Ruined villages, WWII tragedies and some nice scenery.

Tuesday 23 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

After all that walking yesterday and feeling quite weary when I turned the light off at 10:00 I fully expected to get a pretty solid sleep in, but sadly that was not to be, and I just dozed off and on all night. Maybe it was the two hours of photo editing I did before sleep!

I was up at 8:00 again and spent half hour writing part of a blog post on yesterday after breakfast before I packed up and headed out the door. My plan was to catch the bus to Torcross and walk to Hallsands and back. The B and B host could not find a bus timetable before I left which turned out to be a mistake as I missed the once an hour bus by five minutes because I detoured on a walk around Dartmouth on the way to the bus stop. Which meant forty five minutes in a cafe waiting for the next one, at least I got to drink a decent coffee.

My B and B is next to the Cherub Inn, the only surving medieval house in Dartmouth, being built around 1380. My B and B next door was considerably newer being built in 1635….

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I took the long way to the bus stop, walking up some of the narrow streets in the middle of town with the aim of getting a decent view of the Britannia Royal Naval College, a very large building that looms over the western end of town – and is off limits to most. The building itself is quite recent, with construction starting in 1904, though naval officers have been trained in Dartmouth since 1863. It is a mighty impressive building, though through the light drizzle it did take a rather poor photo.

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It took me a while to find a vantage point, walking up and down some of the many steep streets, my legs were feeling it at the start, but once they had stretched out I felt pretty good, which I was pleasantly surprised at.

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Dartmouth is a famous old town, with a long tradition of sailing, voyages and battle ships. From as long ago as 1147 when ships set sail on the crusades there have been vessels moving in and out of the Dart. The Mayflower left England for the last time on its voyage to America in 1620 – and landed in what became Dartmouth in Massachusetts. Sadly the museum was closed. But the bus stop had a nice outlook.

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The bus journey over to Torcross took about thirty minutes and I snapped a few photos out of the slightly grubby windows on the way, the first overlooking Dartmouth.

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There are some lovely beaches along this stretch of coast. Blackpool Sands for instance.

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I would really hate to be a bus driver, anywhere to be fair, but it must be extra tricky on the narrow roads of rural Britain, especially driving a double decker bus. I raise my hat to all who do it.

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Torcross Beach is about two and half miles long and is a narrow strip between the sea and Slapton Ley; a marshy lake, wetland area and scenic reserve. I got off the bus at what I thought was the half way point, into a howling gale and then a sudden downpour of rain. It then drizzled virtually the whole way along the beach to the small town of Torcross at the end. With its massive sand and pebble beach Torcross was used significantly during the second world war as an American training ground for the D-Day landings. The local population were all moved out of their homes during the training time and this memorial is a reminder of that forced evacuation.

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The beach itself is really nice, vast and almost deserted, and looking quite imposing under threatening skies.

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I remembered this is as the place where I almost lost my phone when I was last here, It had fallen out of my pocket when I had snuck into the bushes for a wee, and didn’t realise I had dropped it until a few minutes later. I was very relieved, and quite amazed, to find it again.

One of the many sad and terrible events of World War 2 took place in Torcross and I did not know anything about until It was mentioned to me over breakfast this morning. Operation Tiger was the name of the D-Day landing trials and the extra activity attracted the attention of the German navy and two boats were sunk by torpedo boats at the loss of over 700 US lives. To add to the pain, on the trial landing itself there was a mis-communication resulting in over 300 deaths in a poorly timed shelling. Over 1000 troops killed, just in a trial. A real tragedy. This tank was dug out of the sand and set up as memorial in 1984.

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The road runs between the beach and Slapton Ley and was severely impacted by the winter storms last year, the storms also changed the lie of the beach to a degree where the long term future of the wetlands, the village and the road are all in doubt. Nature can be a hard mistress, not that humanity is helping that much.

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The rain had stopped by the time I got to the village and started up over the hill to my next stop of Beesands. I spent ages trying to work out what the start point was far, and finally realised it was the name of the far headland and this was Start Bay. I had a mental doh moment when I realised.

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It was only a short walk over the top and blessedly not too steep either.

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Beesands did not really have any great redeeming features, it has been severely impacted by the downturn in local fishing, and is pretty much reliant on tourists passing through between Torcross and the more well known Hallsands – pretty much what I was doing.

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Beesands main claim to fame is the Cricket Inn, where Mick and Keith first performed to an audience, as a teenage duo before the Rolling Stones were started. Keith’s family had long holidayed here and the young Mick often joined them on their trips.

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You know a place is windy when the trees are all growing sideways!

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Hallsands was my final destination for the day, it had been a small fishing village for a couple of hundred years, growing to a population of just over one hundred and fifty in the late 1800s.

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In 1890 the building of a new naval dockyard was started further along the coast in Keyham near Plymouth. Too supply the sand for the construction dredging took place just off shore and within ten years the beach had been so undermined that the residents complained to parliament. Two years later dredging was stopped, but the damage was done and in severe storms in 1907 most of the village was washed into the sea. The build of the naval base was subsequently stopped – not due to the destruction of the village though.

Though a small village has been built since there is constant damage done during heavy storms, and you can see where the road has been partially washed away, as recently as 2012.

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These houses were left almost stranded in 2012 as well.

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There is now a small path and a viewing platform over looking the remaining houses from the first village, the reason why tourists come to Hallsands. The area below the houses used to be a sandy beach until the dredging ruined it.

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As the buses from Torcross to Dartmouth only run hourly I decided to try for a quick walk back and get an earlier bus, so I power walked back over to Beesands, stopping to take a photo of the clouds coming down over the hills – luckily it didn’t rain again!

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And this really cool football pitch with its drop off into the far corner!

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I decided to take a punt on being able to walk on the beach around the headland between Beesands and Torcross. I had seen dog walkers heading that way and it sort of looked possible, and it would save a bit of time as well. It was also nice to walk on the beach, two days on the coast and I had not actually set foot on the beach yet….

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The beach did go around to Torcross and luckily there were steps up the cliff and over this stream else it would have been a pointless short cut!

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I arrived back in Torcross with five minutes to spare, so I took a photo of this nice old farmhouse for sale – El are you tempted ?

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And a view up Slapton Ley. I wonder what it will look like if I make it back down this way again. So many broody dark skies….

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The bus ride back to town was good, I was the only person on the bus, I can see why they do not run more frequently. I had a really nice soup for a late lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening editing photos and watching some TV before heading out for a very nice fish and chip dinner at the Rockfish Cafe. 2013 winner of best fish and chip shop.

And that was it – holiday over. I had a good time, I really enjoyed the hills and the walks and weather, which was much better than I expected. All those spare clothes I brought down with me where not needed, thankfully. I think next time I go away I will bite the bullet on the cost and rent a car. While I like buses and trains, off season they can be restrictive and costly. There were a couple of other things I would have liked to have seen in the area too, but time and energy were in restricted supply

I am now on my way back to London on the train, after a bacon sarnie and a not unreasonable coffee at the Totnes Station Cafe.

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Looking forward to Christmas, but will miss seeing my kids, my grandchild, my mum and the rest of the family.

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
This entry was posted in Blog, Britain, England and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ruined villages, WWII tragedies and some nice scenery.

  1. Merry Christmas Phil…love your photos and writing! Hopefully next year you’ll be able to spend Christmas with your family.

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