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.
Come, breathe some clean coastal air and recharge your energy with a weekend or midweek short break in a cosy South Devon cottage with wood burner at dog-friendly Watermill Cottages in the stunning Gara Valley near Slapton Sands. In the heart of South Devon AONB and near the SW Coast Path.
SW Coast Path
Valley strolls on green lanes, beach walks and great views or explore Dartmouth, the sailing town, quaint Totnes and pretty South Hams villages. Lots of cream tea and dining options from beach shack to cosy cafes & pubs, with excellent restaurants serving local specialities. And a log fire to come home to.
Snowdrops. primroses and violets are coming out, hellebores and heliotropes are in bloom. The air is so pure here that the trees glow with lichen.
At dawn, the valley fills with birdsong. At dusk, it’s owls we hear. Our beaches are so uplifting early in the year, our valley so peaceful.
Come, relax and unwind – call Christine and John on 01803 770219 to book your short break before Easter – prices start from £245. Or send us an enquiry form.
We look forward to welcoming you!
Lambs arrive in the Lamb Rover
One of the many delights of an Easter holiday in a comfy stone cottage at Watermill Cottages in South Devon’s AONB is helping to feed lambs. Seeing them play, leap and bound against the stunning views over Start Bay beyond Slapton from our sunset field is one of life’s great and simple joys at Watermill Cottages. And this spring, there’s a tale to tell!
The Lamb Rover parked in the lane. We heard the bleating of week-old lambs crying for their mums who were in the attached trailer. Jade and Ollie had brought them from Jolly Farm to enjoy our Sunset Field in the Gara Valley.
We lifted the lambs out first and carefully handed them over the field fence, then opened the gate and the trailer. Ewes ran straight into the field, and, oh the noise, as they bleated for their lambs and the lambs squeaked back. A spring cacophony as they searched and sniffed and baa’ed with relief.
The mums have a number sprayed on their fleece. The digit denotes where they are in the birthing order. Red means a single lamb, the lamb shares the same number. Blue means twins, each twin lamb carrying the same number. We checked them all… Hmmm… Ewe 12 had a blue number but only one lamb. Oh dear. One Twin 12 had been left behind in the lambing barn. And this on Mother’s Day.
Christine with Twin 12 in the ‘lambulance’.
Jade and Ollie drove straight home to check the barn. A lamb this young needs to feed very often so there was no time to lose. Yes, a shaking Number 12 was there. We drove over immediately in our ‘lambulance’, John’s word, on an emergency mission to reunite lamb and ewe. On the way back, I carried Twin 12 on my lap, a thick towel underneath in case of other lamb emergencies. He was warm and calm, looking out the window at green fields.
Back at The Sunset Field we drove in and looked for Ewe 12. There she was, on the crest. I put her missing lamb on the ground. It had a good shake and bleated. Mum replied and on tottering legs it galloped over to her, nudged her udder and drank long and happily. Success!
Two days later, more newborns and ewes arrived. We feed them daily, enjoying their bouncing spring energy and different personalities.
Come and join us and meet this year’s lambs, there’s still some availability at Watermill Cottages in the Easter holidays, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01803 770219.
View Over Start Bay
Writers at The Watermill
3 – 5 November 2017
At Watermill Cottages, Hansel nr Slapton, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0LN
Christine Cooke, writer, poet, blogger & co-owner of Watermill Cottages
Anne Rainbow aka RedPen Mentor & Scrivener Virgin.
Guest speaker is Belinda Seaward,
author of Hotel Juliet and The Beautiful Truth (John Murray).
Do you want to develop your writing voice? Are you a blocked writer?
Would you like to improve your writing, discover techniques to edit your work ready for feedback or print?
Or would you simply enjoy exploring your creativity alongside like-minded people in a stunning location with all your meals prepared? If so, then this weekend is for you.
With Christine, who lives in the beautiful Gara Valley, develop your voice in creative writing sessions. Then explore how nature and found materials inspire our creative process with a guided literary walk around the valley and writing in the wild.
By the fireside, share author Belinda Seaward’s story of how she developed her ideas into a finished draft and found a publisher. How do you get published? She’s happy to answer your questions.
Learn from Anne how to edit your writing to produce a professional, finished piece of work ready for feedback or for print. The weekend includes a one-to-one session with Anne giving you considered feedback on your writing that you submit earlier.
Imagine: a room of your own. In an atmospheric, comfy stone cottage by an historic 18thC former watermill and stream in 20 acres of south Devon’s AONB. Virtually untouched by the modern world, the coastal Gara Valley has a unique and inspirational literary history. Far from the madding crowd you’ll find yourself immersed in revitalising natural energy. It’s a full moon that weekend.
All your meals & refreshments are included, freeing you to be creative. Lunch & supper are home-cooked using locally grown organic standard ingredients. Breakfast is at your leisure in your cottage. Cake is baked by Emily of Queen Bee Cakes.
Accommodation, facilitation, tuition, speaker, food, refreshment, materials & log fires are included in the price of £475. There are just ten places. And you’re welcome to stay on to write or relax for the rest of the week at no extra cost on a self-catering basis.
To book your place or register your interest please email Christine at email@example.com
More information, testimonials & biographies at www.journeywords.co.uk/writingworkshops
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.
A grand old man, Harry is 14 and has spent every Whit week holiday for nine years at Watermill Cottages.
And although his back legs are not too steady these days, and though sleep is almost, not quite, but almost, more important than food – he is a Labrador after all – he always goes for his morning and evening amble down to the stream to cool his paws, sniff the air and catch the breeze.
He loves scents and knows them well here, he’s at home in Barleycorn Cottage where he’s stayed every year for nine years. It matters, as his eyes don’t see too well now. His nose tells him who we all are!
As you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Harry needs help getting out of the stream. Out for him is always up on to the grass. It most certainly is NOT up a plank of wood, onto a flat rock and then onto the lawn.
‘Honestly, who do they think I am!’ gruffed Harry, as he deftly removed a burnt sausage from beside the bbq.
|The Times recommends Watermill Cottages
The Times, to our delighted surprise, recommended us in its Travel Doctor column on Saturday May 23 2015.
Watermill Cottages’ 20 acres of rural coastal retreat near Slapton Sands beach in South Devon’s AONB is perfect for families of all ages and sizes with plenty of dogs!
It was in the Weekend Section, which Andy at Strete General Stores had luckily held for us on Sunday morning.
The Times quoted prices for May half-term 2016 for Rose, Quack and Barleycorn Cottages – the same price as 2015 – prices and availability for 2015 are on this link.
For 2016 prices and availability please call us on 01803 770219 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Word has got out!
April the first and it’s not a joke – this morning two bright yellow ducklings for Dark Green Duck, the first of the spring at Watermill Cottages. Mrs Duckel, the grey and white duck, looks on from her own nest – she has three weeks to go.
Field with a View
We’ve recently added a six acre meadow for your enjoyment at Watermill Cottages – it’s at the top of the lane and has stunning views over Start Bay to the lighthouse at Start Point. It’s great for sunsets (and eclipses)..
We’re planning a campfire place and rustic seating so it’ll be the perfect spot for family picnics and sundowners, never mind watercolours, photography, kite-flying (it catches the breeze), and rolling down the slope. It’s a healthy stroll with the delight of walking down hill home to your cottage.
Sheep Report Matilda is thriving (still on bottles), here she is with the cuckoo lamb from last year and Jesse the friendly Jacob ram who eats from your hand
|Cuckoo lamb, Jesse ram and Matilda
Matilda’s mum only has half a working udder so we’re bottle feeding
Matilda twice a day at Watermill Cottages smallholding and teaching her to eat lamb food… She comes
running and bouncing when you call her name… why does bottle feeding a
lamb make everyone so happy!
Teaching Matilda to eat solids is not easy – she is easily distracted and likes to jump for joy… the Belted Galloways, last year’s calves, are not impressed… Matilda was born in mid-February, she’s thriving we’re happy to report. She’s in the sheep shed at the moment but shall soon be in the field next to the kitchen garden, behind Barleycorn Cottage, where there’s plenty of fresh grass for a growing lamb and her mum.