Salcombe is a small town with steep narrow streets where the houses seem to cling to the wooded hillside. A peaceful place set beside a beautiful estuary Salcombe is one of the most picturesque places on the South Devon coast and has an unrivalled climate. Sheltered from the north and east winds the harbour is a haven for wildlife and sailors alike, and is an ideal place for families wishing to relax beside the water or ‘mess about in boats’. The town, with its winding streets and alleyways, has a village atmosphere and its shops and restaurants are small and quiet. Tiny cafes offering Devon cream teas, restaurants offering locally caught seafood and pubs with a ‘local’ feel are all here in Salcombe. Small individual shops selling quality goods not found elsewhere may be found in the town, wander in the quiet alleyways where exclusive galleries exhibiting local and nationally renowned artists are to be found.

Families with young children will find the beaches perfect. On the western side of the estuary North and South Sands are safe and sandy beaches with good facilities and excellent views across the water. Both beaches have a café and toilets nearby and North Sands has a beach shop. Access is easy by car, on foot or by ferry from the harbour. On the opposite side of the estuary is East Portlemouth, which has many beaches with fine sand and safe bathing. At low tide you can walk the whole foreshore from the ferry up to Ditch end or out towards the sea taking in Smalls cove and Mill Bay. Salcombe offers various ways of taking to the water. There are many sailing schools in the town, shops offering motorboat hire, dinghy hire, and scuba diving. For children, Ribs4kids offers a training programme of boat handling skills and safety on the water, giving parents peace of mind. For whole families wanting sailing instruction the famous Island Cruising Club is the place to learn. Its headquarters are on an ex Mersy ferry the Egremont, moored in the estuary. Either stay on board or take the launch out by the day for sailing tuition from beginner to RYA yacht master. The ICC has been giving sailing tuition for 50 years and is a recognised RYA sailing centre so you will be in safe hands.

Salcombe is located on the breathtaking South West Coast Path and ideal for walkers of all abilities. The path takes in some of the most beautiful scenery in Devon and a walk from Bolt Head to Bolt Tail over The Warren and Bolberry down will not disappoint you. To the east via the ferry to East Portlemouth the path runs over National Trust land to Prawle Point, the southernmost tip of Devon. Prawle means ‘lookout hill’ and indeed the views are spectacular. From here you may walk to the village of East Prawle for some refreshment to see you on your way. The path follows the cliff top to Start Point and here you may detour down to the lighthouse, which is open to the public at weekends. Start Point is one of the most exposed peninsulas on the English coast and the lighthouse has been guiding vessels along the English Channel for over 150 years. Designed in 1836 the light has a range of 25 nautical miles and was automated in 1993.

For the visitor and local alike the highlight of the summer is the Salcombe Town Regatta. A time when normal daily life is suspended and families throw themselves into the programme of events organised and run by local people. The word regatta means a sporting event consisting of a series of yacht or boat races and here you will find just that. But there is more than sailing. For those without nautical leanings plenty of activity is on offer by way of children’s sports, crab fishing, a fun run, sandcastle competition, torchlight procession, a pavement artist competition and duck races. The week ends with a magnificent firework display lighting up the town and the harbour.

Devon was much fought over during the civil war, the countryside, led by rich landowners was for the king but the towns called for parliament. At the mouth of the estuary is a rock on which stand the remains of a fortress that held out for King Charles during the civil war longer than any other place in Devon. Locally it was celebrated for the fact that Sir Edmund Fortescue was permitted to march away with arms and colours flying as a tribute to his courage. King Charles had ambitions to build up England’s navy to the Elizabethan Armada standards and Salcombe would have played a part in this. In 1619 the records list 104 mariners, 5 shipwrights and 2 coopers or barrel makers showing that Salcombe already had a maritime trade. By the 1790s Salcombe had a significant boat building industry and shipyards could be found on both sides of the estuary up to Kingsbridge. Nearly 300 sailing vessels and some steamers were built in the estuary in the early 19th Century during which time trade to Newfoundland bring salted fish to Europe was developed. During the later 19th Century the fruit trade developed and speedy schooners were built to carry fruit from the Azores and Spain before it deteriorated, and dried fruit was imported from the Mediterranean. Salcombe prospered as a port until the 1870s when competition from steel ships caused the demise of the industry. Thereafter boat building was limited to fishing boats and pleasure craft. Many small boats seen in Salcombe harbour were built locally and the Salcombe Yawl can still be seen in the estuary. As the boat building industry declined so the tourist industry grew making Salcombe one of the most sought-after destinations in Devon.

Perfect at any time of year Salcombe has its own micro-climate as can be observed by the many Mediterranean plants growing in the towns walled gardens. The holiday season is extended here long beyond the usual summer months and visitors are welcome here in the quieter months to enjoy the peace and quiet the town affords. To quote the Victorian historian James Froude, “winter in Salcombe is winter only in name”.

 

South Devon

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15 January 2010