Only 18 miles from Totnes the village of Hallsands near Kingsbridge in south Devon is the village that fell into the sea. To say the village is still there would be bending the truth slightly, however the remains (which are now closed) can still be seen from the safety of a viewing platform over the cliffs.

No-one knows exactly when Hallsands was established although some say it was probably in about 1600 and growing in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1891 it had 37 houses, the London Inn and a population of 159 with a very close community. Most residents owned their own homes and depended on fishing, mainly crab, for a living. It was a hazardous business with irregular earnings and frequent losses at sea. Everyone, including women and children, helped haul in the boats and nets.

Everything was fine until the 1890s when the Admiralty decided that the naval dockyard at Keyham near Plymouth should be expanded which required hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete. In January 1896 the construction company Sir John Jackson Ltd was granted permission to dredge shingle from the coast between Hallsands and neighbouring Beesands. Many fishermen at the time, who knew the area offshore intimately, opposed the plans saying the dredging would alter the seabed as well as the beach and what was taken would certainly not be replaced.

Despite the resident’s protestations dredging began in the spring of 1897 and during the next four years some 660,000 tonnes of material were removed. Activity was eventually paused when opposition from several fishing villages grew as they saw their shingle beaches being relentlessly carried away.

 

It took 18 years from the start of the dredging to the final destruction of Hallsands village. It had been assumed that the removal of any shingle would be replaced naturally but we now know that the same shingle which protects the nearby villages of Beesands and Torcross was deposited thousands of years ago during the ice ages, and is not being replaced.

 

An inquiry was established in response to protests from villagers who feared the dredging might threaten their beach and village, but dredging continued after it was decided that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat. However by 1900 the level of the beach had started to fall and in the autumn storms that year, part of the sea wall was washed away. In November 1900, villagers petitioned their Member of Parliament, Frank Mildmay complaining of damage to their houses, and in March 1901 Kingsbridge Council wrote to the Board of Trade complaining of damage to the road.

The Liberal MP for the area was extremely supportive of the residents of Hallsands and on more than one occasion offered his own money to help out the residents.

In September 1901 a new Board of Trade inspector concluded that further severe storms could cause serious damage and recommended that dredging be stopped and on 8th January 1902 the dredging licence was revoked.

On 26th January 1917 a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached Hallsands’ defences and the village fell into the sea! Miraculously no one was hurt but many families had to relocate to neighbouring villages having lost everything.

Only one house was left standing after the destruction. The owner Elizabeth Prettyjohn stubbornly refused to leave and lived there with her chickens until her death in 1964. She acted as a guide to the visitors who came over the years curious to see the remains of the village. Today her house is used as a summer holiday home.
Another famous Hallsands resident was Ella Trout together with her sisters Patience, Clara and Edith. When their fisherman father, William, became sick, Patience and then Ella gave up school and operated his boat which was the only source of income for the family. William died in 1910 when Ella was 15 years old. On 8th September 1917, after the Hallsands disaster, Ella was crab fishing with her 10 year old cousin William when they saw the SS Newholm struck by a naval mine one mile south of Start Point. With William Stone, another fisherman in the vicinity, they rowed to the scene and helped rescue nine men. In recognition of her bravery she received the Order of the British Empire.

The sisters, with compensation for the destruction of their cottage at Hallsands plus some earnings, built Trout’s Hotel on the cliff above the deserted village. The Trouts ran the hotel successfully until 1959. More recent owners moved down from London and attracted some of their well-known friends to stay including Danny La Rue and Larry Grayson, and for years their signed photographs hung on the walls of the dining room. The hotel has since been turned into apartments now called Prospect House.

In more recent years the story of Hallsands has been turned into an opera called ‘Whirlwind’ commissioned by acclaimed company Streetwise Opera and written by Will Todd, one of the country’s leading young opera composers, and Ben Duwell, and has also featured in a book by Steve Melia called “Hallsands; A Village Betrayed”.

You can walk to Hallsands from the villages of Beesands or Torcross following the South West Coast Path. Beesands, albeit a small village, has a café and toilets and free car parking. Torcross is bigger with a few cafes and a pub and more (charged) parking. Please note that you can no longer drive from Blackpool Sands to Slapton Sands and then on to Torcross because of the recent storms and road damage which in itself is somewhat ironic.

Hallsands and Beesands are both walkable with a moderate degree of accessibility from Torcross, which has ample (paid) parking. Beesands however has free parking. If driving from Totnes head for Dartmouth, then Slapton and finally Torcross.

If you want to travel by bus you can take the 164 to Kingsbridge or the X64 to Dartmouth and then catch the number 3 to Torcross. All routes joining the coastal villages are part of the South West Coast Path and therefore accessible at all times.

You may be interested in...

The Dart and Totnes – Bridges and Bridgetown

Flowing from two sources on Dartmoor, down to the sea at Dartmouth, Totnes is an important stop along the River Dart situated between the moors and the river's mouth. The town offers an excellent jumping off point for exploration of the river whether by foot, boat or canoe, and is the point where it becomes tidal. Even for those who just want to admire the river without getting their feet wet there are many ways to enjoy the Dart, and many things Totnes has to thank the river for – and the two bridges crossing it. Bridges and Bridgetown Totnes Bridge has the honour of being the last bridge to cross the Dart before it reaches open sea, as plans to build a railway bridge across the river mouth from Kingswear to Dartmouth in the late 1900s never came to fruition. There have been multiple bridges across the river in Totnes beginning with a river ford and evolving to the familiar stone bridge today. It was once a toll bridge that separated Bridgetown from Totnes until it was opened up on October 31st 1881 for everyone to cross. A second bridge was built in 1982 and although less picturesque than the older bridge was necessary for the increasing amounts of traffic passing through Totnes and across the Dart. It is named the Brutus Bridge after the legendary founder of the town. Whichever side of the bridge you're on there are many places to enjoy the river from. Vire Island is worth a visit for anyone looking for a nice spot to enjoy a picnic. Although not a proper island the 400m peninsula is named after the French town Totnes is twinned with (not Narnia) and is the perfect spot for contemplating the river from in the summer. And there are plenty of restaurants  and cafes to eat or enjoy a drink in, high tide or low, rain or shine.

World Breastfeeding Week begins

Mums on a Mission… Totnes on its way to becoming UK’s most breastfeeding friendly town as World Breastfeeding Week begins As World Breastfeeding Week begins on Wednesday 1st August, two mumpreneurs from Devon are delighted to announce that they are on their way to making Totnes the UK’s most breastfeeding friendly town. On a mission to improve breastfeeding rates in the UK, which has according to UNICEF some of the lowest in the world, working mums Lisa Lessware and Philippa Doyle launched their ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme in March. Widely known for its unique vibe and independent spirit, nearly every cafe and eatery on Totnes high street is now displaying the latest breastfeeding friendly badge. Over 40 cafes, eateries and businesses have signed up to the ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme in Totnes alone, all highlighting their support of breastfeeding mums. Both the NHS and UNICEF list embarrassment at feeding in public as a major barrier to breastfeeding and Lisa and Philippa wanted to do more to minimise this, helping mums be safe in the knowledge that they can do so with confidence.   blog   Lisa and Philippa are welcoming nominations for new establishments to display the badge. Gathering with local mums in Totnes to celebrate putting Totnes on the map as the UK’s most breastfeeding friendly town, they said – “We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of the scheme, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response and passion to show support to breastfeeding mums. The ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme is so important not just for mums, but to let all customers and diners that walk through the door to know that it is a breastfeeding friendly space. The more women who feel able to breastfeed confidently in public, the more normal it will become.”   blog 2     Lisa and Philippa celebrate putting Totnes on the map as one of the most breastfeeding friendly towns in the UK with local mums, ahead of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) The family friendly destination store, Dobbies Garden Centres, became the first official national retailer to sign up to the Bshirt ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme during National Breastfeeding Week in June, with the badge becoming a permanent fixture in all 34 centres throughout the UK. The scheme has been commended by leading breastfeeding specialist, trained nurse and midwife, Clare Byam-Cook. Author of the top breastfeeding guide 'What to Expect When You're Breastfeeding and What If You Can't?', Clare is a regular main speaker at The Baby Show and an expert on many sites including Annabel Karmel. Commenting on the launch of the latest scheme, Clare said: “It is well-documented that many mothers feel apprehensive about breastfeeding in public. I am delighted to support this initiative, which I hope will encourage more mothers to feel confident that, whenever they see this badge they can be assured that breastfeeding is encouraged and they will receive a warm welcome. I hope this idea takes off and that many businesses will display this badge.” blog 3 The ’Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ badge on display at Delphini's Gelato in Totnes Signups in Totnes range from cafes, restaurants, business and shops, including - Rumour, The Curator Cafe, Waterside Bistro, Hairy Barista, Maisie’s Cafe, Hill House, Mange Tout, Saveurs, South Hams Citizens Advice Bureau, The Old Bakery, Pie Street, Room 101, Seeds Bakery, The Cornish Pasty Co, Delphini's, Zero Waste, Woods Bistro, Rare Breeds Farm and Willow to name just a few. In and around the South Hams, the response has been equally positive with the likes of Riverford Field Kitchen and The Venus Company displaying the badge. blog 4   With the world spotlight on breastfeeding, the news follows the US announcement that it is now legal to breastfeed in public everywhere in the United States, following the passing of laws to legalise public breastfeeding in Idaho and Utah. Lisa and Philippa are looking forward to welcoming even more businesses to the scheme in the South Hams and beyond to help women in the UK breastfeed with confidence. To read more about the Bshirt’s ‘Breastfeed Here with Confidence’ scheme, register interest or nominate a venue to display the badge, visit breastfeedwithconfidence.org.uk. blog 5    

Watersports in Totnes

As we move into 2019, being active and healthy is top of the agenda for many people. It can be a struggle to get motivated during winter, as gyms can be expensive as well as overcrowded and temperatures outside plummet, making outdoor exercise very unappealing.

Weaving healthy activities into a weekend away is a great way to stay active whilst having fun. From canoeing in the Isle of Wight to hiking in the Lake District, last-minute holiday marketplace, Snaptrip has compiled the best spots in the UK to get some fresh air and stay active this January.

Watersports in Totnes

Totnes is bursting with outstanding natural beauty. Sitting at the head of the estuary of the River Dart, it’s the perfect location for watersport enthusiasts. There’s plenty of spots perfect for paddle boarding or exploring the river by inflatable SUP. The river winds its way through both Dartmouth and Totnes, so there’s a chance to explore both towns too. Paddle the river during the summer months and you’ll be welcomed by rolling hills and flourishing greenery.