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South Devon Coast Path and coastal defences Part 2

In part 2 we’ll look at Plymouth – steeped in maritime history spanning hundreds of years.

The coast path takes you along Plymouth Hoe, where according to legend, Sir Francis Drake finished off an important game of bowls before heading off to defeat the approaching Spanish Armada in 1588.

The first fortifications on Drake’s Island (just off the Hoe) date from the late 1500s with re-construction in the late 1700s and the defences visible today date from the mid 1800s and were used during WW2.

A generation or so after Drake, a group of persecuted Puritans set off for a new life in the New World aboard the Mayflower. The Pilgrim Fathers eventually founded a colony in North America.

The Mayflower Steps Memorial is next to Barbican Quay (for ferries and boat trips) at Sutton Harbour.

In the late 1600s, Plymouth’s military status became evident with the development of the Royal Dockyard on the east side of the Tamar at Devonport, and the Citadel built on the highest point above the town; you can’t miss it towering over Sutton Harbour and Plymouth Sound to this day.

Other 17th century fortifications include Mount Batten Tower and Queen Anne’s Battery (now a major yachting centre). Western King, Eastern King and Devil’s Point Batteries were built between 1779 and 1899 to protect the entrance to the Tamar and the Naval Dockyard.

In the 1700s Plymouth’s naval role in the Napoleonic Wars was key and a raft of fortifications were built including a ring of forts with the mile-long breakwater protecting Plymouth Sound completed in 1812.

Heading on the coast path from Mount Batten, up to your left is Fort Stamford – one of a series of Palmerston forts named

after Lord Palmerston) built in 1862 to protect Plymouth’s eastern flank from Napoleonic threat.

Further along is Fort Staddon built in 1861 (now next to the golf course), Staddon Heights Battery built in 1891, Rifle Butts (rifle range wall) built in 1860, Watch House Battery (1864) and Fort Bovisand (also 1861).

Of course these coastal defences were less useful against air attack. In WW2, Plymouth’s strategic military role meant it was a major target for the Nazis and it was heavily bombed.

Much of the city centre, Stonehouse and Devonport was flattened.

Visitors to these area can observe the differences; from the historic Barbican to Royal Parade, from Union Street to the Royal William Yard, or from Mount Wise to Devonport’s Guildhall.

These and more have stories to tell of Plymouth’s history.

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