- From the Beesands end of the shoreline car park, facing the sea, turn right onto the seafront and walk through Hallsands to the end of the road.
In the sixteenth century, there was a chapel at Hallsands and the village started to grow around it in the next hundred years. By 1891 there were 159 people living here, in 37 houses, most of them crab fishermen and their families. When walker-writer Walter White arrived here late one afternoon in 1855, walking from London to Land's End, it was a 'lonely, wild-looking place where several dozen cottages stretched along recesses in the cliff above a shingle beach.' In the tiny London Inn in Hallsands they put four chairs together for him to sleep on in the parlour, and he slept like a log, 'lulled by the solemn plunge of the surge upon the beach, not forty feet from the window.' At that time the village was made up of just two rows of houses, set closely together on the rocky platform above the pebbly beach.
Soon after this work began on expanding the naval dockyard at Keyham, near Plymouth, with the sand and gravel provided for its construction by means of offshore dredging at Hallsands. Adviser for the scheme was Devonport MP and marine construction engineer, Sir John Jackson, who had been knighted for the harbours, locks and docks he built worldwide. He assured protesting villagers, fearful for their shoreline, that tidal action would rapidly replace the shingle taken from the beaches, and dredging went ahead on the Skerries Bank in 1897.
The villagers were right to be afraid. The lost shingle was not replaced, and in 1903 a storm wiped out the outer row of houses at Hallsands. A sea wall was built to protect the settlement, but another great storm undermined the remaining houses in 1917, and villagers abandoned them before they too fell into the sea. They were rehoused in the cottages across the valley.
- By the house called Seathatch bear right along the South West Coast Path and follow it along the cliffs to drop down into Hallsands.
The cliffs above Hallsands are home to a breeding colony of several hundred kittiwakes, who live out at sea but return to the coast in the summer to build mud nests on cliff faces. Look out, too, for the sleek brown and white guillemot and the black-and-white-headed razorbill, sitting on the waves just offshore, and watch for them making deep dives as they hunt fish in the water below. Above the cliffs look out for kestrels, small birds of prey with tails fanned and wings beating rapidly as they hover overhead looking for small mammals such as voles and mice.
- Walk along the back of the beach at Hallsands and bear right and then left, up some steps. At South Hallsands, beside Trout's Apartments, bear right down the road.
Formerly Trouts Hotel, Trouts Apartments in North Hallsands was built by the three Trout sisters who were among those left homeless in 1917 after the village had fallen into the sea. Earlier in the year one of them, Ella, had witnessed the torpedoing of a steamer while she was out fishing for mackerel and she swam to the rescue of an American sailor, whom she saved from drowning. She was awarded the OBE for her bravery, and the man's grateful family sent a very generous cash gift which enabled the sisters to build the guest house.
- Opposite Trout's car park, a little further on, turn right to cross the stile onto the footpath. Follow the right-hand fence through the fields and onto the green lane.
This is the first of several green lanes featuring in this walk. They are part of the area's extensive network of the ancient routes taken by feet, hooves and wheels for many centuries. Some of them date back to the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago (see the Woodhuish & Mansands Walk).
- Turn right on the road to go through Bickerton.
- At the left-hand bend, beside 'Tolcott', bear right onto the green lane, signed Bridgeway Lane, turning left at the road beyond.
- Beside the stream, shortly afterwards, turn right onto a track and follow it onto the green lane beyond.
Note the willow grove alongside the stream. For generations, this has provided the withies for making the crab pots.
- Bear right at Higher Middlecombe Farm, taking the green lane to follow the red waymarker.
- On the road turn right, turning right again a moment later to follow a green waymarker, pointing to Beesands.
Beesands was also a fishing community that grew around a sixteenth-century hamlet. In the middle of the nineteenth century, dozens of fishing boats worked off Beesands beach, bringing in sizeable catches of eel, cod, crab and lobster. Some commercial fishing is still carried out in the bay and the fishermen sell their catch to local inns and restaurants, but the general decline in fishing in south-west England took place here too, and further storms in 1979 reduced the business to crab fishing and tourist angling.
- Turn left at the bottom of the field as you descend towards the sea, following the waymarker. Turn left onto the Coast Path at the end, and retrace your steps to the car park.