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Explore the beaches and coastline around Mill Bay

View of the sandy beach at Mill Bay, taken from a low, grassy cliff. Bright blue water with rocks beyond the beach and land with trees on the other side of the estuary in the distance.
The beach at Mill Bay, seen from the coast path | © National Trust Images/John Parker

Mill Bay is set on the quieter side of the Salcombe Estuary, where you’ll find hidden coves, golden beaches and a coastline dotted with history. Settle in for a day at the beach, or head out along the coast path to explore this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Beaches around Mill Bay

Visit sandy retreats and quiet coves away from the South Hams’ busier beaches. They’re perfect for resting awhile when walking the coast path, or spending the day building sandcastles and discovering rock pools at low tide.

Mill Bay

This family-friendly, sheltered and sandy beach lies on the east side of the Salcombe Estuary – with National Trust parking available. The café and beach shop at East Portlemouth are less than a mile away, and there’s a seasonal pop-up café near the car park too.

Sunny Cove

Looking out onto Salcombe Harbour, Sunny Cove is a sandy beach 10 minutes’ walk from Mill Bay Car Park. It's a great place to watch the boats on the estuary and take in the sunset to round off your day by the sea.

Seacombe Sands

A short walk along the coast from the Gara Rock Car Park (not NT) brings you to this secluded cove. Look out for the medieval ancient lanes or ‘hollow ways’ that descend to the beach, worn down over the centuries by carts carrying away seaweed for use as fertiliser.

Wildlife on the coast path

We’ve been working with our tenant farmer to improve the condition of important maritime grassland around Deckler’s Cliff, near Gara Point. Our rangers have carried out extensive scrub clearance and farmers have been using cattle and sheep to graze the coastal slopes.

There’s already been an increase in butterflies, such as the small pearl-bordered fritillary. Over time the grasslands will become more diverse and richer in species.

Prawle Point Coastwatch Station

From its perch 200 feet above the sea at the southernmost point of Devon, the station commands views from Bolt Head to Peartree Point (near Start Point). Drop in to meet the watchkeepers on duty and explore the visitor centre next door.

National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) volunteers are the ‘eyes along the coast’, watching for emergencies at sea 365 days a year. They work with the Coastguard, as well as local search and rescue services including the RNLI.

Find out more about Prawle Point NCI

View out to sea from inside the Coastwatch station at Prawle Point. On the desk are charts, binoculars and a compass.
View out to sea from the Coastwatch station at Prawle Point | © National Trust Images/Eric McDonald

Look out to sea at Gara Point

Standing on a rocky outcrop high on the South West Coast Path, the old lookout at Gara Point has fantastic views out to sea.

It was probably built for coastguards who lived in a nearby terrace of cottages, where the Gara Rock apartments now stand. They were employed by the Admiralty in the 19th Century to thwart any smuggling along this remote coastline, and to watch for vessels in difficulty.

Hidden history in the landscape

Today this stretch of coast is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, carrying plenty of clues to the people who once lived and worked here.

Prehistoric fields

When the sun casts long shadows in the early morning or late afternoon, you can clearly see a pattern of about 40 fields on the north-western slopes of Deckler’s Cliff. Bounded by low stone walls or banks of earth, these ancient field systems have been used for over 3,500 years.

The slopes were probably first farmed during prehistoric times. They’re strikingly similar in layout and appearance to remains on Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Also close by are the remains of later Bronze Age hut circles.

Restoring Bronze Age field boundaries

Thanks to an £80,000 grant from Natural England we’ve repaired an area of this nationally important Bronze Age field system. Davin Foster, a master craftsman dry-stone waller, has worked at Deckler’s Cliff to repair 485m of historic wall.

Two dry-stonewallers putting the topping stones in place at Gara Point. The wall runs down the cliff towards a beach in the distance, through green fields with bluebells and gorse.
Dry-stone wallers put the topping stones in place at Gara Point | © National Trust Images/Eric McDonald

Mining remains

More difficult to detect are the surface pit remains of a metal mining enterprise, which briefly ran during the 1860s. It’s thought that tramways carried the ore down to a jetty on Deckler’s Island, where it was loaded onto barges.

A child in a red hooded coat digging with a spade on the sandy beach at Mill Bay, Salcombe, Devon

Discover more at Mill Bay

Find out when Mill Bay is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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