Martin Hesp recites some Keats as he roams along the coast and over the hills to the Teign.
Had I been aware of the grim days of weather that lay ahead, I would probably have extended this walk which I was lucky enough to complete on one of the bright days of early October…
Later, the words of the poet John Keats came back to haunt me: "You may say what you will of Devonshire: the truth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod county."
Keats spent some time in neighbouring Teignmouth looking after his brother Tom who was dying of consumption in 1818 (by all accounts, a very wet year indeed) and his savage description of the local climate could well have described the entire week of rainy days we experienced recently.
The poet went on to say: "The hills are very beautiful, when you get a sight of 'em... The cliffs are of a fine deep colour, but then the clouds are continually vying with them."
I was only too pleased to be walking in those beautiful hills on a circular route around The Ness from Shaldon. The walk took me up along the coast to Labrador Bay and then over the hills to the picturesque calm of the River Teign – and I reckon it is one of the most wonderful hikes to be had in this corner of Devon.
Coastal walking so often lacks a natural circular route, but find a river mouth with a headland and you will probably have a ready made loop containing river, sea, hills and dales.
I arrived in Shaldon aboard "England's Oldest Passenger Ferry" – or so the wonderful old open boat from Teignmouth is billed – and it drops you at the ideal place to begin the walk.
All you do is turn left and head for the sea, or rather, the massive, red-cliffed-wedge known as The Ness. This is one of the most handsome headlands in the region and it offers a pleasant and scenic spot of walking. The coast path zig-zags all the way up through its deep woodlands to reach a viewing platform that boasts one of the best panoramas anywhere between Golden Cap and Berry Head. This is red-cliff country and you can see the giant, weather-beaten, sandstone bastions stretching in a ruby-coloured band all the way past Dawlish and the Exe Estuary to Sidmouth and beyond.
From the view point we turn south along the path which descends through trees and, every now and again, we are treated to startling aerial views of the great sweep of Babbacombe Bay. Soon we come to the upper end of a big car park where the coast path begins to climb again.
But, take my advice and find the Ness Tunnel. This remarkable underground passageway cuts several hundred feet through the headland and is the only way of reaching Ness Cove, which we featured in the WMN's Secret Seaside series recently.
The coast path continues along the cliff-tops to Bundle Head. Here the narrow track twists inland above a steep wood, beneath which lies Smuggler's Cove and Labrador Bay. I believe the latter borrowed its name from a house built somewhere along here by a retired sea-captain – but both he and the abode have long gone. Only the loneliness of the Labrador Coast remains – oh and there's the busy Torquay-Teignmouth road, and I'm afraid to say we must follow this for a few yards.
Don't worry – not far. The coast path follows a pavement along the highway for a few yards before delving back into the fields. Follow it, but where you see a car park (one of the most panoramic in the region) above you on your right, go up through the gate and walk to the entrance.
On the opposite side of the road a few yards to your right you will see Commons Lane disappearing up over the hill – be careful and cross over and walk up the quiet side road until you reach The Beacon, which you'll be able to identify thanks to a trig-point on your left. The views up here are tremendous – so stop and stare before descending due west from The Beacon down Butterfly Lane. This takes us down to Forches Hill above Stokeinteignhead. Turn right for a few hundred yards and then left onto another unpaved track called Dagra Lane. It might sound a little complex but it's all very straight forward once you've seen the map.
At this point if I'd known I was going to be trapped indoors for days to come I'd have extended the walk by taking Millen Lane down into Stokeinteignhead – then I'd have found another track called Teignharvey Road, which would convey me down to the estuary side.
I don't know if you are really allowed to walk through the holiday village at the end of Dagra Lane, but as my parents owned a caravan there for years – and as I have so many memories of the place – I took the liberty and got so lost in memory lane that I forgot to look to see there is a public right of way here or not.
At the beach I turned right and, as the tide was out, walked along the foreshore past Gavel Point to the place where the road runs along the river bank. After this – just past the old nunnery – we took the footpath that follows the waterside around the recreation ground to the famous Teignmouth and Shaldon Bridge – once reckoned to be the longest bridge in the country.
In a few minutes I was back where I began by the ferry landing – blissfully unaware that Devon was about to turn splashy, rainy, misty, foggy, haily, floody, muddy and slipshod. The only thing that wasn't on Keats' list was snow.