4 miles (6.4 km)
Start point Little Dartmouth National Trust car park, Devon TQ6 0JR.
Moderate with some short steep climbs.
This circular walk starts and finishes in Little Dartmouth and it’s one of our favourites! This four mile coastal stretch is stunning and showcases the most awesome views over Start Bay, towards Start Point Lighthouse and Dartmouth. Take a stroll in the spring or summer time to see the coastal fauna and flora at its best and for easier access to the secret coves accessible enroute.
This route explores woodland, farmland, cliff tops and steep climbs but it’s well worth the effort, just make sure you have the right footwear for the job, especially if the ground is a bit soggy! Perfect for history buffs too so we’ve included some interesting facts along the way.
- From the carpark, head towards the sea and join the coastal path at Warren Point. The views are stunning and if the weather is good you may be able to spot the lighthouse at Start Point (some 8 miles/13k away). Look out for dolphins frolicking in the bay!
Warren Point gets its name from the large rabbit burrows. During the 19th century, the rabbits were bred for their fur and meat. joining the coast path at Warren Point.
- Head east along the coastal path, past Western Combe Cove (the steep steps in the cliff face are unstable and best not attempted). Continue on past Combe Point, a gorse-covered outcrop, Shinglehill Cove and Willow Cove. (There is a path here which heads inland and takes you back to the carpark if little legs are getting tired.)
This area is a thriving habitat for birds, the cliffs are owned by the National Trust and are home to cirl buntings, yellowhammers, linnets and whitethroats. You may even see one or two basking seals on the rocks below if you’re lucky!
- The coast path loops around Compass Valley. Follow the sign on the finger post and carry on along the coast path which takes you across the field and through the gate towards Dartmouth. Alternatively, from the finger post, head towards the sea and a viewpoint or continue down to Compass Cove where you can then follow your footsteps back and join the coast path again.
A little history of Compass Cove
This was the site of an old cable house where electric signals were transmitted over wires to send messages – part of an early communications system. On 2 November 1870 an undersea telegraph cable to Guernsey was laid but this end of the cable was later moved to Dartmouth harbour. Quite a task! The cable which was 67 miles (108km) long was in use until the 1950s, except during the Second World War when the Channel Islands were under German occupation.
- Follow along the coast path to Blackstone Point and up the steep path through the woods above Sugary Cove and Deadman’s Cove, you’ll then reach the lane at Compass Cottage (turn left here if you want to bypass Gallants Bower and return to the car park). Dartmouth Castle is just below overlooking the water.
Dartmouth Castle was built between 1481 and 1494. Kingswear Castle, on the opposite east bank of the River Dart,, was completed shortly afterwards. The twin forts guarded the narrow entrance to the prosperous merchant port and estuary. If Dartmouth was thought to be under threat a vast chain was stretched across the water, the chain was raised in order to obstruct any attacking ships. Today Dartmouth Castle is owned by English Heritage, is open all year and has a cafe.
- Turn right, heading downhill along the lane then, take the path on the left which goes up to Gallants Bower. Follow the path up through the woods and through the gate into the open area which is the site of the fortification. Follow the path heading west but staying below the fort. You can then go back through a gate and down through the woods and on to the lane. Bear right and head up the hill and you’ll pass the old Coastguard Station. Continue along the bridleway back to Little Dartmouth car park.
Built between 1643 and 1645 to defend Dartmouth against the Parliamentarians. It came under attack in 1646 from Roundhead forces under General Fairfax. The Royalists had already retreated to Gallants Bower where they soon surrendered. Four years later the fort was dismantled. Today, this ruined fort is still impressive with awesome 360-degree views inland and across the estuary and it’s now one of the best preserved in the country.