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South Devon Coastal Defences Part 1


The South Devon section of the Coast Path from Plymouth to Brixham offers exhilarating walking with awesome coastal views, beautiful beaches, enchanting estuaries and pretty seaside villages.


But it’s also peppered with evidence of past conflicts and their intriguing maritime histories.

Many early fortifications were sited at the mouths of estuaries such as Plymouth, Salcombe and Dartmouth, although more were built on coastal headlands in WW2 when aerial attack became a threat.


Starting in Plymouth – a significant military base for centuries and so no surprise that there’s a wealth of historical landmarks. We’ll explore these in more detail in another blog.



For now we’ll mention some major sites: -



Plymouth Hoe’s Naval Memorial, the Royal Citadel, Her Majesty's Naval Base Devonport, Drake’s Island, Plymouth Sound’s Breakwater, Devil’s Point Battery, RAF Mount Batten – and numerous forts encircling the city dating from the mid 1800s but used during WW2.








Heading along the coast path from Plymouth to Wembury you’ll pass a few of these forts – including Staddon and Bovisand.


Wembury Point was the site of a major WW2 gunnery and subsequent Naval training centre (HMS Cambridge) but this is now closed and there is little trace of the buildings and fortifications.



Across the River Yealm at Worsewell Farm was a bombing decoy with an anti-aircraft battery at nearby Netton - both just inland from the coast path.



There’s a Pillbox protecting Mothecombe Beach on the west side of the Erme Estuary – this is on the Flete estate where

the main house was requisitioned in WW2 as a maternity hospital when Freedom Fields Hospital in Plymouth was bombed. Over 9,000 babies were born there before it returned to estate ownership.



Fortifications become less frequent as you walk further from Plymouth. The hotel on Burgh Island was used as a recovery centre for wounded RAF personnel and there were radio location (radar) centres at Hope Cove and Bolt Tail.




Further on and about a mile inland of Bolt Head is the site of a WW2 airfield. RAF Bolt Head was a strategic airfield for squadrons based at Exeter Airport which was particularly busy in the build up to the D Day Landings in 1944. In the late 1950s the base was converted into one of several secret nuclear bunkers; the bunker is now privately owned.




As you walk further east from East Portlemouth, you’ll pass the Prawle Point look out station and remains of another radar bunker nearby.



Beyond Start Point you’ll reach Torcross, and in the car park you’ll see an old US Sherman tank. This took part in the D-Day practice landings at Slapton Sands – and acts as a memorial to a tragic story which we’ll return to in another blog.





Heading west on the path, you’ll pass Blackpool Sands which was also used as a practice beach for D-Day Landings, before your reach Dartmouth.


Like Plymouth, Dartmouth is steeped in maritime history and fortification. The port played a key role in the preparations for the D-Day invasions, and if you have time it’s worth visiting the Dartmouth Museum to find out more. Key historic fortifications you’ll pass include Dartmouth Castle and Bayard’s Cove Fort. The Britannia Royal Naval College is uphill from the town centre overlooking the estuary.




Across the river and about 3 km along the path from Kingswear, you’ll find Brownstone Battery - one of the few surviving WW2 coastal defence positions.







And towards the end of this section are the Napoleonic fortifications at Berry Head which include a WW2 observation post, and Brixham Battery Gardens located near Fishcombe Cove; its role was to protect against enemy invasion in Torbay and across Lyme Bay.




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