It doesn’t matter how many times we enjoy this hour long circular dog walk, the view, light and landscape always stop us in our tracks. We’re reminded why The South Hams in South Devon is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Golden gorse is out everywhere on our short drive from dog-friendly Watermill Cottages in 20 acres of secret stunning, coastal valley, down through pretty Slapton village with its medieval tower, between the sea and freshwater Slapton Ley to Torcross and into the next bay, following signs to Start Point and Lighthouse.
We stroll down the cliff path from the Start Point car park between hedges of coconut-scented gorse towards the sea. May the dog is loving this too! The sea sparkles ahead before a panorama of foamy coast opens up, scalloped into bays and headlands. Sunbeams make the rocks and waves glitter.
Secret Dog-Friendly Beach. Mattiscombe Sands, our favourite secret local beach, is reached by stepping down the cliff path from here. There are rock pools to play in, a freshwater stream for the dogs, black outcrops biting the sky for drama, waves for percussion. And south-facing, so a sun trap even in winter as it’s protected from the cooler easterlies.
The signpost invites us down, or to continue along The Coast Path to tiny Lannacombe beach or further west. With short light in early Jan, we turn east and walk around the cliff slopes to look for seals at Pear Tree Point rocks. We’ve often watched seals and their pups watching us, almost human with such expressive eyes, but today there are no seals, just moody light and turquoise sea. It feels like very faraway.
Start Point Lighthouse grows as we approach it around the headland. At first, a huge white match wedged into the cliff, then prouder and larger. Walkers taking the anti-clockwise route tell us they’ve seen seals. We stare and stare but really can’t persuade ourselves that that rock in the waves is a head!
Reaching the spine of Start Point, its name derived from the Anglo-Saxon word steort, meaning tail, we gaze over the whole of Start Bay beyond and the choppy white waters of The Skerries beneath, the rocky reef that runs into the sea for 6.5 kms. It’s the reason for the lighthouse. Soft sunshine illuminates the coastal villages of Hallsands and Beesands, and the ruins of the Hallsands houses that were washed into the sea a century ago.
A mosaic of small hedged fields decorates the soft hills between the bays. Slapton Ley shines behind the shingle bank that keeps the sea out, mostly. Far distant is the Dartmouth daymark, pointing out the harbour entrance. We walk up the tarmac slope, choosing not to visit the lighthouse today, eyes right as light dances and changes our focus.
Dog Friendly Pub Advice. And a short drive to Beesands beach – we could have walked, but light is short and lunch is calling! Crab soup and whitebait at The Cricket Inn, with May the dog, after a bit of ball throwing, of course.
Then home to Watermill Cottages for a log fire and a little nap, the dog and us. Well, it is winter and a little hibernation in the afternoon is good for the soul! We dream of turquoise sea and coconut air. And tennis balls on beaches…
Short breaks from £245 at one of the five dog-friendly Watermill Cottages set in a secret, traffic-free valley behind Slapton nr Dartmouth, from January to the end of March 2019. Call Christine & John on 01803 770219 or enquire online.
Oh what a beautiful day!
For weeks, I’ve been meaning to walk round the National Nature Reserve (NNR) just down the lane from Watermill Cottages at Slapton Ley. With the first spring birdcalls in the air and a beaming sun, today was the day,.
|Slapton Ley towards Torcross
A fabulously crammed fresh crab sandwich and a cuppa at The Start Bay Inn at Torcross for lunch then a walk round the Ley – the colours, my goodness.
And as I rounded a dip in th path at the edge of the lapping Ley, nine young swans preening – I couldn’t believe my luck. Some of the young from last year, such a good swan year.
The view from the hide at Ireland Bay, round the walk from the bridge on the Slapton road is magnificent – looking over reed beds to Ireland Farm which was evacuated in preparation for Operation Tiger in 1943, a rehearsal for the D-Day Landings in World War Two. The inhabitants didn’t ever return.
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the Reserve is managed by Slapton Ley Field Centre and is home to otters, birdlife, butterflies, including bitterns, Cetti’s warbler and kingfishers. The Gara brook that runs through the garden and valley of Watermill Cottages feeds the Higher Ley, which is why we take so much care of our land.
Come and enjoy this beautiful stretch of Devon coast, Watermill Cottages, behind Slapton and near Dartmouth is the perfect base, call Christine and John on 01803 770219.
View over the ring bench at Slapton ley to the monument commemorating Operation Tiger in WWII
August brings us sunshine and smiles in the stream… and it also brings us the results of nature going about her quiet business.
This week, a tale of two watery juveniles who met their death, a kingfisher and an otter.
Guests on holiday at Watermill Cottages found the body of a beautiful kingfisher. This year we’ve all been seeing them whizz up and down the stream, so fast, it seemed impossible that anything could stop them. Its body wasn’t damaged, just the tip of its beak was bent.
We stood amazed at the brilliance of its plumage, stroking its darting, iridescent, gleaming, turquoise-blue and gasping at the burnt orange contrast.
The same day, other guests found half a body of an otter at the edge of the stream in the valley. Again, they’ve been heard and seen all season. What would kill an otter? When we went to look, nature had taken over. The carcass was gone. Foxes, badgers, crows feasting as they tidied.
I rang Slapton Ley Field Centre and spoke to Nick Binnie, Reserve Officer, who gave me a fuller picture.
There were three likely causes of the otter death. Perhaps a juvenile otter had strayed into the territory of the Gara Brook otter family and had not picked up the scent of the spraint. Spraint is how otters mark their territory – they defend territory viciously.
Or it had died of illness. Or maybe a female otter had given birth to three kits. Nick said a female can only raise two kits to adulthood; if she attempts to raise three they all die. So she waits until they are juveniles, then decides which to abandon…. which is the weakest… This is the most likely cause of of our otter’s death.
Nick asked a few questions about the kingfisher. ‘Does it have a white tip to its beak? if it does, then it’s a juvenile.’ I looked. Yes, it did.
‘The problem is, as with human juveniles, they have a taste for speed but aren’t yet experienced enough to navigate fully so there’s more likelihood of them crashing into things like windows and dying.’
His other option, that perhaps a sparrow hawk had taken it and was disturbed before plucking it then dropped it, seemed unlikely as there were no wounds to the body.
So now we know…
… yet In animal classification, ‘Halcyon’ is the genus for kingfishers. A word that also means ‘happy, joyful, carefree’, as in the halcyon days of childhood. It comes from the Greek word for a bird which in legend is linked to the kingfisher.
The legend says that the bird nested on the sea in winter, which it calmed in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest. It meant that the ancients expected two weeks of calm weather around the winter solstice. This is why we use ‘halcyon’ as a term for peace or calmness as well as joyful and carefree.
I can see why a bird of such beauty inspired legends and words. It seems apt that it lived in our beautiful, peaceful and carefree valley.