14. Devon Coast Path: *East Portlemouth to Gara Rock (part circular) - 5 miles - OS Landranger 202

Easy going on feet and eyes. Links to East Prawle to Gara Rock post if you want a longer walk.

There are hard to get to places in Devon which gives them a special quality. East Portlemouth and Gara Rock fit the bill. The lanes to here are narrow, high edged, potholed and sometimes flooded. If the thought of scratched paintwork and tested suspensions is too much to bear, catch the foot ferry from Salcombe. For those of you willing to drive, park at East Portlemouth in the car park overlooking the estuary (it’s free). Gobsmacking views are ample reward.

The footpath starts at the far end of the car park. Ignore the left option and carry straight on toward the ferry. Reaching a lane, across the a road is the Venus café. Great place to stop for coffee and stare over at Salcombe doing its boaty thing. Best dressed sailors in Devon. Ready to move on, take to the beach if the tides out and head seaward. A succession of fine sandy beaches, some of the best in South Devon, might tempt you to dally. Rough steps over a rocky outcrop brings you to the best beach (Mill Bay).

Heading back toward the lane, pick up the coast path in the far corner right corner of the beach.

Climbing into sparse woodland there are plenty of gaps to enjoy the views, including the remains of Salcombe Castle built during Henry VIII reign for maritime defence on exposed rocks. Otherwise known as Fort Charles, from which you might deduce who’s side the occupants were on during the civil war, its commander, Edward Fortesque, finally conceded to the Roundheads. It was, apparently, the fall of the last Loyalist stronghold. That’s the West for you, always last when it comes to surrendering (although it was more to do with being in the back of beyond and hard to get to rather than anything else). Not wanting any more bother from Loyalists, Oliver’s army wrecked it. Heavy seas have done the rest.

Soon you leave woodland and the shelter of the estuary for gorse and heath and the English Channel. This spectacular part of the South West Coast path is more akin to rugged Cornwall’s than its softer neighbour, Devon. But Devon it is, and in spring with gorse and sea pinks showing off their colours, it’s a delight.

Eventually the path forks. Left leads off toward a pretty, white circular lookout shelter high on the hill. This is where you leave the coast path for Gara Rock Hotel. It used to be a decaying treasure with a lively bar, but many millions have transformed it into an upmarket retreat. Have to be honest and say they’ve done an excellent job. A great place for a tea or beer while you enjoy the view either outside or in the restaurant with its panoramic views. If you fancy half an hour lazing on a fine beach, there’s one half a mile further east.

Refreshed, head inland and enter the car park behind the hotel. There you’ll see a gate to a footpath on your left. Take this all the way back to Mill bay.

Rather than take to the beach again, go right along the lane for about a quarter of a mile to a footpath on your right. Take this back to East Portlemouth and your car.

Now for a difficult decision. Do you go straight home or take the truly terrible lanes to South Pool? I did, because not only is it a pretty village, it has one of Devon’s great pubs: The Millbrook Inn. If you can, get a table outside at the back overlooking a brook and enjoy a local ale and good food. Warning though, take your time on those lanes. Otherwise a deep pothole might ruin the perfect day.