Staying put in the garden or on the balcony and watching the sea or riverview with a book in one hand and a cold, crisp glass of wine in the other is one option that is highly attractive – but, as there are so many things to do, places to go, menus to sample you just have to force yourself to go out. With this in mind, we have tried to give you a good overview of the locality.
The village of Torcross lies at the southern end of slapton sands which is a 3 mile sweep of golden shingle and it enjoys glorious views of Start Bay. Flanked on one side by the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley, a national nature reserve, this beautiful area is a haven for bird watchers, walkers and beach lovers alike. Kayaks can be rented from the beach, as well as other water sports equipment.
In late 1943, Torcross was evacuated along with many other villages in the South Hams area to make way for 15,000 allied troops who needed the area to practice for the D-Day landings. In the early hours of 28 April 1944 a tragic incident happened during Exercise Tiger as nine German torpedo boats alerted by heavy radio traffic intercepted a three mile long convoy of vessels travelling from the Isle of Portland to Slapton Sands to undertake the landing rehearsals and two tank landing ships were sunk in the engagement. 749 American servicemen died on that night with over 1,000 lives lost over the course of the operation. A Sherman amphibious tank and several plaques stand at Torcross car park between Slapton Ley and the beach as a memorial to the men who lost their lives. The operation to salvage the tank from the shallow waters of Start Bay was financed by Ken Small, a Torcross hotelier and was completed in 1984.
Torcross has also survived some terrible storms that have battered the village. On 4 January 1979 enormous waves washed over the roofs of the beach houses causing substantial damage and a new curved seawall was built as a direct result of this storm. On 11/12 January 2001 another bad storm caused the loss of up to five metres of the beachhead along a stretch of beach about 1000 metres in length. Part of the A379 road along Slapton Sands near the village was also destroyed, closing it for three months.,
Start Bay, an outstandingly beautiful part of this south hams coastline, extends from the Mew Stone at the entrance to the river Dart and encompasses the famous Blackpool Sands beach, the glorious sweep of Slapton Sands and culminates in the craggy cliffs that curve round to Start Point Lighthouse. Blackpool Sands, at the northern end of Start Bay, is a lovely bay flanked by steep wooded cliffs. Its long beach of sand and shingle has facilities that include windsurfing, canoeing and sailing and this is one of the very best beaches in Devon and is extremely popular with families. There is a cafe/restaurant on site.
Dartmouth, once a famous Elizabethan port, it still has the loveliest old town centre in Devon, beside the harbour and broad-wooded river, full of boats of all sizes and with views to Kingswear . There are many 16th/17th century timbered buildings (including pubs), narrow streets, pretty shops and good restaurants. Boat trips up river to Totnes,or across to Torbay. Tours of Britannia Royal Naval College are available and there are boats for hire.
With a long tradition of strategic importance for sailing ships, Dartmouth was the sailing point for the Crusades, the Mayflower and the Speedwell called in, and there is a very long association with the Royal Navy. The Britannia Royal Naval College is located on a hill overlooking the town and has been training Naval Officers since 1863. The Queen first met Prince Philip here. The town was a base for the American Forces [ indeed several stayed at Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway further up the river Dart] and one of the departure points for the D Day landings. At the mouth of the river estuary, you will find the 600 year old Dartmouth Castle, great views of which can be seen on one of the many river tours that operate from the town quays.
Kingsbridge is a small market town dating from 962AD with excellent shops, good pubs, a leisure centre with indoor pool and a thriving waterfront (sailing, motor boats, boat trips) at the head of the many-creeked Kingsbridge estuary leading to the sea at Salcombe. A round trip river cruise of approximately an hour to Salcombe is a very pleasant and relaxing way of seeing the countryside and many of the estuary birds that inhabit this unique and exceptionally beautiful stretch of water.
Perched on the banks of the estuary, Salcombe offers breathtaking views across the water to sandy beaches and the glimmering ocean. Ferry services make the short trip back and forth to the beaches at East Portlemouth, Mill Bay and Sunny Cove whilst walkers can pick up the South West Coastal Path to enjoy some great scenery. Salcombe has plenty of boutique shops, restaurants and waterside pubs offering the perfect setting to relax and people/boat-watch.
Bigbury on Sea and the renowned Burgh Island, with its art deco hotel and Agatha Christie/Poirot connections, along with its pub – The Pilchard Inn, dating back to the 14th century is well worth a visit. This wonderful, unspoilt little island has been featured in many films, is a natural bird sanctuary and can be reached on foot at low tide, or by the Burgh Island Sea Tractor at high tide. Great beach here with a good cafe.
Thurlestone takes its name from the large distinctive rock off the shore and actually means pierced stone and there are several large sandy beaches, including South Milton Sands here. Look out for the remains of a shipwreck at low tide, one of many along this stretch of coastline. There is also a superb 18 hole championship golf course (available to players with a handicap) and an excellent pub – The Village Inn.
Plymouth – the West Country’s biggest town, with Naval base, ferry port, theatre, cinemas, history, Hoe (great views) and Barbican.
Eating & Drinking
There are a number of cafe’s and a pub dotted along the sea front in Torcross…perfect for fish’n’chips or a cream tea whilst gazing out to sea! These include the Seabreeze Cafe and the celebrated Start Bay Inn – this 14th Century Inn is well known for its seafood [all sourced locally] and in summer the seafront patio is perfect, whilst in winter a warm welcome, complete with roaring log fire, is assured. www.startbayinn.co.uk Tel:01548 580553.
The Cricket Inn – The Cricket Inn first opened its doors in 1867 and is within the small fishing village of Beesands. It is a welcome gathering place for both locals and visitors alike, offering real ales, great wines and fantastic food, the menu has an abundance of fresh seafood and local produce including locally reared beef & lamb plus locally grown vegetables but one thing they can guarantee is that the crab, lobster and scallops were caught in the bay in front of the Inn. www.thecricketinn.com Tel: 01548 580215
Britannia @ the beach, Beesands – Choose from a selection of fresh fish or shellfish, fish and chip takeaway and they are a BYO, so you are welcome to take your favourite wine or beer with you!! They also sell a wealth of quality local seafood direct from the boats of Dartmouth & Salcombe. www.britanniashellfish.co.uk Tel: 01548 581168.
The Stokeley Farmshop Cafe – A short distance outside Torcross, the wonderful Stokeley farm shop also has a great cafe! Perfect for a well earned reward after a potter around the shop and farm .www.stokeleyfarmshop.co.uk Tel:01548 581010
Queens Arms – For delicious home-cooked food and a great pint, head to the Queens Arms, in the picturesque village of Slapton – a real village pub. www.queensarmsslapton.co.uk Tel: 01548 580800
The Tower Inn (The Independent voted the garden as one of the Ten Best Pub Gardens in Southern England) – a pleasant evening can be spent in the garden watching the tower’s bat colony catching insects. www.thetowerinn.com Tel:01548 580216
The award winning Venus Cafe, Blackpool sands offers a menu stuffed with local and organic dishes and an all weather seating area where you can soak up the fantastic views. With takeaway and watersports. www.blackpoolsands.co.uk
The Pig’s Nose Inn in East Prawle – the most southerly pub in Devon this is a traditional pub dating back 500 years to when it was a smugglers inn and used to ‘store the booty’ from the various shipwrecks. Lesley and Peter Webber have maintained the old fashioned values so hence you will find a ‘knitting’ corner as well as games and toys and there is a poolroom which is popular with the teenagers..oh there is also a dog menu! www.pigsnoseinn.co.uk
The Seahorse in Dartmouth – set in arguably the best location in Dartmouth with views over the estuary, it has won many awards as a fantastic seafood restaurant. Owned by Mitch Tonks who is the chef there several days a week. www.seahorserestaurant.co.uk Tel: 01803 835147. Also, try his takeaway fish and chips from The Rockfish which is also in Dartmouth.
Cafe Al Fresco in Dartmouth – open from 7am to 2pm, this is a great place for brunch with delicious fresh food & drink, a vibrant atmosphere and live music, all in the heart of Dartmouth. Tel: 01803 835880. www.cafealfresco.co.uk
The Royal Castle Hotel – a traditional Sunday lunch in an historic building overlooking the Boat Float in the centre of Dartmouth. Tel: 01803 833033 www.royalcastle.co.uk
The Floating Bridge pub in Dartmouth – a quaint, old fashioned pub with great views overlooking the Higher Ferry and marina. Tel: 01803 832354 www.thefloatingbridge.co.uk
The Ferry Boat Inn in Dittisham – one of the few original pubs in the Uk to still look exactly as it did , this has fabulous views from every window and great food and drink. You will need to either drive, take a ferry or call the water taxi to get you there, but it is WORTH IT!! Tel: 01803 722368 www.ferryboatinndittisham.pub For the water taxi, try the Sandpiper II on 07907 528201.
The Picnic Boat – the river Dart is one of the loveliest rivers in the UK and the picnic boat is the perfect way to see it. With space for up to 12 people they will cater for you with a variety of menus. www.thepicnicboat.com Tel: 07968 752625
Or try the restaurant at the South Sands Hotel, Salcombe – enjoy some of the South West’s fabulous fresh produce with menus designed by Mitch Tonks. www.southsands.com Tel: 01548 859000
Fishing, sailing, watersports, extreme activity
The South Hams is a unique area for anyone interested in water sports. In addition to more than 100 Km of coastline, there are five rivers/estuaries with a total length of more than 175 Km. Whatever your level of experience, there are organisations that offer courses in every water-sport you would want to experience, or already have experience and wish to improve your skills.
- Discovery Surf School, based in Bigbury provides professional surfing coaching for all ages and levels. All equipment, including suitable boards and wetsuites, is supplied. There are several beaches that can offer excellent surf including Bantham, Bigbury, Challenborough, Thurlestone, and Blackpool Sands. www.discoverysurf.com
- Kite Surfing and Kite Buggy Riding courses are available in Start Bay. For details telephone: 07778 395368.
- Singing Paddles, based in Kingsbridge, offers kayaking and canoeing experiences for all ages. www.singingpaddles.co.uk
- Canoe Adventures, based upon the River Dart, offers guided paddles in their fleet of unique 12-seater canoes. Easy to paddle for all ages, the canoes can be hired by the boat, or seat. www.canoeadventures.co.uk
- Sea Kayak based on the river Dart offers day trips, kayak courses and multi day trips. Tel: 01392 580535 www.seakayakdevon.co.uk
- Salcombe Dinghy Sailing, operates from Whitestrand, but offers pick-ups from East Portlemouth Beach. The fleet includes Wayfarers, Laser Picos, and Drascome Luggers – the ideal boat for a family exploration of sandy beaches & coves for picnic lunches, or waterside pubs. www.salcombedinghysailing.co.uk
- Marshall’s Sailing School is based at Dittisham on the River Dart. The fleet includes traditionally rigged sail boats, suitable for family picnics and exploring the 10 mls of “England’s most beautiful river”. Lessons available on various craft including Toppers. For bookings telephone: 01803 865301. www.marshallsailing.com
- South Sands Sailing, based at Salcombe, offers courses for cataraman (Hobie Cats) sailing. Courses are available by the hour, or day – for details telephone: 0845 4301208. www.southsandssailing.co.uk
- Salcombe Powerboats School offers a full range of rib-rides and taster sessions. www.salcombepowerboats.co.uk
- Based at Plymouth, ‘TopGun’ is a fast Portland 10 dive charter boat, skippered by an experienced RYA qualified skipper and rebreather diver, you’ll be in very safe and knowledgeable hands. www.southwestdiving.co.uk
- The African Queen is a 50ft General Service Launch built in 1946, offering, fishing on The Skerries – known for plaice and ray fishing, shark fishing, and evening bass fishing. www.theafricanqueen.co.uk
- Beach fishing is excellent along the whole of South Hams coastline, with locals favouring Slapton, Blackpool Sands, and Strete Gate in Start Bay. For help or to hire tackle try the Devon Angling Centre in Chillington, telephone 01548 580888.
Walking, cycling, nature, beaches, days out
- South of Kingsbridge, stretching from Brixham to Plymouth, lie the 60 miles of the South Hams’ section of Britain’s longest footpath (The SW Coast Path Way – voted by The Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel as ‘one of the world’s best walks’). The path passes through some of the finest coastal scenery in Europe and allows you to halt awhile; laze on a cove beach or clifftop; enjoy the sun and the sound of the surf; watch the wildlife and examine the wildflowers. www.southwestcoastpath.com or www.southdevonaonb.org.uk
- To the north of Kingsbridge lies the 365 square miles of the wilderness that is Dartmoor National Park. Here it is possible to spend a lifetime of leisure exploring England’s largest national park. www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk
- For traffic-free cycling and a great range of routes and locations to explore, South Devon has it all for adventures of the two-wheeled kind. For bike hire from Churchstow telephone 07789 203054.
- What is your favourite kind of beach? A great sweep of flat golden sand such as Bigbury or Thurlestone, or a sheltered cove like Hallsands? Perhaps you would prefer our own spectacular Slapton Sands, backed by the extraordinary freshwater lagoon? Or the wooded suntrap of Blackpool Sands and its extensive facilities? The following link provides detailed information on the facilities of 25 South Hams beaches. The information includes details on the type of beach, car parking, toilets, accessibility, shops, watersports, lifeguards, dog bans and much, much more. www.lovingthebeach.co.uk
- Dogs are currently allowed on the following beaches all year round – East Portlemouth, Mill Bay, Ness Cove, Shaldon, Salcombe North Sands, Slapton and Torcross, Soar Mill Cove, Strete Gate, Teignmouth River Beach, Thurlestone/ South Milton. Check out the current situation on www.southhams.gov.uk
- River Dart Adventures – located in the Dartmoor National Park. Offers a great day for all the family. www.riverdart.co.uk
- Dartmouth Castle is in a wonderful location and for more than 600 years has protected the Dart Estuary and the port of Dartmouth. www.english-heritage.org.uk
- Slapton Ley is the largest natural lake in south-west England. Although it is only separated from the sea by a narrow shingle bar, it is entirely freshwater.The lake is surrounded by Reedbeds, marshes and woodland habitats. Slapton Ley is an important staging post for wintering and passage birds including Swallows. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of Badgers, Otters, Dormice and Bats or join one of their events to find out more. www.slnnr.org.uk
- If you would like to try your hand at glass-blowing, then visit the Blown Studio Glass in Totnes or www.blownstudioglass.co.uk
- A really lovely day out by steam train, river boat and bus to Paignton, Dartmouth, Torquay, Salcombe, Teignmouth, Kingsbridge and Totnes. www.dartmouthrailriver.co.uk
- Owned and run by local expert Alex Graeme, Unique Devon Tours organises fascinating and entertaining tours for small groups in this beautiful and intriguing area of England, making the most of the wonderful array of activities, attractions and things to do in Devon.The tailor made tour is crafted carefully around your interests, and around the best that Devon has to offer, creating an exclusive, bespoke itinerary for your group (maximum 6), for a length of time to suit you – a set of memorable experiences, delivering the highest level of service, the finest of English, locally sourced food, all with Alex as your driver and guide. www.uniquedevontours.com