WALK 17 : DEVON – FROM PAIGNTON TO AVETON GIFFORD.

In 2014 I spent several weeks walking along the south coast of England, from London to Paignton in South Devon.  I am now resuming that journey and hope to walk westwards from Paignton to Land’s End, round Cornwall and up to Bristol, and then over the Severn Bridge to Wales.  Ultimate destination: Liverpool.  Approximate distance: 1,400 miles.

It’s early in the season: changeable weather, a cold wind, February.  The seafront at Paignton was deserted but still suggestive of donkey rides on the sand, Punch & Judy and candy floss.  It was an easy walk to Brixham: pale winter sunlight and the sea looking curiously Mediterranean, light turqoise shading to azure.

Brixham seemed more of a workaday fishing harbour than a purely tourist town.  On the quayside I found a plaque commemorating the Glorious Revolution for it was here that William of Orange made landfall, to claim his throne, on November 5th 1688 and where he is recorded as pledging “The liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain”.

From Brixham I walked on to Kingswear to take the charming little ferry across to Dartmouth.  Dartmouth had everything: friendly people, old world charm, the welcoming Community Bookshop, and excellent public transport connections.  For me Dartmouth tied with Whitby as my favourite seaside town in 3,000 miles of British coastline.

Moving on, early one sunny morning, I walked around the long curve of Start Bay, along Slapton Sands and out to the lonely lighthouse on Start Point.  It felt like the first day of spring.

Further on, for a few miles beyond Prawle Point, the landscape suddenly turned epic: massive wave-pounded cliffs, inaccessible sandy beaches and a palpable sense of remoteness and emptiness.  For the first time on the British coast I experienced that sensation described by Conrad in Heart of Darkness, “And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace.  It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.  It looked at you with a vengeful aspect”.

And then just as suddenly the familiar world reasserted itself as I rounded the wooded bluffs at the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary and found myself in East Portlemouth, from where I took the open ferry over to Salcombe.

Salcombe: chic, pretty and boutique, but out of season rather quaint, hushed and secluded.  Since it is too early in the season for some of the river ferries the coast walk from Salcombe to Plymouth will involve walking inland up one side of each of the rivers Avon, Erme and Yealm and then back down the other side of each river to the sea.

I walked around the coast from Salcombe, up the east side of the River Avon, to the first river crossing, at the little village of Aveton Gifford, where I finished this walk.

© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2016.

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