Stepping out in Salcombe, Devon

Although not quite offshore, Salcombe in Devon has the feel of an island and is the perfect place to escape to at this time of year, writes Trudy Turrell Pictures by Martyn Norsworthy

Candy-coloured cottages climb up from the water’s edge and the town looks as though it almost floats on the turquoise waters of the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary. A popular yachtsman’s port of call, in summer it can attract as many boats as its 1,500 residents! The sparkling waters and ample opportunities to get afloat will easily tempt you to see it from the water too.

 Once crammed with shipyards which built fast and elegant fruit schooners, the narrow main street is now full of chic yachty clothes stores, food, craft and enticing coffee shops, where you can linger over a latte and gaze out at the ever-changing water with boats moving against a fabulous backdrop of beaches and rolling hills.

Get off to a good start

By car or by bus from Kingsbridge or Plymouth, the A381 runs through high-banked hedgerows, frothy with Queen Anne’s lace and decorated with pink campions. As you sweep down the steep hill into town, the panorama of Salcombe opens up, edged with its sparkling estuary waters and beaches and green hills beyond.

Why visit now?

In June you can enjoy Salcombe’s summer sunshine without the crowds! Boats are shipshape and newly painted for summer sailing, restaurants and coffee shops welcome you with space to relax, and the local gardens in this sunny corner of Devon are full of flowers.

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Catch Salcombe Festival too, which is a celebration of Salcombe in music and sail. Jazz, rock’n’roll, gospel, folk street entertainers and classic boats are a winning combination. As one of the sunniest parts of the county, Salcombe’s sheltered estuary beaches offer the chance to soak up some early summer sun. Sample a sailing lesson, snap up some summer togs with nautical flair in the many chic casual clothes shops, and stroll through clifftop meadows. You’ll feel as though you have been away on holiday – without the air miles!

Don’t miss

Getting afloat: take the magical short trip from the centre of town to South Sands on the ferry, or simply cross the estuary to East Portlemouth for the best sandy beaches with to-die-for views. Get a taste of sailing a Hobie Cat, kayaking or the latest craze, stand-up paddling, at South Sands Sailing, where there are two-hour taster sessions on offer. If you really wish to know the ropes you can learn whilst you live in the middle of the estuary on the Island Cruising Club’s converted Mersey ferry, Egremont.

Indulge: in Salcombe Dairy ice cream, made just up the road, from its Fore Street shop. Most popular is their honeycomb, closely followed by choc and cookies ‘Salcombe mud’! Give the children a few pennies to spend ages choosing sweets in the pink-and-white striped Cranch’s Sweet Shop. Crammed with jars guaranteed to bring on nostalgia, Cranch’s have been satisfying sweet tooths for 140 years.

Eat and drink: a frothy cappuccino or Ghirardellis hot chocolate in the Salcombe Coffee Company in Fore Street will warm you up after being on the water. Find the secret garden, complete with playground and friendly chickens, behind the Victoria Inn a few doors up. Nearby North Sands has the best beach caf� – an oversized pink beach hut where you can sit outside and watch the waves. At night the indoor menu offers delicious local seafood and regular barbeques.

Hot summer colour: red salvias, blue agapanthus, crinodendron hookenanium, with its bright lantern blooms, and the blue yucca Beschromeria yuccoides star in the National Trust’s lush Overbecks Gardens, near the estuary’s mouth. The home of an Edwardian eccentric, the house is full of treasures, toys and curiosities.

Take the plunge: if it rains or you fancy a little luxury, head for the pool, jacuzzi and steam room of the newly reopened Salcombe Harbour Hotel. Their large pool looks out across the estuary waters and day visitors are welcomed. Or for outdoor swimming (with socking views) why not head for the outdoor pool in Onslow Road.

Go Green       

Step out in any direction for a fabulous walk beside the water. Simply follow the water’s edge from the town to the sea, past North and South Sands, then up to Overbecks Gardens and the South West Coast Path. Pass through an enchanted landscape of rocky spires and pinnacles to Starehole Bay, site of a Viking wreck and bracing Bolt Head.

Cross the water to East Portlemouth’s beaches and follow the coast path around to Gara Rock for clifftop meadows speckled with flowers, a hidden beach and patterns of Bronze Age fields. These and other walks are all described at

Enjoy the View

Cross the water for a fabulous perspective of Salcombe. Its hotels, cottages and fine villas behind provide a colourful backdrop to the endless activity of craft on the water. Take the open ferry to East Portlemouth and watch whilst you imbibe a cuppa at the Venus Caf� above the beach. Or wander along the low tide line to Mill Bay beach for a panorama from town to sea through the estuary’s mouth. 

Getting there...

By road: the A379 from Plymouth and A381 from Totnes both meet at Kingsbridge. The A381 continues south to Salcombe

By bus: regular bus services from Totnes and Plymouth city centre to Kingsbridge. From Kingsbridge there are buses to Salcombe

By train: Totnes station 16 miles, Plymouth 24 miles

 Sat"Nav "Ref: TQ8 8DE

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