One of the great playgrounds around Plymouth is the bay and beach at Bovisand, on the Eastern side of Plymouth Sound opposite the end of the Breakwater.
It’s a beautiful place for a seaside stroll, and is easily accessible on foot from parking area on either side. It’s also a place that you can walk to by following the South West Coast Path, perhaps from the Wembury side or from Mountbatten – and many people make a longer walk by using the water taxi to Mountbatten from the Barbican Landing Stage.
Bovisand owes its popularity to several factors – some geographical and some historical.
Most beaches in the Plymouth area are of pebbles or of coarse grey sand – but Bovisand is of ‘proper’ sand owing to the wide sandstone gully that sits between the dominant limestones and slates of the area. It faces directly into the prevailing South Westerly weather and so sees it’s fair share of storms – but they also create the sand!
A reliable fresh water stream flows down to the beach and this is important. ‘Bovisand’ is a corruption of ‘bouy sand’; in Tudor times the water supply into Plymouth was of poor quality as was polluted – no good for ships setting off on increasingly long voyages. So a bouy was placed off the beach for the small ships of the time to tie up while their longboats went ashore with casks, which they filled from the fresh stream water. The boats could pull up easily without damage on the sand. Later, a small reservoir was built behind the beach connecting by an iron pipe to the small harbour built at what would later become Fort Bovisand, for the same purpose. They all still exist if you know where to look!
As Trade and the Navy grew, so did the importance of Plymouth – and its vulnerability to storms was made plain. So a great stone Breakwater was built as protection, and the designer supervised from a house built up behind the beach (now the caravan park). From his window he could watch, and from the beach or harbour he could take a boat for a closer look.
The threat of Napoleon also provoked the building of Plymouth’s 22 Forts, several of which surround Bovisand. Anyone who scuba dived around Plymouth between 1970 and 1990 will remember Fort Bovisand with fondness!
In the 20’s and 30’s Plymothians would take tripper-boats to Bovisand, and the remains of a concrete landing stage can still be seen on the beach. Also visible are the remains of wartime pill boxes and gun platforms, which now make great spots to sit and admire the view!
The beach itself is small at a very high tide but becomes a huge sandy expanse at low water. It is gently shelving, and with a generally onshore breeze is great for family days out and swimming, and for kayaks and paddleboards. When the wind and water are right it also makes a great surf beach. It is also a very popular spot for open-water sea-swimming, with easy parking and cafes either side – and of course a lovely sandy bottom.
Parking is payable year-round, either at the chalet park from Down Thomas or on the Fort side from Staddiscombe. The cafes on each side are fabulous for hot drinks and simple food, and it’s a great picnic spot with unbeatable views (and sunsets) – it’s a great place to dose up on your ‘vitamin sea’!
Bovisand is also a beach where you can take your dog all year round, with plenty of space for a good run.
There are plenty of places locally where you can rent a caravan, a cabin or even a luxury apartment; it is a wonderful place to experience through the length of the day, and through the year. It has a special time in the quiet and wintry times of the year when you can really feel the wind and have the place to yourself.
Away from the two cafes you’ll need to make a short drive or enjoy the walk along well-defined paths to such places as The Eddystone Inn at Heybrook Bay, or the Mussel Inn slightly inland at Down Thomas. At Wembury there is a very good beach café, as there are around at Jennycliff and Mountbatten.
Of course we should also mention the extensive development going on at Bovisand Fort. Ex-BBC chief Greg Dyke’s £35m transformation of a the Victorian Devon fort into homes will create more than 80 houses and apartments with sea views, alongside a visitors’ centre and events space, a bistro café with rooftop terrace offering views across Plymouth Sound, and a collaborative working space, in what will be called Bovisand Harbour. Phase one is almost complete.
Take a wander out to ‘Bovi’, get your shoes and socks off and go for a paddle – you wont regret it!