Bolberry Down and Soar Mill Cove walk
History, mystery and nature combine to create a fantastic walk that takes in much of the most scenic coastline of South Devon. Beautiful and surprising in equal measure. This walk begins with a detour to the Iron Age cliff fort at Bolt Tail, but if you're after a shorter walk start at point 3.
Bolberry Down car park, grid ref SX688385
Leave your car in the clifftop parking area and follow the road (signposted Hope Cove) towards the former Port Light Inn (currently being developed into Ocean Reach). Go through the gate on the left and take the path along the field boundary. Follow the field edge, soon passing a row of upright stones; the first of several you'll see along the route. To the west are views over Bigbury Bay and Burgh Island, where Agatha Christie set two of her mysteries.
The building currently being developed into Ocean Reach, formerly the Port Light Inn, was first built in 1909. It was originally the clubhouse for the Bolberry Down Golf Club, which closed in 1914. In the Second World War it was a dining area for RAF personnel at the nearby radar station.
Join the coast path above Ferryhole Point. For a 45-minute detour to the Iron Age cliff fort at Bolt Tail, turn right through the stone gateway, otherwise turn left to follow the path across Bolberry Down. Continue along the cliffs, taking the lower route where the path forks. Look for occasional bits of brick and concrete beneath your feet the debris of RAF Bolt Tail radar base, blown up after the war. Follow the path around the cliff and back towards the car park, crossing over a damp flush thronged with hemp agrimony, purple loosestrife and grey willow.
We've found flint scrapers, arrows and axe-heads from 1,500BC or earlier on these slopes. The coastline from Bolt Tail to Sharpitor is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its insects, bird and plant life. Strands of orange dodder cloak the gorse, and tormentil, milkwort, heath bedstraw and cats ear grow amongst the grasses. Patches of bare, dry ground are home to mining bees, crickets, slow-worms and lizards, and the incredibly rare short-necked oil beetle.
At the car park, follow the coast path out onto West Cliff towards the ridge of Cathole Cliff, with the Warren beyond.
You might spot stonechats, cirl buntings and Dartford warblers amongst the scrub.
Continue down the spine of Cathole Cliff. Near the end of Cathole Cliff, turn left at the waymarker and descend the zig-zag path to the valley bottom. Turn right and follow the path to Soar Mill Cove, passing an inscribed gatepost; a piece of shipwreck timber.
Springtime on the coast
In May, the seaward slopes are a carpet of spring squill and the rocks are dotted with thrift, stonecrop and kidney vetch. Dunnock, yellowhammers and whitethroat nest here. Butterflies include the silver-studded blue, marbled white and brown argus.
After taking a break at the cove, leave the beach to the east, cross the footbridge, and turn left up the slope, keeping an eye out for sika deer in the fields.
Soar Mill Cove
At times, the beach has been strewn with tea, timber and marble from wrecked vessels. Wheel ruts in the rock above the cove indicate regular cart traffic, to collect seaweed or visit the mill (long gone, although there are signs of a dam and millpond). On the sandy lower cliffs you might find rock samphire, sea beet and rare rock sea-lavender. Out to sea is the Ham Stone, where shags, gulls and fulmars breed.
Emerging into a lane, follow it past the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. This low building has come a long way once a cinema in Devonport dockyard, it was transported here after the end of the Second World War to be added to the existing guest house, built in 1925. Continue up the lane into Lower Soar, and bear left along the road. At the second junction, climb the ladder stile on your left into the fields of South Down Farm.
South Down farm
A haven for all types of local wildlife, from deer to birdlife and everything in between that helps create a sustainable and balanced eco-system.
Cross two fields and turn right at the far hedge towards the farm. In winter, these stubbled fields are a feeding ground for migrating and resident birds. Go over a stile and onto a track, over a second stile and follow the path around the back of the barns, through a gate and onto another track. Take the path on the right along the field edge and eventually turn left into Jacob's Lane. Follow this ancient lane to reach the road, turn left and return to the car park.
Bolberry Down car park, grid ref SX688385
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