The delights of Coleton Fishacre - and a surprise on the cliffs near Kingswear.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Varying coast path, tracks and lanes, steep steps, 9 stiles
Landscape Coastal cliff top and deep combes
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 20 South Devon
Start/finish SX 910513
Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control at all times
Parking National Trust car park at Coleton Camp
Public toilets None on route
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1 When you enter the car park turn right and park along the right edge. Walk through the kissing gate in the top right corner to take the National Trust's permissive path towards a metal gate and stile ('National Trust Coleton Barton Farm'). Go along the field edge and over the stile down to another stile at the bottom of the field, then left diagonally to another stile. Walk uphill to reach the coast path (signs to Pudcombe Cove right).
2 Turn right and follow the path along the cliff. Climb over a stile and walk steeply downhill and over a footbridge to reach the gate at the bottom of Coleton Fishacre gardens (there is no public right of way into the gardens here).
3 Turn left, following coast path signs, to pass steps to the cove and very steeply up wooden steps to leave the estate over a stile and onto Coleton Cliffs. At the next stile the path drops steeply, then climbs again above Old Mill Bay - with great views of the Mew Stone - followed by a steep climb up to Outer Froward Point, with views towards Start Point. The path undulates, then climbs steeply to reach the back of Froward Cove.
4 Turn left, following signs for Kingswear and Brownstone car park. Cross one stile, walk steeply uphill, then cross another stile. Take the next coast path sign left, very steeply downhill through a wooded section. The path then undulates up and down towards the sea.
5 The look-out at Inner Froward Point is the next landmark, followed by 104 concrete steps up the cliff. Follow the tramway uphill and keep to the concrete walkway and steps to pass through some disused wartime buildings. At the top there is a junction of paths and a wooden footpath sign.
6 Turn left for Kingswear to walk through woodland behind Newfoundland Cove, over a stile and down a broad woodland track (with the estuary left). Plod down 84 steps to Mill Bay Cove and turn right down a tarmac way. Turn left over a stile and climb the 89 steps up to a lane, then 63 more steps to another lane.
7 Turn right (signed 'Brownstone'). After 250yds (229m) the lane forks; gratefully take the right fork downhill (signed 'Access only to The Grange') to Home Cottage.
8 Follow the footpath signs right up a steep, rocky path to a concrete lane, and on to pass Higher Brownstone Farm. Walk on up the lane to pass the National Trust car park, then the gates to Coleton Fishacre, and back to Coleton Camp car park.
This is a walk that's full of surprises. Starting near the lovely National Trust house and gardens at Coleton Fishacre, it runs along a particularly beautiful piece of the South West Coast Path (much of which was purchased by the National Trust in 1982), dropping down into Pudcombe Cove, and along the lower edge of the gardens, before climbing steeply up the other side of the valley and back onto the open cliff. And it's here that the surprises start - first of all you are quite likely to encounter a group of Shetland ponies, seemingly rather out of place on the South Devon coast, but allowed to graze freely to encourage regeneration of the indigenous vegetation. Further on along the path you will find all sorts of strange concrete structures scattered about the cliffs, causing you to wonder what on earth it is you've stumbled across. The scenery changes again as the walk takes you inland along the eastern side of the Dart estuary, with fine views of the 15th-century Dartmouth and Kingswear castles. For sheer variety and constantly changing themes, this walk is very hard to beat!
Given to the National Trust in 1982 by Roland Smith, Coleton Fishacre enjoys a spectacular setting in this very quiet corner of South Devon - it's very much off the beaten track. The house, reflecting the Arts and Crafts tradition, was designed and built in 1925-6 for Rupert and Lady Dorothy D'Oyley Carte, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It is sited at the head of a deep, sheltered combe, providing the perfect environment for its 15-acre (6ha) sub-tropical garden, based around a succession of streams and water features that fall gently down the narrow combe towards the sea at Pudcombe Cove.
The remains of Kingswear Castle (1491-1502) are passed after Point 6. Similar in shape to the square tower at Dartmouth Castle on the opposite shore, it was abandoned soon after 1643, outclassed by the range of guns available at its counterpart, and today belongs to the Landmark Trust and is available as holiday accommodation. The official title of the group of buildings encountered on the coast path south of Kingswear is the Inner Froward Point Coast Defence Battery, dating from World War Two and almost complete, apart from the guns. There are the remains of all kinds of wartime constructions here, apart from the lookout just above the sea. The site includes the foundations of several Nissen huts, two shell magazines, two gun positions and a shell incline, and two searchlight emplacements near sea level. It's all a trifle unexpected after the peaceful approach along the coast path but reflects the importance of the river mouth to successive military generations.
Take a ride on the Paignton and Kingswear Steam Railway. The station is near the lower ferry slipway in Kingswear. Constructed in 1864, the route passes along the wooded east bank of the Dart, then over the Greenway Viaduct, through Greenway Tunnel, back to the coast at Goodrington Sands and on to Paignton. You can link your trip with a cruise along the Dart, too, to enjoy an exploration of this beautiful landscape without muddying your boots.
The Tower (day beacon), set at 475ft (145m) above sea level above Inner and Outer Froward Point, can be seen for many miles. Hollow and built of stone in 1864, it stands 80ft (24m) high. Day beacons, or day marks, are unlit navigational aids, intended to assist those at sea during daylight hours. A path runs towards it from the wooden signpost at Point 5 of the walk, and then on to Brownstone, which you could use to shorten the walk by about ¾ mile (1.2km) - but you'd miss some superb scenery.
This is a bit of a problem - there are no pubs in the immediate vicinity, and parking in Kingswear is difficult. If you do find a space, there is the Royal Dart Hotel by the ferry slipway, with good views over the river; the Ship Inn, next to the church, and the Steam Packet Inn on the road down to the ferry. There is also a National Trust café and restaurant at Coleton Fishacre.