Walk - Sutton Harbour to Royal William Yard

3.7 miles (6.0 km)

The Harbour Car Park PL4 0DX Royal William Yard

Easy - The walk is, generally, on flat pavements and walkways. Be aware of traffic at various places.

Starting from the Harbour Car Park at Sutton Harbour, follow The Sutton Harbour Heritage Trail around the harbour to the historic Barbican where the Pilgrim fathers left for America. This easy walk then passes the Hoe with its great views across Plymouth Sound through to the magnificent Royal William Yard. All along the route are artworks which help bring the past alive.

To download our Access guides click for Sutton harbour to Royal William Yard, and for Royal William to Sutton harbour where you can find additional mapping and photographs showing gradients, path surfaces and other detailed information such as parking and toilet provision.

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.

Edgcumbe Guesthouse

Just yards from the seafront this top quality guest house offers gorgeous en suite rooms, free wifi,hairdryers,generous beverage trays.

The Duke of Cornwall Hotel

A stunning hotel set in the heart of Britain's Ocean City with 72 individually styled bedrooms, a cosy Lounge and fine dining restaurant.

Leonardo Hotel

The Leonardo Hotel Plymouth is a modern city hotel, located a five-minute walk from Plymouth’s historic harbour and close to cafes and restaurants. Hotel bar with food menu available.

Drakes View

Pop-up site close to Bovisand beach. No facilities.

Maker Camp

Escape at Maker Heights. 'Wild' camping campsite, popular cafe and arts & crafts studios on site.10 mins walk from beach, village/pub. Part of Rame Conservation Trust.

Coombe House B&B

Beautifully renovated farmhouse, stunning sea views, ample carparking, 15 mins from the Path, 5 mins from Kingsand/Cawsand offering 4 pubs for dinner. Highly recommended on Trip Advisor.

Wringford Cottages

We are a family run, dog friendly, holiday cottage complex set it 3 acres with a heated indoor swimming pool, tennis court and 6 cottages.

Wembury Bay Bed and Breakfast

10 minutes walk from Wembury Beach. Choice of 3 rooms, a twin en suite, a twin room or double. Rooms are fitted with TV's and Tea/coffee facilities. Wi Fi, washing/drying available, packed lunches on request. Pub close by.

Wembury Camping

Small site with hot shower and real loo. Near shop and pub with sea views. Just off the path and 15 minutes from the Yealm Ferry.

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.

The V.O.T

Just a stone’s throw from the Royal William Yard, The V.O.T perfectly combines old with new, fusing together historical structure and contemporary design. Serving tapas, snacks, drinks & Coffee. Holiday cottage accommodation next door.

Ocean Studios

Ocean Studios is Real Ideas’ hub of creative energy, with a stunning exhibition and café space, located in the stunning Royal William Yard, a stones' throw from the SWCP.

Domea FavourChocolate

Award winning bespoke handmade made chocolate, truffles & baked goods

Cliff Top Cafe

Family friendly cafe open 10 - 4 daily - stunning views of Whitsand Bay.

The Old Mill Cafe

Located right on Wembury beach. A National Trust building run by sisters Jemma and Jennifer. We provide light refreshments, locally roasted organic coffee, delicious pasties from local supplier and homemade sandwiches and soup to have in or takeaway.

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.

Plymouth Tourist Information Centre

Drop in to find all the information you need to enjoy Plymouth's Ocean City experience, including where to visit, stay and eat and drink

Hannah Wisdom Textiles

Textile artist creating original works by sewing on old sea charts of the South West Coast. Designs are also printed across a range of home and gift items.

Cremyll Ferry - Operated by Plymouth Boat Trips

Loved for centuries by all who have travelled on her, the historic Cremyll Ferry provides a gateway to discover this beautiful part of the South West.

Mount Batten Watersports and Activities Centre

The Mount Batten Watersports and Activities Centre is located right on the South West Coast Path on the beautiful Mount Batten peninsula.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. Begin this walk from the Harbour car park at Sutton Harbour.

Come out of the car park onto Lockyer's Quay heading for the harbour. Turn right at the roundabout and follow the Sutton Harbour Heritage Trail path with its the signing around the shoreline of Sutton Harbour. Go past the China House.

The China House is now a pub and restaurant. The building was first seen in a 1666 watercolour of Sutton Harbour painted by Sir Bernard Gromme.  In 1768, William Cockworthy made the first hard porcelain produced in England in Plymouth. The porcelain was made from china clay, hence the name - The China House. The building has also been a gun wharf and a hospital for ailing mariners.

In 1845, before Millbay was developed, Brunel had drawn up plans for Sutton Pool to become a gated harbour. The Admiralty rejected the plan however and it was another 150 years before lock gates were installed across the entrance to Sutton Harbour as it is now known. However, a branch of the railway did reach the northern shores of the harbour. It is still possible to see what is believed to be the only stretch of Brunel’s broad gauge railway in England that is still in its original location.  

Follow along the cobbled walkway, which is an interesting contrast to the sleek form of the yachts berthed in the marina and the contemporary restaurants and apartments lining the harbour along Quay Road until you reach the Barbican.

This “Plymouth’s Waterfront Walkway” booklet, written by Plymouth artist and historian Chris Robinson, contains many more interesting details about the walk. 

Today this whole area is known as ‘The Barbican’. A Barbican is a fortified entrance. Here it refers to the waterside gateway of Plymouth’s long-gone medieval castle that stood on Lambhay Hill. The Barbican has a street pattern that Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh would recognise, boasting the largest concentration of cobbled streets in England with over 100 listed buildings, many dating back to Tudor and Jacobean times.

In 1890 a stone bearing the inscription ‘Mayflower 1620’ was set in the ground remembering the Pilgrim Fathers bound for the New World. However, they only stayed in Plymouth because the Speedwell, Mayflower’s companion ship, became unseaworthy. They sought temporary refuge in Plymouth. They were well received. Indeed, when they arrived in America, they named their landing point Plymouth rock.

Follow the South West Coast Path southwards along The Barbican past Elphinstone car park. Rounding the headland into Madeira Road make your way past The Royal Citadel onto the Hoe.

The word Hoe comes from ‘Hawe’ meaning a ‘high ridge’.  Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls on the Hoe when the Spanish Armada was sighted in the English Channel in 1588. Knowing the state of the tides, Drake decided to complete his game before setting sail. During the Second World War, Lady Nancy Astor invoked the spirit of Drake as she led the dancing upon the Hoe Promenade.

  1. Keep to the Coast Path passing Smeaton’s Tower and the Bullring on your right and Tinside Lido on your left.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, King Charles II, whose father’s forces had been thwarted by Roundhead resistance in Plymouth in the Civil War, had the Royal Citadel built. In 1666, John, Earl of Bath, the new Governor of Plymouth, laid the foundation stone. It is said that every person living in the town, regardless of age, carried at least one stone to the “most impressive seventeenth-century fortification in the whole of Britain”. The fort has been in continuous military occupation.

Before 1971 penny coins featured a lighthouse that appeared behind Britannia for many years. This was Smeaton’s Tower, one of the city’s landmark buildings.

Formal bathing facilities first appeared here in 1913 with terraces and dressing rooms added before the Art Deco Tinside Lido was built in 1935. One of the finest pre-war lidos left in England, it was recently restored by Plymouth City Council.

There are numerous memorials on the Hoe commemorating the Spanish Armada, the Boer War, the Soldiers of WW1, the Royal Marines and the Airmen of WW2 with the most impressive being the First and Second World War Naval Memorial.

The white colonnaded belvedere was built in 1891 with the small area in front now used as a memorial garden. In older times this area was used as a bull ring. Here bulls were secured by a rope and baited by dogs who were frequently thrown into the air by the bulls, sometimes being caught by their owners.... sometimes not. Butchers could be fined if they slaughtered a bull without it having been baited. The practise was outlawed in 1835.

Follow the Coast Path around the headland into Mill Bay.

On your left can be seen the Plymouth lifeboat station which has been based at Millbay Docks since 1852. In 1803 Plymouth became one of the first places on the coast of Great Britain to have a lifeboat. Its first lifeboat was built by Henry Greathead who was the builder of the very first lifeboat in 1789. Between 1824 and 1862 many rescues were carried out off the coast with 14 Silver Medals being awarded for gallantry. In 1862 the RNLI created a boathouse and slipway on the western side of Millbay Docks. In 1880 a new home was found at the entrance to the docks. In 1926, the lifeboat was motorised. The lifeboat station is housed in the harbour’s oldest building, the octagonal limestone building that formerly served as a Custom’s building. In April 1912 the surviving crew members of the Titanic were brought by boat to Millbay where they kept a press silence before being escorted upcountry.  In 1943 Plymouth’s lifeboat, Robert and Marcella Beck was used by the Admiralty in Iceland for lifesaving service on the northern convoy route to Russia. She was replaced in Plymouth by a lifeboat lent by Belgium to the lifeboat fleet.

  1. Keep to Great Western Road which leads into West Hoe Road.

In West Hoe Road  the wall is decorated with replica and relocated signage echoing the industrial heritage of the docks.

On your right, Millbay Park is a recreation ground occupying the site of the old Mill Prison where over 1,500 American sailors were held in captivity during the 1775-83 War for American Independence. The park was publically opened in 1911.

At the roundabout before turning into Millbay Road, you will see, on the floor, how John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse was put together using his revolutionary technique of interlocking stone. His lighthouse stood for 123 years and was only replaced because the sea undermined its rock base! The lead nugget within the pattern tells a grizzly tale which is worth a read. To the north, you will see Plymouth Pavilions, home of the Plymouth Raiders basketball team, and the largest seated concert venue west of Bristol. To the east is the Duke of Cornwall Hotel, described by John Betjeman as his favourite Victorian building.

  1. Turn left at the roundabout into Millbay Road and pass the Ferry entrance. From here the demands of commerce and the military require the Coast Path to step inland.

Looking over the wall here gives a good view of Millbay Docks. Today the area is undergoing massive redevelopment, but for centuries, Millbay had just been a small, natural, inner harbour, of little consequence. A substantial mill occupied a site between the main inlet and a ‘sour’, marshy pool that filled up at high tide. A couple of factories and a prison had appeared on the eastern side of the bay by the early 1800s. Significant development only began in the 1840s when Isambard Kingdom Brunel was engaged as the Great Western Dock Company’s engineer. His ocean-going screw-steamer, the world’s first, SS Great Britain pulled alongside Millbay Pier on its maiden voyage in 1845.

Written on the blue railings here (when viewed from the right angle) is a famous order given by Sir John Hawkins to the fleet off northern Spain in 1564.

Follow Millbay Road into Caroline Place and Barrack Place.

  1. Turn left into Durnford Street.

On your left is the Royal Marine Barracks. The first contingent of the Plymouth Division of the Royal Marines moved into newly-built barracks here in December 1783. At that time the front was some distance to the east of Durnford Street. A narrow thoroughfare, Barrack Street, densely-packed with pubs, stood between the two. In the 1860s however, most of Barrack Street was removed, and a fine new imposing entrance was created.

In 1882 medical student Arthur Conan Doyle, having received his Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery qualifications from Edinburgh, came to Stonehouse to join fellow ex-Edinburgh student, George Budd, in his practice in Durnford Street. Dr James Cullingworth, who makes an appearance in two of Conan Doyle’s later Sherlock Holmes stories, is said to have been modelled on Budd. Quotations from the world-famous detective stories are mounted in the pavement along Durnford Street along with a plaque on the steps of No. 93. The practice itself was located at No. 1 Durnford Street although the original property has long since gone.

  1. Follow Durnford Street back to the water’s edge at Admiralty Road. The Coast Path leads round to Devil’s Point and into the Royal William Dockyard.

Public transport

The Barbican is a half-mile walk or bus ride from Plymouth City Centre - for timetable information visit Traveline or phone 0870 6082608. There are 3 'out of city' Park and Rides at Coypool, George Park and Milehouse. The buses stop at Royal Parade in the city centre.

The best way to return to the start of the walk is to catch the ferry from the Royal William Yard back to the Barbican and then on back to the Harbour Car Park. Our ferries page has more information.


The Harbour Car Park (PL4 0DX) at Lockyers Quay near the National Marine Aquarium.


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