South West Coast Path – Gara Rock to Prawle Point
8th April 2019
I went to south Devon specifically to walk part of the South West Coast Path. I spent one full day walking east, past Prawle Point – the southernmost part of Devon – to Langerstone Point, where I turned around and retraced my steps back to Gara Rock. The following day I walked east to Mill Bay and back, before getting into my car and driving home to London.
Both walks can be done as circular walks, which you can see on the OS map here. You can download these maps and find detailed route descriptions on the South West Coast Path website, which is a terrific resource. You can even do it all as a single walk in one day pretty easily if you’re so inclined, it’s only about 9 miles or so, and none of it is challenging, at least in good weather.
But I purposely wanted to do 2 days of walking, out and back along the clifftops. I like to take my time. I walk slowly. I take an awful lot of photos and I scramble down into every cove I can, onto every beach where I can find a way. If I find a bench I stop and sit, simply breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sun and wind on my face and in my hair, and filling all my senses.
I forget about ‘time’ when walking this path. I’m in no hurry at all.
Gara Rock to Prawle Point and beyond
My first day’s walk was the longer walk east – from Gara Rock past Prawle Point to Langerstone Point, where I sat on the rocky beach and ate my packed lunch before returning along the same path. It’s about 6 miles (just under 10km) in total, longer of course if you walk down to any of the many coves and beaches along the way.
The South West Coast Path runs right beneath the Gara Rock Hotel, which sits on the hill above Abraham’s Hole and Seacombe Sand beach.
So within minutes I was walking along the clifftops into the sun.
The walking on this route is what I’d call easy to moderate – most of it along the clifftops with a few steep and rocky ascents and descents at the headlands. But nothing that I would call challenging. If the weather’s poor the path will be muddy, but on this incredible late winter’s day it was completely dry.
The hillsides were so green and the gorse was just beginning to bloom along the path.
Though not quite as heart-pounding dramatic as the Cornish coast, this part of south Devon has to be some of the most beautiful in the southwest of England.
The entire coastline here is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a designation meaning it’s a protected conservation area in the United Kingdom, as well as the Isle of Man. Cormorants, razorbills, fulmars and little owls breed on the cliffs, rare plants can be found in rocky crevices, and ancient boundary stones are scattered across the wild landscape.
The path wanders high above rocky coves, past the wonderfully named Pigs Nose, where Neolithic artefacts and tools made from chert, flint and quartz have been found.
From Pigs Nose continue walking on the path towards Gammon Head. Along the way you might suddenly meet up with some of the locals.
It’s a steep climb up to Gammon Head and from the top you can see Prawle Point in the distance.
As you start to descend the views are just glorious.
Be sure to look back once you’ve descended the headland and walked further along the path. Gammon Head is quite dramatic from this angle.
From Gammon Head, the path makes it’s way high above Elender Cove where the waves crash against the rocks.
Once around the cove, the path climbs steeply through rocks to Signalhouse Point, where an 18th-century admiralty semaphore station once stood on the summit.
From here the path evens out once more, running through stone walls in what are ancient fields protected as Scheduled Monuments. In the United Kingdom, a scheduled monument is a ‘nationally important’ archaeological site or historic building, and is given special protection through law.
Once past this gate you approach Prawle Point.
Prawle Point is the southernmost point in Devon. It’s mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1204, when it was called Prahuille, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning lookout hill. It was also the site of a medieval chapel.
People have been keeping watch over the English Channel from here for centuries, looking out for enemy vessels during the World Wars, as well as for ships in trouble in what are dangerous coastal waters. Today there’s a coast guard station and small visitor’s centre, manned by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI).
This is ancient land. As the South West Coast Path website describes it:
‘[Prawle Point] is a first and last touch-down point for migrant birds and butterflies, and the cliffs in the area are also noted for their populations of rare bees and wasps. People have been farming and fishing here for thousands of years, and the ancient paths they trod between the village, the fields and the shoreline are the ones still in use today.’
The winds blow fiercely here and the views in all directions are magnificent. This view is east towards Langerstone Point, which would be my final destination on this day.
Prawle Point to Langerstone Pont
The path descends from Prawle Point into a series of wide-open fields. After walking down a steep hill, the path runs across a stone wall and through another gate into a huge field which was the site of a radar station during World War II.
There’s a grass-covered bunker just off the path which housed the transmitter, receiver and generator blocks. The site was protected by anti-aircraft guns situated on the cliffs just below the coastguard lookout.
The path is completely flat along the fields to Langerstone Point, where I scrambled down onto the rocky beach, and ate my lunch. The view back towards Prawle Point was really beautiful.
I’m not sure what that rocky shape below the point is called, but I thought it looked like the head of a seahorse.
And I had a lot of fun photographing the tidepools and channels, and the rocks along the beach.
Back to Gara Rock
I’d been on the path for about 4 hours by this time and didn’t want to get caught out by the February darkness. So after lunch I turned back to retrace my steps to Gara Rock.
Sheep graze in these fields below Prawle Point and you can see yet another of the grass-covered WW II bunkers behind them. If you look closely above the bunker and to the right you can see the path running just below what were the old coastguard and lightkeepers’ cottages, which are now holiday lets.
I climbed up to Prawle Point again and walked back to Gara Rock in the afternoon sunshine.
At Gammon Head, the sun was lowering towards the west and the headland was really dramatic.
I also stopped to take a quick selfie on the climb.
I really didn’t want this day to end. But it was starting to get late so I concentrated on the walking and managed to get back in time for another spectacular sunset.
Be sure see more photos in my Prawle Point Photo Album
Next post: South West Coast Path –west to Mill Bay