History around Bolberry Down
Walk to the Iron Age fort at Bolt Tail, learn about the shipwrecks that are still submerged along this section of the coastline and find out what part Bolberry Down played in protecting Britain during World War II.
From the Iron Age to the Oil Age
The Iron age fort at Bolt Tail, some 2,500 years old, is of a type more commonly found in Cornwall. Defended by a rampart 270m long and 4.6m high, it commanded a strategic position overlooking Bigbury Bay, with a natural harbour at Hope Cove. It might have been a tribal centre, a trading place, or a meeting spot.
The headland has also been used for a coastguard lookout. Of the many ships wrecked on its rocks, the 90-gun warship Ramillies, in a February hurricane in 1760, is by far the most tragic. Over 700 people died when the gale pounded the vessel to pieces in an inlet now named after the wreck, and cannon balls are still found by divers today. Tragedy of a different order occurred in December 1896, when the Russian tanker Blesk hit the Graystone. In the world's first major oil spillage, 3,180 tons of petroleum killed marine life from Bigbury to Prawle Point.
Shipwrecks from Bolt Tail to Soar Mill Cove
Four children - Rhodes, Daniel, Mary and Joseph Chambers, all from Jamaica - drowned in 1757 when the West Indiaman Dragon was wrecked at Cathole Point, and lie buried at Malbourogh church. They and scores of others have lost their lives in the seas below the five miles of steep cliffs from Bolt Tail to Bolt Head.
At Soar Mill Cove, the Captain, his wife and one seaman died when the Volere was blown ashore in 1881, and 200 tons of its marble cargo still lie on the seabed just east of the cove. In 1887, the tea clipper Halloween ran aground on a January night in the same cove. The crew set off flares and lit fires, but it wasn't until dawn that John Ford of Southdown Farm raised the alarm. All but one of the crew were saved, but 1,600 tons of tea covered the beach in a 12ft high wall.
Others were more fortunate. When the steamer Jane Row hit the rocks below Bolberry golf links in February 1914, the entire crew, plus two cats and a dog, were saved by breeches buoy.
World War II radar stations
During the Second World War, the military bases at Bolt Tail, Hope Cove, West Prawle and Prawle Poitn were all part of a chain of secret 'radio location' (later 'radar') stations along Britain's coast. West Prawle Advance Chain Home (CH) station had two pairs of 110m transmitter masts - with 'curtains' of wires strung between each - and two 73m wooden receiving towers, able to detect high-flying enemy aircraft 200 miles away. Low-flying aricract were spotted by the rotating aeirals of Bolt Tail CH (Low) station. The two masts at Prawle Point acted as a back-up for West Prawle.
The transmitter curtains sent radio waves sweeping across the Channel, and if these were reflected by incoming aircraft, an echo would be picked up by the receive towers, and appear as 'blips' on cathode ray tubes to be identified by skilled Women Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) operators. Fighter planes would then be scrambled to attack the enemy, guided by the Ground Control of Interception (GCI) at Hope Cove.