<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Devon Life today click here

Secrets of the South West Coast Path: 10 spots in Devon with a hidden history

PUBLISHED: 13:39 17 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:00 16 February 2018

Hele Bay (c) Keith Murray, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hele Bay (c) Keith Murray, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Think you are familiar with all the South West Coast Path has to offer? Well think again with these 10 secret places on this iconic trail through Devon, revealed by expert Ruth Luckhurst

1) Blackchurch Rock

During a collision of continental plates in a mountain-building period, the rocks around Hartland were thrust violently upwards into a mountain range whose peaks are thought to have reached 3,000m.

Although the mountains have long since eroded, the towering cliffs from Widemouth to Clovelly consist of almost vertical strata, with dramatic chevrons where the huge forces at work folded the rock like paper. Blackchurch Rock arch is at its most spectacular when viewed from the coast path high above.

2) Hooken cliffs

Slumping at Hooken’s soaring white cliffs has created a terraced landscape that is a haven for wildlife. The Beer coastline is especially prone to landslips, since rainwater passes easily through the porous top strata but is unable to drain away through the clays below.

Instead it spreads sideways, acting as a lubricant between the layers, so that eventually the tilt of the underlying rocks causes the top strata to slide into the sea. A catastrophic landslip in 1790 released nearly 15 million tons of rock onto the beach far below, moving the shoreline some 200m out to sea.

Hooken Cliffs


Like this? Then give these a click!


3) Orcombe Point

Cliffs in South and East Devon laid down in a desert environment are vividly red as a result of the hot, dry climate. Because there were no living organisms to use the oxygen, it formed iron oxide instead, giving it this colour.

At Orcombe Point, sandstone boulders piled on a rocky platform at the foot of the cliffs provide a striking introduction to the 185 million years of geological history laid out ahead along the 95-mile Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

4) Torbay limestone fossils

Many of the older buildings in Paignton and Torquay were constructed from limestone rich in Devonian fossils, which have enabled geologists to identify five different types of this rock.

Although all were laid down at the same time, scientists can tell from the fossils that it was in five slightly different environments. Another widely-used building stone, formed later, displays fragments of these fossil-rich limestones, embedded in the red sandstone of the younger rock.

Hopes Nose - Torquay

5) Valley of Rocks

The process of freeze and thaw caused by fluctuating temperatures in the Ice Age created dry valleys, cut out by deposits of weathered material swept through by torrents of ice melt. North Devon’s Valley of Rocks is a breathtaking example, with its weathered crags towering over a valley where there is no river.

A favourite haunt of Romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, today the valley is equally popular with a large herd of feral goats.

6) Westward Ho! Pebble ridge

Charles Kingsley wrote of Westward Ho!’s pebble ridge: “The surges of the bay have defeated their own fury, by rolling up in the course of ages a rampart of grey boulder stones [which] protects from the high tides of spring and autumn a fertile sheet of smooth alluvial turf.” Behind the barrier, Northam Burrows provides a habitat for a number of unusual plants, and large numbers of overwintering and migratory birds gather here.

From medieval times, local residents earned their grazing rights on the common by participating in the annual “potwalloping” ceremony, replacing cobbles that had been swept from the ridge by spring tides.

7) Brownstone Battery

One of several batteries built on the south coast in response to Hitler’s 1940 Operation Sealion invasion plan, Brownstone Battery was manned by up to 300 soldiers, and many of its buildings and other structures are still in place, including the miniature railway used to transport ammunition to the lower gun position.

Now owned by the National Trust, it is one of the few surviving World War Two coastal defence positions and since 1981 the Trust have worked tirelessly to keep the encroaching scrub from completely engulfing the site’s remaining buildings.

Devon - Brownstone Battery - CASL No2 - SX903497 - S0006535 - June 2010

8) Wind Hill

Countisbury’s Wind Hill is protected on two sides by steep wooded slopes and on a third by its plunging sea cliff, making it a highly defensible location. The hill fort built by its Iron Age inhabitants was still in use almost a millennium later, when the local Saxons camped within its ramparts after sighting Viking raiders in the Bristol Channel.

Creeping out at night, they slaughtered the Danes sleeping on the narrow neck of land below, winning an important victory for King Alfred, who was holed up on the Somerset Levels.

Iron Age fort on Wind Hill Countisbury.

9) Mutters Moor

Mutter’s Moor – a unique habitat for many species of wildlife – was densely populated in prehistoric times. It is named after Abraham Mutter, an 18th century log merchant and turf-cutter.

A member of the infamous Jack Rattenbury gang of smugglers, Mutter distributed the contraband in his donkey cart, under the very noses of the customs men based on the moor to keep an eye on the coast.

View from Mutters Moor #landscape #landscapephotography #clouds #fog #sidmouth #devon

10) Parson’s Tunnel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s inventive but dramatically unsuccessful “atmospheric railway”, designed in 1843, used suction to power the trains. With no communication system, the pumping stations had to operate to a strict timetable, which relied on the trains arriving on time.

However, technical hitches due to rats and salt spray caused frequent breakdowns, when the third-class passengers had to get out and push. Parson’s Tunnel is one of the five built by Brunel as part of the scheme.

Parsons Tunnel

Hidden Landscapes of the South West Coast Path by Ruth Luckhurst tells the tale of England’s South West coastline and highlights some of the fascinating features to be found along its 630-mile length. It is published by Halsgrove.


For more follow Devon Life on Facebook and Twitter


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A new visitor centre at The Donkey Sanctuary sheds new light on the charity’s global mission, writes Owen Jones.

Read more
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

As both a location for many classic works and as a producer of iconic authors, Devon has rich ties to the literary world. How brushed up are you on these connections?

Read more
Friday, March 9, 2018

From stunning sunsets over Barnstaple to meeting the Dartmoor ponies, we have 23 reasons that prove Devon is the prettiest county…

Read more
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Whether it’s the culture, nightlife, food & drink, shopping or the family-friendly atmosphere, there’s so many reasons for you to love Exeter. We’ve picked 24 but we know there are so many more

Read more
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Encompassing large swathes of Dartmoor and plenty of the county’s most distinctive sections of coastline, it’s no wonder that the South Hams district is home to some of Devon’s prettiest places. We pick out 10 of the best towns and villages the area has to offer

Read more
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The South West Coast Path has led to romance for many couples. Now Becky Millington wonders, will she be next?

Read more
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From watching the sunset on Ilfracombe’s beach to taking moonlit walks in Exeter, we have chosen 12 reasons to spend Valentine’s Day in Devon…

Read more
Friday, February 9, 2018

May is a great time to see bluebells slowly cover Devon’s landscape, providing a wash of colour to truly emphasise the start of spring. We pick seven top spots for bluebell walks in the county

Read more
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The 16km route around Bowerman’s nose was named 57th in the country after 8,000 walking enthusiats voted in a survey for the ITV programme ‘Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100’

Read more
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Each year, from around January through until March, snowdrops can be seen pushing up through the cold winter soil and transforming our woodlands into white wonderlands. It’s the perfect reminder that spring is on the horizon, bringing with it more light and new life to our green spaces. Here is a list of 9 superb spots in Devon to witness this annual spectacle

Read more
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

It’s time to test your knowledge! Can you tell us which beach can be found in which county? Take our quiz and find out...

Read more
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Devon is a joy to explore with its beautiful beaches, pretty woodland and charming towns and villages. Made even more magical under a blanket of glistening frost, we pick 12 walks to blow away the cobwebs in the county this winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

It’s been a year since one of the largest fires Exeter has ever known destroyed one of its most iconic landmarks. But the Royal Clarence Hotel is slowly coming back to life, as Chrissy Harris discovers

Read more
A+ South & South West
Great British Holidays advert link
Pure Weddings advert link
South West Life advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Devon's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Property Search