From rugged cliffs and golden sands to dramatic bluffs and thrift-covered hams, the beautiful South Devon coast continues to beguile all those who walk its sparkling shores and winding coastal paths.
Once a haven for the moonlit skulduggery of rascals and rum-runners, the area’s most secret coves can only be reached by way of green lanes, pig paths, shepherd trails and age-old cliff tracks.
Here are ten of South Devon’s lesser known coves and top secret beaches for you to explore…
Along the craggy shoreline of Bigbury Bay, between Black Stone and Westcombe Beach, lies Ayrmer Cove. A steep bridleway leads down to this quiet, shingle beach, as does a descending narrow path backed by rolling farmer’s fields. Here, you’ll enjoy sparkling views of Bigbury Bay, renowned for its serene sunrises and dreamy sunsets. It’s only a ten-minute walk from the National Trust car park at Ringmore and has no dog restrictions. If you’re looking for refreshment, try the Journey’s End Inn; a 13th century family-friendly free house where you’ll find a delicious menu, local ales and a pretty beer garden.
Soar Mill Cove
Follow the South West Coast Path around Bolt Tail, then past Bolberry Down and along Cathole Cliff, and you’ll discover the quiet, sandy cove known as Soar Mill. The lower sections of the surrounding sheer cliffs that shelter the cove play host to rock samphire, sea beet and rare rock sea-lavender, while silver-studded blue, marbled white and brown argus butterflies are common sight among the verdant slopes leading to the footpath. Keep your eyes peeled for cirl buntings, stonechats and Dartford warblers in the gorse and scrub; if you’re really lucky, you might see a seal or two bobbing around in the sparkling bay waters. Through centuries gone by the cove was regularly strewn by lost cargo from shipwrecks, the most famous of which was the Finnish windjammer Herzogin Cecilie that sank offshore in 1936 and was later towed to her watery grave in neighbouring Starehole Bay, near the historic harbour town of Salcombe. A short ramble inland and you’ll find the Soar Mill Cove Hotel, the perfect spot for a traditional cream tea on the lawn – just make sure you follow the Devonshire rules and dollop your jam on top.
Below the leafy banks past Rickham Common, between Biddlehead Point and the Hipples, lies the soft, sandy beach known as Sunny Cove. This gorgeous little inlet can be found on the East Portlemouth side of the Salcombe Harbour. From this secluded spot you’ll be able to enjoy glorious views towards South Sands and Splatcove Point as the gleaming estuary waters flow beyond The Bar. You can catch a ferry from Salcombe and enjoy a beachy stroll along this breathtaking sandy stretch to discover one of the South Hams’ hidden gems.
Leas Foot Sand
Sheltered by the rocky jut known as Warren Point and with lovely views towards Thurlestone Rock, Leas Foot Sand is one of South Devon’s most peaceful stretches of golden coastline. The surrounding craggy shores are a haven for marine life, ideal for rockpooling adventures on the ebbing tide. Behind the beach are the pristine greens and fairways of Thurlestone Golf Club, while further up the quiet primrose lanes stands The Village Inn; a delightful country pub where you’ll receive a warm welcome. Wend a little way eastward across the bay to find the Beachhouse on South Milton Sands; a popular shabby chic seaside bistro.
Follow the meandering coastal path along Portlemouth Down and past Deckler’s Cliff and you’ll find the lesser-known anchorage of Elender Cove. With its turquoise waters and sugar-soft sand, this delightful spot is sheltered by the dramatic outcrop of Gammon Head and is a secret haunt for yachtsmen and wild swimmers. You’re best advised to bring along a picnic if you’re wayfaring, that said, the characterful village pub at East Prawle, the Pig’s Nose Inn, is a hearty two-mile stroll away along one of the region’s most breathtaking coastal stretches and well worth the effort.
Beyond the bluntly-named Stinking Cove and Ballsaddle Rock is another one of Lannacombe Bay’s secret, sandy enclaves. Adored by wild swimmers, Lannacombe Beach is a break of gently sloping shingle flanked by the crags and outcrops that characterise the sharp and rugged return of this brooding shoreline. Here, the sea is master of all moods, thundering embittered against the rocks during stormier episodes and gently caressing the shingle shore in the calm of fairer seasons. An old, cobbled slipway runs down to the beach and there is also a small carpark close by.
Tucked away on Lannacombe Bay, between Meg Rock and Malcombe Point, lies the remote shingle sweep known locally as Horseley Cove. This serene leg of the South Devon peninsula is less than a mile away from Prawle Point, Devon’s most southerly landmass, once notorious for shipwrecks. Backed by coastal pastures and woodland, the cove is great for rockpooling and snorkelling but be prepared for a steep climb down to get there. There’s a mile-long path linking the cove to the village of East Prawle that’s chorused by crickets in the tussocks and where cirl buntings dart amongst the hedges in chase of damselflies.
Great Mattiscombe Sand
The beachy strand known as Great Mattiscombe Sand can be found tucked behind the Start Point peninsula between Limpet Cove and Frenchman’s Rock. Backed by low, grassy cliffs and rolling hills, this remote location remains one of the South Devon coast’s more unfrequented corners. Further around the headland stands the iconic Start Point Lighthouse and the lost village of Hallsands.
A mackerel’s dash beyond the eastern fringe of Slapton Sands, past Pilchard Cove and Shiphill Rock waterfall, lies Forest Cove; a beautiful, little inlet backed by rolling green fields and shouldered by grassy cliffs. The sparkling waters of Start Bay lap this secret, golden shore, the perfect place to relax as you traverse the magnificent South West Coast Path as it wends its way towards the ‘grand-ole’ maritime town of Dartmouth. The charming coastal village of Strete is within easy walking distance, and it’s here that you’ll find the very handsome Kings Arms pub.
Once home to an old cable house, Compass Cove is a quiet, secluded beach on the coastal meanderings of Little Dartmouth. The looping coastal path bears right towards a stile and then sinks seawards to the shore. Once you’ve had your fill of this delightful scenic spot, you can follow the South West Coast Path further around Blackstone Point and beyond to discover Dartmouth Castle and Gallants Bower. Pick up the narrow Elizabethan streets of Dartmouth town centre galore with pubs, restaurants, bistros and tearooms.
Explore the rugged and beautiful South Devon peninsula when you book a stay with Toad Hall Cottages, your connoisseurs of beachy breaks and coastal getaways.