Today was one of those days when it is great to be alive. That special autumn light with sun, bright blue skies and clear air. The view extended for miles.
As it was such a nice day, and being lucky enough to live in Devon, we decided to head towards Slapton Ley and Beesands in the South Hams in South Devon. A beautiful drive through the rolling Devon hills past Totnes and Dartmouth before hitting the coast road at Strete.
The first view of Slapton Ley and Start Bay as you drive through Strete is breathtaking. The narrow band of Slapton Sands extending straight as a die before you with Torcross at its head separating the turquoise sea from The Ley behind glistening in the morning sun.
The area here was a key area for the Allied troops training for D-Day in World War 2. The MoD force purchased the land and property in the area, evacuating the local population, as it was seen as perfect preparation for the Normandy Landings. Unfortunately disaster struck on the 28th April 1944 as 8 Landing ships full of American servicemen were sunk by a group of patrolling German E-boats. 749 American Servicemen lost their lives. A 32-ton Sherman Tank recovered from the seabed now acts as a memorial to the loss at Torcross.
We continued past Torcross and decided to park at South Hallsands. http://goo.gl/maps/n3Aa Hallsands was a small fishing village sandwiched between the sea and the cliffs, which had its heyday in the 18th and 19th Centuries, growing by the 1890’s to a population of almost 160. Unfortunately however in 1897, decisions were made that directly contributed to its rapid decline.
The naval dockyard at Plymouth was undergoing dramatic expansion in the 1890’s. The contract for the expansion was awarded to an engineering firm called Sir John Jackson Ltd which decided to source shingle for the building works following the granting of a license from the Board of Trade, from the Skerries Bank, a shingle bank off the coast of Hallsands and Beesands its near neighbour.
Despite protest from the local community and its MP, dredging continued and the fears of the villagers were realised when almost immediately the level of its beach began to drop and the stonewall facing the beach began to be eroded away. This all came to a conclusion on January 26th 1917 when a combination of an Easterly storm and very high tides, breached the sea defences and began the destruction of the village. By September the 27th, only one house remained habitable. Although nobody was killed, all the villagers were now homeless.
Today the village is split in two linked only by the coastal footpath. Ruins still remain of the former village with the addition of newer buildings further up the cliff. A viewing platform now exists which allows you to view the damage that has still not been fully claimed by the sea. Even today, with a blue sky and a light wind, the power of the sea can still be seen and felt as it pounds against the cliffs.
We continued on along the coastal footpath to the lighthouse at Start Point, also now deserted as Trinity House has automated its operations. Although you can now hire the lighthouse keeper cottages should you wish too at https://www.ruralretreats.co.uk/rr/set/5IPOX . We decided to stop for our flask of tea nestled in the rocks overlooking the lighthouse and the bay. A spectacular spot that awarded us with views leading all the way up to Exmouth and Sidmouth in East Devon.
We continued on our way beyond the point and stopped again on a beautiful small sandy beach at Great Mattiscombe Sand. It was like a summers day and finishing our flask of tea with a slice of homemade cake, it was pure heaven.
Having to return the car, we reluctantly packed our rug and headed back over the cliff to Hallsands. A fabulous short walk full of history and fabulous scenery. You can’t ask for more than that. Devon is truly an absolutely stunning County and I consider myself very lucky to live here.
To find out more about the area and its history the following websites are worth a visit and helped me fill in the missing gaps.
Exercise Tiger D-Day Training at Slapton Ley. http://www.shermantank.co.uk/
Hallsands History http://www.hallsands.org.uk/story.htm