Drakes Island Tours – At Long Last…

Well!  What a cracking couple of hours that was…  We have spent the last few years (I moved to Plymouth in 2014) sat on all sides of the Sound overlooking Drakes Island and wondering what the place is like and on Friday we got to see it for real.   When the opportunity came up, it would have been churlish to turn it down.

It must be said that the site is a “work in progress” which is an interesting take, it is early days on their project and there are lots of areas that you cant get to or have scaffolding and fences.  For us, it was all part of the charm, we definitely intend to visit (probably each summer) to see how the progress is going.  Right now, there are four of five main areas and the three tour guides are obviously excited about the future.  Saying that, there is plenty to see and wander around, just don’t expect a visitor centre, informative plaques, a coffee shop and the normal things you’d see at a tourist attraction.  It is a building site while the team get the site under control.

Getting there is easy enough, the Silver Crest goes from Mount Batten Terminal (yes, you have to wear a mask) and its a 15 minute trip across the Sound to the jetty on the island.  We parked at Jennycliff and got a quick walk down to the terminal, leaving us half an hour or so to wander around the Mount Batten Breakwater.

The first part of the tour is outside the building complex that you can see from the Hoe.  They will end up being the Admin centre for the hotel, stores, kitchen, restaurant etc., but were historically the Officers and (separately) Ratings quarters, Canteen and so on.  The tour guides have some stories about the staff over the years and while I am sure its the 20th time they’ve been told, managed to still find them funny.

As with most of the Island, there are lots of lookout points and great views.

Further along are the remaining guns that used to protect the Sound from attack, we were told that they could reach out past the Breakwater.  Theres a long convoluted tale of how the others were removed, well worth a listen!  There is also a project to restore some of them for display and one of the chaps there was around in the 80s, the last time any of them were fired.  Interesting!

The one at the back is 25 tonnes, not including the trailer.

 

Next is the Caissement area, the curved seaward facing group of rooms that would have taken a gun each and faced outwards to cover the Sound.  These are the areas that are going to be the hotel rooms in the future and the views are going to be stunning!

The highlight of the tour are the tunnels that would once have been storage, communications and shelter for the gun platforms and they genuinely reak of history.  The tour guides make this good fun, getting people to turn off all the lights on phones and telling ghost stories which is a giggle.  There are odd rooms off to the sides which are closed off, but still lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.

After the tunnels, we went up to the top of the island, where the flagpole would have been, for a round-up of the visit, a good 20 minutes photo-taking and some more stories and information on the site.   The tour guides really are enthusiastic about the project and being tour guides is secondary to other roles they have on the build.  They lament the abuse the site gets which is completely fair, witness the graffiti and damage done by people coming over in the night-time and being daft.  There is less history here as a result and that is a real shame.  They appear to have a plan to get on top of this, but without 24 hour security it is going to continue to be a problem as they keep expanding the usable areas.

 

I had no idea that the rocks that can be seen at low tide and that block shipping from the one side of the island are really man-made obstacles put in place to stop incursions by enemy craft.  Thats probably the “new information” win for the day!

After that we went back down to the Jetty, jumped back on the SIlver Crest and jumped off at Mountbatten Breakwater, wandered back up to the car at Jennycliff and that was the day done.  The Silver Crest did go around the back of the island, which may not happen every time, so that was a treat as we had not been that close to that side of the island before.

We had a great visit, it is a building site for the most part so do not expect a polished tourist experience.  On the upside, its very much a chance to see the island before it becomes one and to keep up to speed on the development.  The team are great, the place is safe and clean, we were lucky with the weather and that helped a lot.  If you get the opportunity, we can only recommend the experience, especially if you havent been over before.

Strava works on boats too!  :o)

 

Mount Batten Tower – Plymstock

During our travels around the South West Coastal Path we (Karen and I) find ourselves passing some Points of Interest, including the Mount Batten Tower.  Either head up the stairs from the Mountbatten Breakwater (turn right as youre walking away from the pier and its the only place you can go – lots of steps!) or follow the South West Coastal Walk signs from Jennycliff Car Park.

We have always managed to walk past the Tower without taking too much notice, so we thought wed have a decent look this time.  There is a plaque explaining why it is there and whats is in it.

The text is as follows:

The circular tower in front of you is thought to have been built about 1646 and 1652, probably in response to the threat of war with the Dutch.  It was named after William Batten, who had commanded the Parliamentary navy in Plymouth during the Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament.  Mount Batten headland, then known as “Stert How” had proved to be of great strategic importance during the war, and the new tower was intended both to protect the entrance to the Cattewater and Sutton Harbour, and to fortify the headland.

 

The tower is built of local limestone, with walls about 1 metre thick.  There are two upper floors and a ground floor basement.  The entrance is at second floor level with the Plymouth coat of arms over the door, and there is a stairway within the wall giving access to the lower floor and the roof.  The upper floor has a fine domed stone vault and an ornate fireplace, and there is also a fireplace on the lower floor.  The roof contains emplacements for 10 guns.  It is similar to Cromwell’s Castle on Tresco on the Isles of Scilly.

 

The Tower was still armed in 1716, when six guns were noted as mounted there.  Its last known use was as a coastguard observation post during the second half of the 19th Century.  (please let me know what the copyright is and ill do the credit).

The gate was locked up when we were there so we will have a look online to see if its opened at all, would be interesting to see the inside as described.  Anyway, here are some photos of the building…

And some of the view…

I have had a look online and can not find any references to Stert How but I will keep looking, there must be a reason its called that.  We will find some more information out about this site, it doesnt get mentioned in Holinsheds Chronicles or any histories I can find, but then it didnt get to fire at the dutch in the end.

Jennycliff and why to visit the beach!

We (Karen and I) have been spending a lot of time at Jennicliffe during lockdown, especially since we decided to (finally) ignore the “Path Closed” sign and go down to the beach.  What a surprise!  It’s given the whole area a new lease of life for us.  Im not sure if we should be going there, going around some fencing thats been put up but with enough space to get past, but there are always people there enjoying the quiet!  I have dropped a couple of notes to Plymouth City Council to find out what the score is but have yet to get a response.  In the meatime, I’m satisfied that its safe enough, the stairs are clear and the route seems stable.  Anyway…

The views from the top near the coffee shop are amazing, you can see across to Cawsands, the Tamar and the Hoe, plus some inlets that cant be seen around the corner from most of Plymouth.  These are always busy with the boats always up to something worth watching.

Once you get down the steps (which are quite steep!) you really get a surprise, its a short stony beach, plus rockpools and cliffs to explore.  A fair few people use this beach to launch (mainly inflatable) canoes and boards which I imagine is down to the free (yes free!) car park…  Its perfect for this, partly as it doesnt get deep quickly and you can still stand up quite a way out.

The view from the beach is just wonderful, as its a little bit secluded its calm, wind free and the water is really flat (which sounds silly) and not as choppy as the rest of the sound gets…

I really can’t recommend getting to know this place enough, with free parking, the coffee shop, the views and its location just a couple of miles out of Plymstock, its got to be done!

Saltram House – There Are Faces In The Trees! Spooooky!

Just a quickie, we have been walking around Saltram House, the Ride and the surrounding area for more than a year and were gutted to suddenly notice these faces halfway up the trees!  Seriously, we notice everything about the place, how did we miss this?  Of course, once we had noticed one, the other two were discovered really quickly.  I am kind of hoping they’ve just been put up, but chances are that they been there for years.

If you’re going to look for these, they are along the side of the path outside of the main Saltram site, one on the Sainsburys side, two on the other side.

Pics below, if you have any information about who put these up and what they represent, we would love to know…

Sherlock Holmes – Durnford Street – Plaques In The Pavement

A little quirk (there are plenty of them) in Plymouth is in Durnford Street, between the barracks and Royal William Yard.  Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle lived and worked in Durnford Street for a while, but despite not being there long, he used the location and the surrounding area in his books over the following years.  As a result he has been commemorated with both a wall plaque and, more interestingly, several pavement plaques with quotes from the texts.

A little bit more information is here, these are just my photos.  To find these, start from outside the barracks and head towards Royal William Yard, they are on the left-hand-side pavement, regularly spaced as you walk.

If you are a fan, its very much worth a look.  If you just want to find yet another oddity around Plymouth, here it is!

South West Coast Path – Wembury Beach – Heybrook Bay – Bovisand – JennyCliff – Mount Batten

Karen and I have been busy recently, especially taking in the South West Coast Path, trying to do Saltram House on a Saturday, the coast on Sunday and Warleigh Point Bird Sanctuary in the week.  While this is only (in total) around 15 miles a week, its enough for us!

As for the South West Coastal Path, its beautiful, genuinely a stunning set of views and a proper workout in places.  We tend to park at Bovisand Beach, in the Holiday Park, then decide which way to go.  The yomp from there to Wembury is about three miles and has some big hills and sets of steps which makes it a good workout.

Similarly, going the other way, from Bovisand to Mount Batten, is about three miles, so give yourself two hours to cover the 6 miles either one, however, the latter is more of a challenge.  On the upside, the pubs at Mount Batten and Heybrook Bay are both nice stop offs, plus the coffee shops at Wembury and Jennycliff are both good stops too.

You do get some great views over the Sound and Wembury Bay.  Some of our many photos are below.