- Start: Brixham Harbour (grid ref SX926562)
- End: Brixham Harbour (grid ref SX926562)
- Country: England
- County: Devon
- Type: Country
- Nearest pub:
- Ordnance Survey: OS Landranger 202
- Difficulty: Medium
Robert Hesketh strides out from the buzz of Brixham Harbour to the national nature reserve at Berry Head on the South Devon coast
This exploration of Brixham Harbour and Berry Head affords tremendous views over Torbay and southwards towards Start Bay. There is much en route, including Berry Heads two stone-built forts and lighthouse as well as Brixhams Breakwater and Marina.
Brixham Harbour is busy with fishing boats and pleasure craft. As well as trawlers, crabbers and yachts, there is the Golden Hind a reproduction of Sir Francis Drakes ship in which he circumnavigated the world and traditional sailing vessels belonging to Trinity Trust.
Cargo ships moor in sheltered Torbay, especially when storms rock the Channel. Battleship grey can often be seen too: the Royal Navy has maintained a strong presence in Torbay since the Napoleonic Wars, when Torquay developed as a naval station and Berry Heads forts were built to counter the very real threat of invasion.
If Bonaparte had landed in Torbay (he was later to visit it as a celebrated prisoner of war) he would not have been the first foreign ruler to select this sheltered point. William of Orange (subsequently King William III) landed near Brixham in 1688 to wrest the throne of England from his uncle, James II. Williams statue the object of both recent attack and restoration enjoys a prominent position on the quay and celebrates his claim to uphold liberty and the Protestant religion.
As well as being a wonderful viewpoint, Berry Head is also a National Nature Reserve. Its 60metre-high limestone cliffs support 500 species of flowering plants and 28 species of butterfly. Among the 200 bird species recorded at Berry Head are colonies of sea birds including the largest breeding colony of guillemots on the Channel coast. Other residents include cirl buntings, plenty of herring and black backed gulls, fulmars and a small colony of kittiwakes. Peregrines use the headland to teach their young to fly. Harbour porpoises, which look like small, black-backed dolphins, are often sighted too. Bring binoculars if you have them and visit the bird hide, where recent sightings are posted.
1 Facing the water by King Williams statue, turn right and follow the south side of the harbour, signed Coast Path and Berry Head. Follow the harbourside pavement past apartments and the pontoon where Brixhams heritage sailing ships, including two vintage Brixham trawlers, Leader (1892) and Provident (1924), are often moored. Divert along the Breakwater for excellent views. Climb the steps at the far side of Breakwater Beach and continue along the lane. Divert left to see rocky Shoalstone Point and rejoin the lane.
2 50m beyond Berry Head Hotel, turn left at the Coast Path Berry Head sign. Follow the path up steps to the viewpoint. An information board explains the local geology. Berry Head and Hopes Nose across the Bay are limestone headlands. As limestone is a harder rock than the New Red Sandstones that predominate between these headlands, the sea has eroded the huge crescent we see as Torbay. Avoid the track down to the old quarry, where 300 years of toil has made a marked impact on the cliffs, and continue ahead over the dry moat to the northern fort.
3 Built between 1795 and 1805, the two Berry Head forts were occupied by more than 1,000 men in eight barrack blocks. The riveted and angled forts defended both Torbay and the landward side of the promontory. Facing you are the 18lb cannons recovered from Torquay Harbour in 1971. The former guardhouse is now a caf and visitor centre (open daily Easter to end October). Computers fed with electronic cards, a film and tableaux explain the natural history and geology of Berry Head. There are also childrens activities and bats can be watched on the web cam.
Continue to the lighthouse at the far end of Berry Head. Dating from 1906, this is only 5m tall yet the highest lighthouse in Britain; it stands 60m above sea level and casts a beam visible 30km away. Use the nearby orientation table to spot points from Thatchers Rock to Portland Bill, 42 miles distant. Retrace your steps towards the restaurant and visitor centre. A short diversion left leads to the bird hide, where recent sightings are noted.
Recross the dry moat and bear left onto the Coast Path. Continue to the southern fort, now re-opened with a new bridge. This fort was built as a continuation of the limestone cliffs that made Berry Head a prime defensive site since the first Iron Age earthworks were built. Like the northern fort, it includes defensive walls surrounded by a dry moat. There are also gun beds, the remains of a kitchen and a blockhouse. From the southern fort, follow the Coast Path for 1km past Durl Head.
4 Just before reaching St Marys Bay, turn right onto a tarred path between a fence and a wall. At the end of the path, continue ahead along Centry Road to a crossroads. Cross and continue along Lower Rea Road to the next junction. Turn right and follow the footpath downhill, enjoying a splendid view of the Marina and Breakwater. Continue downhill via narrow lanes and steps to the harbour.
Start: Brixham Harbour (grid ref SX926562)
Distance: 6km (3 miles)
Time: 2 hours
Map: OS Landranger 202
Terrain: Coast path, hardcore paths, short sections of steps and minor roads. Beware of high, unfenced cliffs and keep dogs on leads
Parking: Brixham Harbour; alternatively Breakwater car park or Berry Head car park