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National Walking Month: Ha’penny Bridge to Devonport, via Antarctica!

Did you know that May is National Walking Month? So why not help celebrate by following some of the walks that we’ll be uploading to Made in Plymouth over the next four weeks. Not only is it great for your health, but also a great way to see more of our city, explore the areas that you haven’t been to before – and learn a lot more about our heritage and how to look after it. Bracken Jelier takes us on one of her favourite walks.

We all know Plymouth – don’t we? But if asked you to tell us about the last time you followed Richmond Walk, visited Bogey Knights, looked at Plymouth from a different angle or visited quaint little Mutton Cove, what would be your answer?! 

And when was the last occasion on which you proudly took a visitor to see the magnificent memorial to one of Plymouth’s most famous Naval sons, at a place from which the vital activity of the Navy was signalled and controlled? 

At Made in Plymouth we like to look beneath the skin of a place, and this walk lends itself most wonderfully to doing exactly that; this is not allegedly the most salubrious part of the city and the post war period was not always kind to the people of Devonport, after blitz-ruined areas were filled with blocks of flats. The Dockyard steadily shrank in employment terms and depression of an inner-city style prevailed here.

But today it is resurgent with great re-developments of stylish apartments in a fitting style as well as refurbishments of building released from Government use. Old flats have been flattened and attractive new housing stock put in their place. Areas ‘lost’ inside the Dockyard Walls have been released back into the public domain, and things are very lovely!

‘Ha-penny bridge’ at Stonehouse is simply a road today, but before World War 2 it was still a bridge, over the Creek that led past the Royal Naval Hospital to Pennycomequick and the foot of Ford Hill (so called because that was where the lane forded the stream).

Stonehouse Pool and Creek were busy places in Victorian times, full of boat building and quayside activity. They still remain occupied in the same fields although the floating palaces of Princess Yachts and the marina boatyards would seem a fantastical thing to sailors from the days of wood and canvas. 

But as you walk across the ‘bridge’ and use a little imagination – replacing the green grassy playing fields with water, you can see how it all fitted together. 

At the far side we turn left into Richmond Walk, a small and busy road leading past working yards and marina services to the Mayflower Marina complex, which set the pattern in Plymouth for the waterside redevelopment of worn-out wharf-space. This was 1970’s style! A Railway once ran down from where the City College now stands, and there was a small station halt along Richmond Walk.  This was one of the places from which Emigration ships operated in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, carrying people to America, Canada and Australia. In wartime these were busy quaysides, and in the movie ‘The Cruel Sea’ the fictional corvette HMS Compass Rose is readied for sea here, her crew marching of the (then) open quaysides. 

Keep following the road past the small cottages until you reach the large Marina gates. Inside is the newly reopened Jolly Jacks, now owned by restaurateur Jason Bond and his wife Hannah.

Continue around the bend; there is an interesting view up the Tamar from here. We however are bearing up to our right, you will see the wide pathway heading uphill on the curve. This walkway will take us above the old boatyard, and the Georgian boathouses with their tall arched entrances. The MoD still retains this small area, from which (the steps to the waterside from Admiralty House up above are called the ‘Queen’s Steps’) gigs would be rowed out to ships at anchor in the Hamoaze and the Sound. 

You can follow the path at this level if you wish, but we are going to divert under the archway and up the steps – toward the South Pole…..

Plymouth has many fine memorials and a wealth of high quality public statuary, but (apart from the Naval War Memorial on the Hoe) perhaps the best is to be found here, on Mount Wise, unknown to many.

This is the Scott memorial – Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN having been raised at the family home near Milehouse. ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ captured the public imagination and was immortalised after the doomed expedition in which he and his companions perished. They are all remembered here, the tale is told in words and pictures, and an angel looks over Scott’s shoulder out to the open sea to the South.  His final words, written on the night he died, are spelled out above the Hamoaze, and are indeed stirring. He died on 29 March 1912, almost exactly 105 years ago. 

The view from this spot is very beautiful, and full of points of interest. Across to Mount Edgcumbe, to the Royal William Yard, to the still-working old Mashfords boat yard. Here old Men’O’War were anchored as hulks, for training bases or as prisons for Frenchmen. It is a fine sight indeed. 

Behind Scott’s memorial stands Admiralty House, and below our feet are extensive tunnel systems designed to protect Plymouth’s Naval command from enemy attack in WW2 and into the Cold War era. Large parts of this area were still in MoD hands until quite recently. 

We will walk across the hillside toward The Redoubt, a fort in the hilltop with a large mast-like structure on top. 

Today this is decorative, but this is where the flag systems that sent orders to ships were operated.  The fort itself is another of Plymouth’s many defensive positions, intended to deter Monsieur Bonaparte!

Dropping down the hill from the Redoubt, find the path again that will take you back onto the tarmac footpath that we were on earlier. This runs on the level above the outdoor lido pools placed here in the 1980s. One of the best outdoor swimming pool complexes in the country, Mount Wise features three pools – a 25-metre main pool, a fun pool with fountains, stepping stones, a whirlpool, and a bubble pool, as well as a small pool for children to paddle in and build their confidence in the water. The facility has fantastic views across the Tamar River into Cornwall and entry is free! It’s re-opening this month.

This whole area is rather pleasant in the summertime – and a good fishing spot for many (see one of our latest instagram reels for our chat with some local fishermen!) 

The Richmond Walk pathway will bring you out at Mutton Cove, beside the rather wonderful Plymouth institution of Knights Surplus – loved by all as ‘Bogey Knights’. 

Located in what was once the stables of the fort (yes, another one) this warehouse yard contains the most incredible assemblage of maritime objects and equipment, and it is well worth a visit for curiosity value! For over a century the Knight family have been dealing in the cast-offs of the Navy. Take a look.

Mutton Cove is a quaint spot, today a small harbour with little activity. In a previous age it was a busy spot for small boats, a mast pond for timber storage, and a place of boatbuilding, homes and several pubs, with ferries frequenting the pier. Tucked under the Dockyard Wall it was one of several places where the ‘outside’ world meshed with the ‘inside’ of ‘The Yard’. 

Looking up river you can see the figurehead statue of ‘King Billy’ – William of Orange – who started the modern Navy on its path to success. Above him is his ‘rotunda’ – a circular summer house from which he could survey the fleet. And behind him is the covered Number One Slip of 1763, the oldest in any Royal Dockyard. If you ever have the opportunity to take a tour of the South Yard, take it! (There is even a gallows to deal with anyone foolish enough to attempt Arson in the Dockyard…)

We now follow uphill away from Mutton Cove; you will see a tall slim stone column standing proud of the houses, and that is where we are headed. You will now have reached Devonport. Here your walk ends. But the story doesn’t. We’ll be putting the next part of our walk into the Culture Blog shortly – so keep your eyes peeled! 

Richmond Walk, Stonehouse, Bogey Knights, the Devonport Column. Walk this route around Plymouth to find out more about the city’s heritage.
Richmond Walk, Stonehouse, Bogey Knights, the Devonport Column. Walk this route around Plymouth to find out more about the city’s heritage.

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