Walks, Swims & Pubs: Refreshing Summer Adventures | Part 1
We asked local author Matt Newbury for some of his favourite places in South Devon to enjoy a walk and a swim, with a welcome pub or two included in the itinerary.
Summer is well and truly here, which means it's time to turn off the telly for a few months and get out and about in the fresh air. I love nothing better than a walk to a stunning swim spot before enjoying a well-earnt pint and a bite to eat on a balmy summer's evening. So, I thought I would share some of my favourite spots for combining all three activities in this beautiful corner of the world.
Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston Cove Circular | Torbay AKA The ENGLISH RIVIERA
3.5 miles with a drink at Churston Court and multiple dipping opportunities. Starting Point: Broadsands Rd, Paignton TQ4 6HL
You could start with a swim at Broadsands, with its spectacular views across the Bay in one direction, and two of Brunel's lofty viaducts in the other. Then head towards the swanky new beach huts to the right of the beach and up on to the path that takes you over Churston Point. From here you can see the end of Brixham's half mile long breakwater and the black dots of the mussel farm. After about 15 minutes you'll then arrive at the shingle beach at Elberry Cove and its sparkling turquoise waters. You'll also spot the remains of Lord Churston's Bathing House; this is a splendid spot for a dip, favoured by Agatha Christie. While here lookout for the undersea freshwater springs that sometimes bubble to the surface.
Once suitably refreshed, head up the steep path behind the bathing house into Elberry and Marridge Wood, which separates the golf course from the sea. The first glimpse of Churston Cove is breath-taking on a sunny day, with boats moored just off the shore of this pebbly beach. You'll be able to see Fishcombe Cove with its small café and a swim between the two beaches can be a lot of fun. The walk continues up through the woods at the rear of Churston Cove, through an area known at The Grove. Look out for the lime kilns in the woods. You'll soon arrive at the pretty village of Churston Ferrers, where you will definitely need to pause for a refreshment break at Churston Court.
The former guest list here takes in everyone from Sir Humphrey Gilbert (the half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh) and Bruce Reynolds, one of the Great Train Robbers. Agatha Christie was also a friend of Lord and Lady Churston and would come for Sunday lunch after attending services at the adjacent Church of St Mary the Virgin. She even donated royalties from a short story to pay for the east-facing stained-glass window. When you are fed and watered, the walk continues along a path through the middle of Churston Golf Course, with the track taking you past Elberry Farm and back to Broadsands where the walk began.
Woodcombe Sands and Ivy Cove Circular | South Hams
5 miles swimming at two coves and then drinks at a legendary pub. Starting Point: East Prawle, Kingsbridge, TQ7 2BY
This walk starts in East Prawle, which is a bit of a cult hangout due to the rock star connections. The landlord of the Pig's Nose Inn used to be in the music business and has persuaded star names including Damon Albarn from Blur and Paul Young to perform there. Kate Bush and the Blur frontman both have holiday homes in the areas as well.
From the village green, you follow the road going down towards the sea, before joining the coast path and heading east towards Start Point. You'll pass Horsely Cove, which is a long wild beach with good swimming at high tide. However, it's at Woodcombe Sand that you'll be able to enjoy swimming in gin clear waters off this idyllic beach. There are also some good jumping/diving platforms off to the left side, although always check the depths first.
It's just a 10 minutes walk to the next beach at Ivy Cove and you can even swim between the two beaches and even on to the next cove at Lannacombe if you are feeling energetic. Until 40 years ago, there was a fishing fleet based at Ivy Cove, but today it's a bit of a well-kept secret. Most walkers completely miss the path, just left of a huge cliff fall. The walk then takes you back up through a pretty wood and through fields back to East Prawle for a pint in the very quirky Pig's Nose Inn. It's worth keeping an eye on their website and Facebook Page, as they have some great gigs in the hall to the rear of the pub and there are plenty of camping fields just a short stagger away.
Crazywell Pool Walk | Dartmoor
6 miles, a beautiful walk to this legendary swimming spot, with refreshments at Princetown on your return. Starting Point: The Plume Of Feathers Inn, Princetown, Yelverton PL20 6QQ
Crazywell Pool is one of my favourite places on Dartmoor; a speech bubble-shaped lake that appears from nowhere in the middle of the deserted moorland. The walk starts on the bridleway between the Plume of Feathers Pub and the Fox Tor Café. After about 1.3km you'll reach South Hessary Tor, which is well worth a clamber. You can then look back to see Fox Tor Myre to the East, which was the inspiration for the Hound of the Baskevilles. Continue on the path for another 1.5km until you reach a crossroads, where you turn right. Walk down this rocky path until you come to the start of a leat on your right. Follow this for about a km, looking out for a stone cross to your left. You'll soon see Burrator Reservoir in the distance, with Sheeps Tor looming behind it. Turn left after passing two gullys and two large piles of stone (or cheat and use Google Maps) and you will discover the mysterious Crazywell Pool.
The pool was rumoured to be bottomless, as its waters are so dark and mysterious, although it's only about four meters deep. There are various legends attached, like it rises and falls with the tides down at Plymouth Sound. Or that on some evenings a voice can be heard announcing the next person to die in the village. Or if you look in the pool, you will see the face of the next parishioner to die – which is probably going to be you, as that's how reflections work! After a refreshing dip you can return the way you came, although for a bit of a change, at the crossroads, go straight on until you reach a lane where you turn left and then stroll back to Princetown.
The village is atmospheric, with the menacing Dartmoor Prison at its heart. The visitor's centre is worth a look, a former hotel where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed when researching the Hound of the Baskvilles. If you fancy camping, you can do this at the back of the Plume and Feathers, where you can also get a nice bite to eat. You can also do a very small pub crawl by visiting the Prince of Wales, which also has hostel-style accommodation. Or for a third option, why not stop at nearby Two Bridges.
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 summer adventures, 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/