South Devon’s English Riviera attracts more than a million visitors each year, has 20 official beaches and is one of the county’s six Marine Conservation Zones. With so much going on, it’s small wonder that, during the summer, its main beaches are full of people enjoying themselves. Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to get away from the crowds to experience a bit of seclusion.
This 6km walk takes you from Broadsands, a fun and safe family beach, along the South West Coast Path to Elberry Cove, then through woods to the delightful twin coves of Churston and Fishcombe.
One of the great advantages of Torbay is its easy accessibility by public transport – this walk can be reached by bus from Torquay and Paignton, or even by steam train from Paignton.
Wild flowers on Elberry Cove beach near Torquay, Devon, England ©Getty
Trio of Coves
Some of Torbay’s clearest, bluest waters can be found at Elberry Cove, alongside a pretty white-pebbled beach, making the short, grassy cliff walk from Broadsands well worth the effort. Elberry Cove was Agatha Christie’s favourite bathing spot and is still popular with outdoor swimmers today. Elberry Cove is just a few miles from Agatha Christie’s home at Greenway – the quiet bay featured in the author’s novel The ABC Murders as the setting of Sir Carmichael Clarke’s death. At one end of the beach you’ll find the ruins of Lord Churston’s bathhouse, built so he could swim out from a private changing area at high tide and enjoy the warmth of heated seawater in his ‘hot-bath’ room in nippy weather.
Just east of Elberry are two more coves – Fishcombe and Churston – linked by steep steps just off the wooded slopes of the South West Coast Path. Fishcombe Cove has a beach café, and visitors can enjoy safe swimming from both beaches. But it’s the grey seals that grab the most attention here. Keep your eyes peeled because these elusive mammals pop up at no notice.
The coves are prettier to visit at high tide, but if you love exploring rock pools there’s plenty to do at low tide, too.
Swimming with seals
With four fantastic beaches included in this walk, it would be a mistake not to go prepared for at least a quick paddle. If you spot a seal while you’re out, please remember that you are the visitor, not them; let them approach you, and remain calm, quiet and assertive to avoid scaring them. Find out more at: www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/sea-swimming
From the car park at Broadsands (height restrictions and charges apply), walk past the ice-cream booth and beach huts on your right and, at the end of the prom, head up the grassy track on to the cliff top. Follow the cliff round, with views across Torbay, until you come to steps leading down to Elberry Cove.
Once at Elberry Cove, take some time to explore the ruins of Lord Churston’s bathhouse, skim a few stones and maybe swim or snorkel in the clear waters.
Leave Elberry Cove by the gate at the bathhouse end of the beach and head up the steps, keeping the sea on your left as you join the South West Coast Path. These semi-ancient woods are full of birdsong in the summer and are also home to disused lime kilns left over from the days of quarrying at the now-protected Seven Quarries, which you’re walking above.
The steps down to Churston Cove are uneven in places and very steep. On the way down, have your binoculars at the ready and look for signs of grey seals. Once you reach the beach, you might be surprised to find how close you are to Brixham Harbour, and you will be able to watch boats of all kinds bustling in and out past the breakwater. Churston Cove is great for rock-pooling at low tide and for snorkelling as the tide comes up. You can also explore the woods behind the cove before you head up the next set of steps and then down to Fishcombe Cove.
Brixham’s breakwater, seen from Churston Cove, reaches into Torbay ©Alamy
By the time you reach Fishcombe Cove, you’ll deserve some refreshment, which is good news because here you’ll find both a café
Take your time over your cup of tea and keep those binoculars at the ready – Fishcombe is a popular hangout for Brixham’s grey seal population. It’s fascinating to see these protected marine mammals so close to shore, but remember that hand feeding or interacting with seals is known to put them at risk, and they can bite.
Feeling refreshed, climb out of Fishcombe Cove and follow the John Musgrave Heritage Trail towards Churston Ferrers.
A grey seal, also known as a hook-nosed pig ©Alamy
When you meet the lane, turn right, then right again at a bend in the road. You’ll find more refreshment at Churston Manor Hotel beside a
very pretty churchyard.
Churston Manor, Churston Ferrers:
A restaurant, bar and hotel located in the centre of the village, just a few hundred metres from the sea. https://www.churstonmanor.co.uk/
What you probably won’t find is the smuggler’s tunnel that is said to link the manor house to Elberry Cove, which is a shame as it would make an exciting shortcut back towards the start.
Fields and farms
As you leave the hotel, turn left and then left again. Instead of taking a third left, carry straight on to the footpath that leads across the golf course. From here, take the track with houses to the left and fields to the right until you meet a three-way junction. Turn left at the junction, admiring the beautiful stone barn as you follow the lane back down to the car park at Broadsands.
Click on the OS map below to get an interactive version of the route.
Map of the route for the walk through Elberry, Churston and Fishcombe, Devon