I was walking through Newton Wood on the banks of the River Yealm in Devon, my dog stirring up the scent of wild garlic as he scampered through the undergrowth, when the sound of a large bird breaking cover stopped me in my tracks. A black shadow swooped over the wood’s gnarled Monterey pines, dived low across the water and skirted some expensive looking yachts before disappearing into the trees on the other side of a small creek, offering up a tantalising glimpse of white plumage as it did so. An osprey? I wondered.
‘Buzzard,’ said a voice behind me, as if reading my non-ornithological mind.
I turned to see a bearded, grizzled local leaning on a stick, an equally battered-looking collie at his feet.
After a few minutes conversation about local wildlife, I asked him who owned the moorings for the flashy boats anchored in mid-stream. ‘That’d be those bastards at Kitley,’ he said, before ambling off.
I was taken aback. Rarely had I encountered such coarseness in the decade I had been coming to the village of Newton Ferrers on holiday. The Kitley Estate, I knew, was situated upriver on the Yealm, home to a rather grand, if austere, house, mainly used for weddings and conferences, which had been recommended for its cream teas. I determined to investigate what sort of bastards lived there. Which meant nothing more arduous than going for scones and jam.
The waterside village of Newton Ferrers is just about the last hurrah of the South Hams before you come to Plymouth. Popular with the yachting fraternity, it has nevertheless managed to avoid the overcrowded fate of Salcombe to the east. No clothing or gift shops dominate the main street of Newton Ferrers – there’s a Co-op, a butcher, a village-owned post office, a pharmacy and the Dolphin pub. All the essentials, none of the fripperies. It sits on the northern bank of a tidal creek off the Yealm estuary, facing its sibling Noss Mayo, which occupies the (slightly) more shaded side of the valley. The path over to Noss – known as the Voss – may not be one of the village’s most attractive features, but is certainly one of its best assets.
The Voss is a concrete walkway that is only uncovered at low tide, meaning you can cut out the twenty-minute or more walk around the creek via Bridgend and stroll across from the Dolphin to the Swan Inn on the southern side. From there is a second crossing (‘The Noss Voss’) which cuts across to the Ship Inn. All three pubs have outside seating areas where you can watch the tidal rhythm that dominates village life – low tide brings out the shoppers crossing from Noss, the kids for crabbing, walkers heading for National Trust forests to pick up part of the South West Coastal Path and, of course, the pub crawlers who will try and knock off all three inns before the waters claim the walkways once more.
If there is a drawback for the holidaymakers to this bucolic spot, it is probably that there are no sandy beaches on the immediate doorstep, although you could argue this has been something of a saving grace. In fact, for sandhogs (and walkers) a seasonal ferry operates from Newton Ferrers harbour across to Wembury Point and the coastal path which will deliver you to Wembury Bay, where there is a marine life centre, a café and a series of sandy and rocky bays with excellent rock pooling.
But for me the best of the beaches is the brace of privately owned ones at Mothercombe, about four miles from Newton Ferrers, which are only open at weekends and Wednesday in season (parking: £4.50). The part of the beach with facilities (refreshments, toilets) is out-of-bounds for dogs from Easter-October, but I think the second pooch-friendly option on the estuary is the more dramatic of the pair. I still recall the first time I saw it at low tide, the sands marbled by a skein of sun-sparked rivulets and the air freckled with sand thrown up by the hooves of a half-dozen galloping horses.
I subsequently made enquiries about riding on the beach at the stables in Newton Ferrers (newtonferrersequus.com) and was told the outing was reserved for experienced riders, as the horses like to have their head once they realise it’s a day at the beach. My own style of riding being very regal – i.e. comparable to a sack of King Edwards – I have never actually tried the Mothercombe hack. It looks like fun though.
On my recent trip I discovered that Kitley House (kitleyhousehotel.com) does indeed offer a decent afternoon cream tea that is best taken out on the small terrace, overlooking the water and fields with rabbits, pheasants and geese. Whilst unwisely tackling my second scone, I glanced over the brochure outlining the history of the estate. “The Pollexfens (pronounced Poulston) resided at Kitley until 1710, when Edmund Polloxfen died,” it read. “Anne, the heiress of the estate, married William Bastard of Gerston Manor…”
Well, the estate is still family owned, and so I realised my fellow dog walker and I had been talking at cross purposes when he told me who owned the moorings. The Bastards of Kitley do. With a capital “B”. And very nice they seem, too.
- The Ship Inn (01752-872387/ nossmayo.com) is the best bet in Newton Ferrers/Noss Mayo. Excellent fish and chips, lovely views. Cream teas at Kitley House (01752-881555/ kitleyhousehotel.com) from £7.50.
- Toad Hall Cottages (01548 202020/toadhallcottages.co.uk) has a selection of self-catering cottages in Newton Ferrers/Noss Mayo, many that welcome dogs and offer short weekend breaks (three nights from around £300) out of high season.
- Visit South Devon (visitsouthdevon.co.uk) has detailed information on the South Hams, including accommodation and dog-friendly beaches.