea, and its growing prosperity was based on its shipbuilding and associated trades. From the end of the eighteenth century it was producing as many as three new ships every couple of years. Between 1796 and 1887 its shipyards turned out 200 vessels. The foreshore was developed through land reclamation and a growing population was drawn here by the romantic landscape and the warm climate resulting from the shelter afforded by the hills surrounding the estuary. In 1850 William White's 'History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Devonshire' commented that Salcombe was considered ‘the warmest place on the south-west coast, as oranges, lemons and American aloes bloom in the open air, in the pleasure grounds of Woodville and the Moult'.

Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘the first gentleman's seaside residence in the area', The Moult was built in 1764 and substantially improved in the mid nineteenth century, when it was owned by Viscount Courtenay, the eldest son of the Earl of Devon. Victorian historian and biographer James Anthony Froude often rented The Moult from Courtenay for the summer season (although he also declared that, thanks to the balmy climate, ‘Winter in Salcombe is winter only in name'). In 1889, Alfred Lord Tennyson is said to have joined him there, penning his poem 'Crossing the Bar' in a summerhouse in the garden.

  1. Fork left by the postbox and walk along Moult Road, carrying on ahead along the public footpath when the road turns to a track. Passing the bollards, go into the woods, forking left and crossing a stile to descend through trees to a road. Bear right to continue ahead to Combe, forking left by another postbox to climb to Rew.
  2. Near the top of the hill, turn left onto the public footpath signed to Soar at Higher Rew. Going past the yard, carry on along the green lane beside the barn, bearing left with it into the field. Turn right in the field, following the right-hand hedges and then turning right to cross the cattle grid to the junction by the coastguard cottages at Soar. Carry on along the lane ahead, past the rear of the cottages, to the next junction, with a grassy area on your left above some converted barns.
  3. Ignoring the footpath to your left, take the left-hand road beyond it to walk downhill along the drive signed Soar Mill Cove. Ignore another footpath on your left by the thatched cottage at Lower Soar, carrying on to where the road sweeps left after the hotel. Go left with it briefly, before going through the gate on the right and following the path down the valley to the South West Coast Path at Soar Mill Cove.
  4. Turn left on the Coast path above the cove to follow the acorn waymarkers back to Salcombe. Climbing out of the cove and dipping into another valley before ascending again, carry on along the Warren to the gap in the hedge at the end of the open access area. Fork right beyond it to carry on along the Coast Path around Bolt Head, descending steeply to Starehole Bay.

There are a number of warrens along the South Devon coastline, established and maintained during medieval times for breeding rabbits as a food source. Fishponds were common at the time, too, as well as dovecotes and duck decoy ponds. Warrens were introduced to Britain by the Normans in the twelfth century, when rabbits were also prized for their fur. To start with only the wealthy landowners bred rabbits, but by the thirteenth century many areas kept rabbits in 'coneygarths' or 'pillow mounds', and the practice spread through the population until the late eighteenth century, when rabbit began to be regarded as a pauper's food.

The area around the Warren was inhabited during prehistoric times. Flint tools have been found here, and there are traces of hut circles where families lived in round houses. There are also the remains of field systems from the Bronze Age, some 4000 years ago.

Today the National Trust looks after the area, and Dartmoor ponies are used to graze the cliffs, preventing scrub from smothering the more delicate species. Look out for grey bush crickets and their cousins the great green crickets (the largest in the British Isles). Ravens and buzzards fly over the rocky crags above. Fulmars and gulls breed on the cliff-faces, and cormorants and shags hunt from the rocks below. In spring and autumn migrating swallows and house martins pause on the headland at the start and end of their long journey south.

The headland was the site of a Second World War lookout until it was demolished in 2007. When the sea is still you can see the seaweed underwater marking the wreck of the German four-masted barque 'Herzogin Cecilie', which ran aground on Ham Stone Rock in 1936 and was towed to Starehole Bay and beached here (see the Sharp Tor & Bolt Head Walk).

Vikings are said to have landed and settled in Starehole Bay sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries, when there were a number of Viking raids around south Devon.

  1. Cross the bridge to climb out of Starehole on the rough steps and narrow rock ledges that round the point at Sharp Tor. Carry on along the path through Fir Wood to emerge at the National Trust car park at Overbecks.

The path over the steps and ledges is known as the Courtenay Walk. It was cut in the 1860s by Viscount Courtenay, so that visitors to Salcombe could reach Bolt Head.

You are now above the treacherous Salcombe Bar of Tennyson's poem. Stretching from here to Leek Cove, across the water, the Bar is less than two feet (60cm) below water as the tide ebbs and it is a notorious shipping hazard. It was the scene of Devon's worst lifeboat loss, when the 'William & Emma' capsized as she was rowing back from a rescue in 1916. The lifeboat had been launched in southwesterly gales to go to the aid of the Plymouth schooner, Western Lass, which had run aground in Lannacombe Bay. Shortly after it was launched, a message came through saying that all those on board the schooner had been brought safely ashore by the Prawle Rocket Company. Tragically, there was no way of recalling the lifeboat, and the men arrived at the schooner to find that they were not needed. As they recrossed the Bar on their way home, a huge wave threw the crew across the boat and a second swiftly followed and capsized it, drowning all but two of the crew of 15.

Unlike most estuaries, the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary is not fed by a single sizeable river. Instead, a number of springs rise in the hills behind it, with small streams flowing from them. It is considered to be one of the best examples of a 'ria' that is disproportionate to the size of its feeder river. (A ria is a long, narrow inlet formed when rising sea levels drown a valley).

The estuary is tidal beyond Salcombe, to Kingsbridge, and it is both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a local nature reserve. Because there is so little water flowing from inland, it is largely a marine system, which has created some important and unusual habitats, including reed beds, mudflats and eelgrass beds. The extensive mudflats at the top of the tidal area are crammed with worms, snails, and bacteria - a feast for the estuary's wading birds and fish - while further downstream there are crabs and shellfish. Down on the foreshore, the rare eelgrass beds provide a nursery for fish and seahorses.

It is also the site of several notable shipwrecks, including one from the Bronze Age (see the Sharp Tor & Bolt Head Walk).

Overbecks, built at the end of the nineteenth century, was bought in the 1920s by inventor Otto Overbeck, after his pioneering electrotherapy machine 'The Rejuvenator' amassed him a small fortune (see the Sharp Tor & Bolt Head Walk). He lived there until his death in 1937, having bequeathed it to the National Trust, on condition that it was turned into a museum and youth hostel, and not a brothel.

  1. Coming out of Overbecks, carry on ahead down the road and follow it downhill back to South Sands. Continue past the back of the beach, climbing the hill beyond and then dropping down on the far side to return to North Sands.

Public transport

There is a regular bus service from Kingsbridge to Salcombe, and a good but less regular service from Totnes. There are also buses from Exeter and Newton Abbot, some of which are direct, others timed to link at Kingsbridge with the local services. For timetable information, zoom in on the interactive map and click on the bus stops, visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.  During summer there is a park and ride service between the edge of the town and the town centre.

Parking

Salcombe; North Sands; South Sands.

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