The word “Mountbatten” is very familiar to most people in the UK and doubtless conjures a link with the Royal family. But Plymouth has it’s very own Mountbatten – a place jam-packed with interesting history, fabulous views, activities and eateries, and (whisper if you dare) FREE PARKING! Oh and the name? Nothing Royal at all….!
Time warp back a few tens of thousands of years and the coast was quite a way away – out around the Eddystone in fact. A small river (today we call it the Plym) was busy carving a gorge through the limestone hills as it wound it’s way down from the Moors. So Nature had provided some habitable caves, above fresh then later coastal water, on grasslands with plenty of game. Unsurprisingly humans happily took up residence.
The sea was generous and provided much food and resource; there is a theory that we love the seaside so much because it is deeply ingrained in our most ancient ‘programming’. Certainly humans lived at Mountbatten because they generated a vast pile of seafood waste – a ‘Midden’ – which was found during excavations near the seaplane hangars. A Blue plaque is placed nearby.
As the sea had come much closer, a couple of thousand years ago men began to sail the seas and to trade. Bronze became a big deal, for which copper and tin are needed – and guess what Dartmoor was rich in? So from the Mediterranean lands came traders looking for metal, and bringing ideas and stories and goods. They navigated the coastline and looked for sheltered places and the smoke of habitation; how many promontory hill forts must they have known (such as Tintagel) as they sailed? I wonder what their name for Plymouth was?
With predominantly South Westerly winds they would make across the Sound and find an easy safe beach or anchorage – at Mountbatten. It’s old name was ‘Hoe Stert’ or similar – meaning ‘High Place’. Quarrying had not yet begun so the shoreline was all high cliffs other than at Mountbatten or across in Sutton Harbour.
And so trading and sailing became a staple part of life here and this is where the next stage of the story begins. The Mountbatten peninsula is shaped rather like thread of a long-necked duck (the pier making the beak!) and this is important in it’s history.
It makes a natural breakwater and protection against storms for ships anchored in the Cattewater (mouth of the Plym) and indeed for centuries this was Plymouth’s main anchorage. All the Commercial and Naval traffic was based around here and Sutton Harbour. The Dockyard and Victualling Yard would not be built for a couple of centuries yet.
Plymouth was a Royal harbour; her ships and sailors frequently carried Kings and their armies into France. Such notables as Catherine of Aragon and Pocahontas landed here – the first good port on arrival from the hazards of the Atlantic and Biscay. In later years a greater sadness would see a number of bodies from the Titanic disaster landed at Turnchapel – the village at the neck of the peninsula. (This was the base for communication-cable laying ships, one of whom was in the area of the sinking).
The ‘head’ of the peninsula was a high hill, while the neck was very low lying. This lent itself to becoming a defensive feature, as a good lookout and as a platform for guns.
This is where the ‘Mountbatten’ name arrives on the scene.
Mount? Well, that’s the hill.
Batten? That’s the name of the Civil War era military officer who had a command here – Sir William Batten. He played for both sides at various times, and after the War became a Royalist, so his name was presumably allowed to remain.
(So – nothing to do with the Royal family Mountbattens – which was an anglicisation of Batten Burg of course. The street name reference to Lord Louis is a little misplaced!)
The Civil War – a conflict between those following the Crown and those following Parliament – did much to shape the Plymouth that we know today. The town declared for Parliament and was besieged; Mountbatten was in a position to control access to Sutton Harbour so was much fought over.
Eventually the war ended; but after the Restoration of the Monarchy the enormous Citadel was built both to control the sea AND the city.
How to Visit Mountbatten, Plymouth
If you’d like to pay a visit to Mountbatten then there are a great many places to see. Here are a few suggestions and information you may need:
The Mountbatten Peninsula is an accessible location. There are toilet / disabled access facilities to service the car park. The Mount Batten Breakwater is flat nearly 300m long and used for fishing and viewing the shipping entering and leaving the harbour. There is level access from the car park with blue badge car parking. There is a bus stop within 150m (164yds).
The Mountbatten Ferry service operates between the Barbican and the Mount Batten peninsula. They operate all year round, 363 days a year. The service is an ideal and frequent way for commuters, shoppers, tourists, walkers and people on a night out with a hop on/hop off ferry link.
The Mount Batten Watersports and Activities Centre is an ideal, and safe, location for the thousands of people, of all ages, that use the Centre each year for recreational or professional use. There’s everything available from kayaking tours, kids holiday sessions, paddle boarding, diving and more.
One of Plymouth’s most historic landmarks, the Mount Batten Tower, has regular open dayys. Entry to the Tower is usually £2 per person (cash only) for a self-guided tour, with funds raised contributing to the ongoing management of the 17th Century Plymouth landmark through custodians Mount Batten Centre.
The Bridge is a fabulous restaurant that overlooks the busy Yacht Haven Marina with views across the Cattewater towards Plymouth. There are big balconies upstairs and downstairs to make the most of those sunny days and a ground floor conservatory for those chilly winter days!
Batten Bay is a small beach just below Mountbatten Point. The beach is sand and shingle with many rock pools. There are pleasant walks around Mountbatten Point, along the breakwater and up to Mountbatten Tower for some fine views across Plymouth Sound. Sheltered behind the break water, the beach offers a wonderful habitat for many marine species, such as Snakelock’s Anemones and the temperamental Velvet Swimming Crabs, allowing for some outstanding rock pooling.
There’s also some good ‘mudlarking’ to be done there too – check this out on our recent blog. Dogs are welcome on the beach all year.
The Galley Kitchen at Mountbatten, right opposite the beach is a tucked away cafe that has a no nonsense menu serving up fabulous breakfasts, generous lunches and big mugs of tea and coffee.