A merry band of 18 walkers turned out on this splendid Springtime morn to wander from Wembury. But not before the added bonus of a couple of spins round the Smithaleigh junction and a tour of the Sherford Housing development on the journey over (courtesy of one hapless walk leader).
Suffice to say we got there in the end.
Undeterred by this minor hiccup to proceedings, nothing could spoil the delights awaiting us and the pleasure of a full day’s sunshine in another of Devon’s areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Wembury village is on the south coast of Devon, very close to the Plymouth Sound. It’s also the name of the peninsula in which the village is situated, and this open aspect gives rise to panoramic views and stunning vistas. The National Trust takes an active role in maintaining the scenic and historic characteristics of the village and surrounding area. Wembury Beach itself is world-famous for rock-pooling, with limpets, anemones, shore crabs, pipe fish, sea scorpions, spiny star fish, Cornish sucker fish, and edible crabs but a few of the oceanic offerings to be spotted in the little pools at low tide.
Today, however, it was on with the walk on the coast path to Heybrook Bay – yet another choice spot for sea creatures – pausing to take in the majesty of the Great Mewstone, Wembury’s iconic island and bird sanctuary.
This great hunk of rock was once a penal colony of sorts, providing a home for two generations of the family of one man escaping dispatch to Australia. ‘Black Joan’, or ‘Black Bess’, the daughter of said man, lived her entire life on the island, marrying and giving birth to three children (though it’s not altogether clear how she came to meet her husband on a chunk of stone in the middle of the ocean, but who are we to question folklore?).
Mind-boggling legend over, it was time to take tea at Bovisand Bay and rest our legs, enjoying the views afforded of Mount Edgecumbe in Cornwall, and the several bays and inlets that make up this popular beach. An ice-cream opportunity was seized by several of our number in celebration of what felt like the first day of summer (in March).
Now it was time to head inland for the calm expanse of two local farms and their golden fields, but not before the deceptively steady climb alongside a tributary of the River Yealm. This sheltered pathway opens out to Gapper Farm and gives rise to panoramic views out to Dartmoor and beyond. Temptation overcame the delinquent amongst us to steal a moment in the magnificent fields of oil-seed rape*, before it was time to walk on to the village of Down Thomas for lunch.
(* No crops were damaged in the making of this walk).
This pretty place is officially a hamlet, and a pioneer in the campaign to restore and protect Devon hedges. It’s also a vibrant and thriving village less than a 20-minute drive from the centre of Plymouth, and sports the newly-refurbished Mussel Inn, a 16th century pub on the fringes of Barn Farm, where we downed poles and rucksacks for our sandwiches and treats, alongside the grazing ewes and lambs.
Refreshed and ready for the final leg of our walk, we set off for the stiles through the fields of Higher Ford Farm, pausing to chat to an ultra-runner in training and to help him on his way (he was rather lost). Sadly, the llamas who put in an appearance during the recce for the walk were seen to be napping in their paddock.
The last of the stiles negotiated, we were on to Churchwood Valley for the closing stages of this two-part walk (to be continued another day), and back to Wembury Beach for teas and coffees at the Old Mill Café, with a few taking time to visit Wembury Church (St Werburgh’s). This simple yet statuesque place of worship serves the parishes of Wembury, Heybrook Bay, and Down Thomas, and is home to interesting stained glass features and the work of the now-legendary (amongst some club members) carvings of the Pinwill sisters, including carvings related to the legends associated with St Werburgh.
The sun still shining and the crowds beginning to grow, it was time to head on home, just under 10 miles later. Three cheers to the Weather-Gods from a happy band of walkers.