South Devon Adventures: Walks, Swims & Pubs | Part 2
It’s still the perfect time to get outdoors and be naturally inspired in South Devon. Here’s part two of the hotly anticipated guide - by local author, Matt Newbury - of places to walk and swim, before enjoying a well earned pint and bite to eat in our beautiful home.
Bantham to Thurlestone Circular | South Hams
4 mile walk with refreshment stops in Thurlstone Village and Bantham
This is a spectacular stretch of coast with wonderful views and some amazing swimming possibilities. Start from the car park and climb up the slope from Bantham Surf Lifesaving Club, looking back over your shoulder for stunning views of Burgh Island. It was while staying here that Agatha Christie wrote ‘Evil Under the Sun’ and ‘And Then There Were None’. A circumnavigation of the island on a calm day makes for a really enjoyable one mile swim. The walk continues past Thurlstone Golf Course from where you may be able to see the Eddystone Lighthouse and the stump of Smeaton's Tower, where the lighthouse once stood before being moved to Plymouth Hoe. The path will eventually take you down to Yarmouth Sand, where a swim should definitely be in order.
Continue around the perimeter of the golf course and Warren Point where you'll get your first glimpse of Thurlstone Rock, an imposing rock arch. When you reach South Milton Sands, a swim through the arch is sometimes possible. The sea will need to be calm and the tide just right. For the return part of the trip, retrace your steps until you get to Leas Foot Sand and then turn right up the sandy path. Head up past the tennis courts and on up the hill to Thurlestone Village. You can have your first pub stop here at the Village Inn, with beams salvaged from the Spanish Armada ships, which were wrecked on the nearby coast.
The walk continues up past the memorial and then right, following signs for "Footpath to Bantham". You'll pass the rear of the golf course and several fields before you are rewarded with amazing views over the estuary below. A 3-mile annual swimming event, organised by The Outdoor Swimming Society takes place along this stretch of river. Called "The Swoosh," it takes participants from Aveton Gifford to Bantham. Head back down to the legendary Sloop Inn, a 14th century hostelry that's very popular with surfers. You can even round off the day with another swim down on the beach, with Burgh Island as a backdrop.
Teign Gorge Circular | Drewsteignton
4 miles, with a few dipping opportunities and a refreshment stop at Fingle Bridge Inn.
I've been coming to this beautiful area since I was a child, this circular walk from Castle Drogo, Britain's newest castle built in the 1920s. Then stop for a pint at the Fingle Bridge Inn is one of my favourites. The walk takes you from the car park at the castle and winds down into the gorge along Hunter's Path and around Hunter's Tor. The views are stunning as you wind your way down into the gorge and it's easy to understand why Julius Drew choose this location for his castle. After entering the gorge and walking past the iron bridge you'll come across Drogo Weir, which was built in 1928 to serve the hydroelectric plant just down-stream.
The 75-meter pool makes a perfect wild swimming spot, shaded by woodland and with a handy metal jetty to enter the water. Look out for dragonflies and rare water beetles. The weir serves a double purpose and also helps stock the salmon in the river. Drew built three impressive cascading pools at the lower end of the weir to allow their upward migration during September or October. It's quite fun to climb into the pools for a natural jacuzzi, but only attempt this when the river levels are low. Once you are suitably refreshed, you can continue to walk downstream along the path, past oaks once managed by the monks from Buckfast Abbey and on down to Fingle Weir, and another potential swimming spot.
You'll eventually reach Fingle Bridge, which was built in the 18th century to replace the stepping stones you can still spot upstream. It's lovely enjoying a drink outside the pub in the summer and you'll need some refreshment before taking the very steep Hunters Path up over the top of Sharp Tor and then onto Piddledown Common (don't laugh…) and back to the start. If you fancy another drink, the Drew Arms in Drewsteignton is also worth a stop.
SOME IMPORTANT SAFETY TIPS...
If it's your first outdoor swim of the season, be careful to enter the water slowly and acclimatise. Stay close to the shore until you are comfortable.
Why not wear a wetsuit for added warmth and buoyancy? The advantage of swimming in South Devon over the summer months is that the waters are pleasantly warm.
Don't enter water without first establishing an exit point. Never jump or dive into water without first checking the depth and whether there are any obstructions.
Swim in a group wherever possible (it's a lot more fun, anyway...) or if swimming alone, let people know your movements and take extra special care.
If you are out swimming and unsure if there is a current, swim a short distance and then swim back to see if it feels any different. Stay close to the shore; that's where you will get the most interesting views from anyway.
Consider wearing a swim hat, or a bright tow flat, so that boats can see you from a distance.
For lots more ideas for outdoor adventures in South Devon, get yourself a copy of Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon by Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce. It's available in most West Country bookshops or online at www.wildthingspublishing.com/product/wild-swimming-walks-dartmoor-and-south-devon/