Plymouth, historic home port of the sea-dogs of Devon
The great naval base of Plymouth is a city whose history is laced with memories of such famous seafarers as Sir Francis Drake and the Pilgrim Fathers. Its docks and harbours, where warships mingle with ferries, fishing boats and yachts, seem a world away from the muddy creeks and tree-lined rivers on the Cornish side of the River Tamar, and the sands and cliffs along the coast sweeping westwards towards Looe.
This rock-flanked beach is backed by holiday chalets and a dinghy park. There is some sand at low tide, and an artificial pool, filled by the tide, is an attraction for children.
The B3247 from Hessenford runs seawards down a deep, wooded and beautiful valley carved by the River Seaton. At the mouth of the river a sandy beach backed by fine shingle is overlooked by a holiday camp.
A narrow lane runs westwards to Mur-rayton, notable for the Monkey Sanctuary founded there in 1964 by Leonard Williams, a writer on zoology. Visitors can see Amazon woolly monkeys roaming free, and learn about their habits and the structure of their breeding colony. The sanctuary is open daily in summer, except on Saturdays.
Squeezed into a long, narrow strip between steep slopes and the sea, the village has a beach where fine shingle leads to extensive low-tide grey sands. The slopes shelter the south-facing beach from northerly winds, allowing palm trees to grow, and there is an inn right on the beach.
A tiny harbour, tucked away in a rocky cove at the western end of the village, recalls the days when Portwrinkle was a haven for fishermen who sailed out to net pilchards. Paths lead down to a sandy beach overlooked by a golf course. The beam of the Lizard lighthouse, 50 miles away, can be seen from the nearby village of Crafthole on a clear night. Fishing trips and boat trips are available.
FINAL DEPARTURE FOR A JOURNEY TO THE NEW WORLD
The Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Plymouth, 1620, by B. F. Gribble (1873 – 1962).
Plymouth is famous as the port from which the
Pilgrim Fathers sailed for the New World – the decisive step in a voyage that had begun from
Southampton a month earlier. Two ships,
Mayflower and Speedwell, had set out on this perilous venture, but the Speedwell was old and entirely unsuited for the 3,000 mile journey.
When she sprang a leak, both ships sailed into
Plymouth, and when the journey was con tinued on September 6, 1620, the Mayflower was alone. The point in Sutton Harbour from which 102 Pilgrim Fathers finally set out is today marked by a memorial. Two months later the
Mayflower dropped anchor off Cape Cod. The
Pilgrims endured many hardships before the new ‘Plymouth Plantation’ began to flourish. The Mayflower Mem or ia
A granite cross beside the road at Tre-gonhawke emphasises the fact that Whit-sand is not safe for swimmers. It commemorates Edmund Spender and his two sons, all of whom were drowned near by in 1878. Strong cross-currents and deep, tide-carved gullies are the main hazards, but the beach itself offers 4 miles of sands reached by paths which zigzag down cliffs more than 250 ft high in places.
The area around Tregantle Barracks – built as a national monument after the Napoleonic Wars – is used by the army. Red flags fly and access is prohibited when the firing ranges are in use.
The bay looks delightful on a calm, sunny day, but is pounded by surf when strong winds sweep in from the south-west. In the days of sail it was a graveyard for many ships which were driven ashore after struggling to round Rame Head and reach the sheltered waters of Plymouth Sound.
A ruined chapel, built at the end of the 14th century and dedicated to St Michael, crowns this lofty viewpoint and is reached by walking for 10 minutes from the car park near the coastguard lookout. The chapel originally had a beacon which blazed to guide ships safely to Plymouth. Its more recent counterpart, the Eddystone lighthouse, can be seen 8 miles offshore.
The lane to the headland passes St Germanus Church in the hamlet of Rame. The building, parts of which date from the 13th century, is still lit by candles.
Narrow streets and old, colour-washed buildings make the twin villages of Cawsand and Kingsand every bit as attractive as their commercialised counterparts elsewhere in Cornwall. Their sand-and-shingle beaches are sheltered from the prevailing winds by Rame Head and offer fine views of ships sailing in and out of Plymouth.
The bay was a great centre for smuggling in the 18th century when bladders of brandy, concealed beneath women’s skirts, were taken to Plymouth. It was also an important anchorage before Plymouth breakwater was built. In 1815 the bay was visited by the warship taking Napoleon to exile on St Helena, after his defeat at Waterloo. Patriotic locals foiled a plot to rescue him by towing his ship out to sea.
A delightful walk runs northwards ; the bay and passes through oak wooi before reaching the ferry at Cremyl trips can be arranged.
MOUNT EDGCUMBE COUNTRY PARK
The 800 acre park is open throughout the year and offers superb views of Plymouth Sound. Its focal point is Mount Edgcumbe House, a Tudor mansion that was rebuilt after being destroyed by bombs in 1941. The main entrance is at Cremyll, where a ferry takes pedestrians across to Plymouth.
Torpoint is a busy little town with two Royal Navy shore bases and a ferry which provides excellent views of the naval dockyards at Devonport. To the south is St John’s Lake, a deep inlet of tidal marshes and saltings. At Upper Wilcove, to the north, a small creek is crossed by a road washed by high tides.
Grounds landscaped by Thomas Repton surround Antony House, a mansion built between 1712 and 1721. It now belongs to the National Trust and is open to the public in summer, though descendants of the Carew Pole family, owners of the estate for 500 years, still live there.
Travellers who pause to explore Saltash discover an interesting little town of narrow streets, attractive old buildings and riverside walks with spectacular views of the River Tamar’s two great bridges. The Royal Albert Bridge which carries the railway was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunei and completed in 1859. It runs alongside the slender suspension bridge that was opened 102 years later. A plaque near The Boatman pub in Old Ferry Road is a reminder that the road bridge replaced a ferry service dating from the 13th century.
The heart of Plymouth was rebuilt after being devastated by air raids during the Second World War, but the Barbican area around Sutton Harbour has retained many links with the history of the city. Narrow streets pass such gems as the Elizabethan House, furnished as it would have been in Sir Francis Drake’s time, and the Island House where the Pilgrim Fathers are believed to have lodged before sailing to North America in 1620. Their voyage is commemorated by the Mayflower Stone and Steps in
Sutton Harbour, where fishing boats now mingle with private craft.
Other famous people who sailed from Plymouth include Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin. It was also the port where four of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs landed in 1838 on their return from transportation to Australia.
Sutton Harbour is watched over by the Citadel, a fortress completed in the 1670s to guard Plymouth Sound. In Plymouth’s rebuilt centre, Armada Way is a broad thoroughfare that sweeps gently up to Hoe Park. The Hoe, where Drake finished his game of bowls before sailing out to attack the Spanish Armada in 1588, is dominated by the red and white Smeaton’s Tower. Built by John Smeaton, it was the third Eddystone lighthouse, dismantled and shipped back to Plymouth after the rock on which it stood had been eroded by the relentless sea. The Hoe commands panoramic views of Plymouth Sound and its mile-long breakwater. Designed by John Rennie and made of limestone and dovetailed granite blocks, the breakwater took 28 years to build and was completed in 1840. Drake’s Island, once a fortress and prison, can be visited by boat from Mayflower Steps.
Devonport, on the western side of the city, was established as a naval base in 1691 and endorsed Plymouth’s long-standing role as one of the bastions of British sea power.
Plymouth’s attractions include a theatre, a museum, art gallery, aquarium, and indoor and open-air swimming pools. There are fishing and river trips, sailing and windsurfing schools and many sailing clubs. Navv Days are held at the end of August.
The clifftop car park above Jennycliff Bay provides splendid views of Plymouth and Plymouth Sound. Steps cut into the cliff lead to a small beach of shingle and rocks where the ebbing tide leaves many pools.
This sandy bay, flanked by low rocks, is overlooked from the north by Fort Bovis-and, the regional headquarters of the British Sub-Aqua Club. It was one of many coastal defences built during the 19th century. To the south, Wembury Point comes under the guns of HMS Cambridge, the Royal Navy’s shore-based gunnery school. Red flags fly when the range is in use.
BEAMS THAT FLASH A
WARNING TO SHIPPING
ROUND OUR SHORES
On wave-lashed rocks, lofty headlands and rocky outcrops, Britain’s lighthouses have been flashing their warning signals to shipping for almost 300 years. Some warn of a nearby hazard, such as a submerged reef, others indicate the approach to a navigation channel while lighthouses like Eddystone and Bishop Rock warn against the perilous rocks on which they stand.
The traditional lighthouse shape evolved through the need for a broad, solid base to withstand the pounding of the sea, and for a round tower to minimise the buffeting of the winds. The earliest structures were built of wood and were usually square or octagonal in shape. Most either fell down or caught fire within a few years. It was not until 1759 that John Smeaton, a London clockmaker, devised a solid, fireproof design using interlocking granite blocks for the construction of the third Eddystone lighthouse. In doing so he introduced a new era of lighthouse building, and many lighthouses built to his basic design are still in operation after more than 100 years.
As efficient as the lighthouses are the men that run them. On duty on some remote lighthouses for four weeks at a time, with four weeks off, they must be good-humoured types able to get on well together in lonely isolation. But they are a dying breed, for one by one Britain’s lighthouses are being converted to automatic operation.
OPEN TO VIEW Many luud-based manned lighthouses are open to the public, free of charge, each afternoon except Sundays or during fog, at the discretion of the keeper. Some of the remoter Scottish lighthouses have no set times for visits.
GUIDING LIGHTS The intensity of a lighthouse beam is measured in aindlepower, or candela. The most powerful Trinity House light, with 5 million candela and a range of 26 miles, is at St Catherine’s Point on the isle of Wight. Power for the light is supplied by diesel-driven generators. Each light has its own characteristic sequence of flashes, which distinguishes it from others. The flashes are governed by blackened sections of the lantern window which interrupt the beam as the lantern rotates.
THE LIGHTS OF EDDYSTONE
The Eddystone rocks, 14 miles off Plymouth, have ripped open many a ship approaching the Devon port. The first lighthouse built there was erected by a ship-owner, Henry Winstanley, who had lost two vessels on the treacherous reef. His flimsy structure of 1698 was strengthened in 1699, but was washed away in 1703, taking its designer with it. Six years later a London silk merchant, John Rud-yard, erected a wooden lighthouse which lasted for 47 years and was destroyed by fire on the night of December 2,1755.
John Smeaton’s granite lighthouse, which had 24 candles and could be seen 5 miles away, went into action in 1759 and lasted for 120 years. Even then it was the appearance of cracks in the rock on which it was built, rather than any fault in the lighthouse itself, which caused it to be replaced. It was dismantled and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe as a memorial to Smeaton, and its successor built in 1882 is well on its way to equalling its longevity.