Light rain peppered the windscreen as we began our drive across the rolling south Devon countryside. We were mindful of the mixed weather forecast but as we headed south, conditions improved markedly and eventually the sun was shining from a nearly cloud-free, blue sky. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the grey shroud of cloud that covered Dartmoor behind us, but the lure of the coast was too strong.
We planned to walk a circular route starting at Hope Cove, a small village on the Devon coast with its mixture of permanent homes, many holiday homes and a few cafes and pubs. It’s very popular in summer but now there are only a few people about despite it being half term for some. Hope Cove is actually two coves, one with a sandy beach and another with a small harbour and a life boat station.
When we arrive at Hope Cove, the sun is still shining and our attention is grabbed by the panorama of a steely blue sea and many white wave crests. The stiff breeze coming off the sea makes a “Devon” flag stand to attention as though it had been starched. This breeze also whips up a strong swell and a succession of chunky waves that attack the sandy beach. Retreating waves leave a pattern of foam which, caught by the sun, sparkles jewel-like with a myriad of colours.
At the harbour, the tide is high and waves are beating against the harbour wall, throwing up irregular plumes of spray. A family is standing on the beach in the spray zone and there is much shrieking and darting from the children as each wave breaks. Elsewhere on the harbour beach, we see a group of pied wagtails, perhaps as many as ten. The black and white birds skitter about rather like the children. They also make occasional flights to the neighbouring roofs and when they return we imagine that their wagging tells us how pleased they are to be here.
There is so much to see; it’s mesmerising but we need to move on if we are actually going to do this walk. So we continue up hill to a high promontory called Bolt Tail. From here the view takes in the full sweep of coast round to the Mew Stone at Plymouth and on a good day over to the Dodman peninsula in Cornwall. But today all we can see is a thick misty greyness signalling a succession of storms tracking eastward. The weather has changed; it’s clear we are going to be drenched and it’s only a question of when. The first storm largely misses us but the second is bang on target and we shelter under an umbrella in the lea of a large gorse bush.
There are very few flowers to see at this time of year but despite the weather there is quite a bit of wildlife. As we were walking up the hill out of Hope we looked back and noticed a seal playing in the water near the harbour. The conical black head is unmistakable but it’s pure chance that we were looking when it came up for air. On Bolt Tail we saw stonechats, the males looking very spruce with their pale ruddy brown breasts, white collar and black head. They were, as you might expect chatting to one another. Further on, we looked from the cliff and noticed a kestrel just below, its brown plumage clear even in this light. This small bird of prey seemed to hang in the air; head down, watching for prey, it repeatedly adjusted its wings and managed to stay in one place even in the strong wind.
Eventually we leave the coast path and head inland along quiet minor roads and a green lane named Sweethearts Lane. I can’t help wondering about the name, who were the sweethearts, were they fulfilled or unrequited? The trees lining this path have created a tunnel-like canopy and the bed of the lane lies below the adjacent fields, perhaps the result of repeated passage of feet, hooves, wheels and weather. Sweethearts Lane, therefore, also qualifies to be called a sunken lane or holloway.
Finally, we climb up to a high path that follows field edges and takes us back to Hope Cove. The storms have now gone and the sun is shining again. The views along the coast are clear and spectacular. At Hope, even this late in October, people are sun-bathing and a large family, in wet suits, is enjoying the sea. As they frolic in the water I am reminded of the seal.
Thanks to Hazel Strange for the lovely photos.