Outdoor Space

Start Point’s Lighthouse, Shipwrecks and Dolphins

The most southerly headland in Devon, Start Point is a beautiful Site of Special Scientific Interest. Exuding drama, fragile tufts of rare lichen and flowering plants cling to the sides of wind-scoured cliffs and dolphins and porpoise reside in seas littered with the wrecks of countless ships.

The name “Start” derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for tail: “steort”. Jutting almost a mile into the sea on the south side of Start Bay near Dartmouth, the headland provides one of the most spectacular settings for coastal walks and picnics in the UK. 

Not just a magnificent beauty spot, Start Point has huge scientific and environmental significance too. Comprised of green-schist and mica-schist rocks that draw geologists from afar, it is also home to rare lichens, invertebrates, flowering plants and breeding birds on land, and gorgeous marine mammals and fish in the sea below. 

Shipwrecks

Start Point’s striking headland is contrasted by the dangerous clusters of submerged rocks that swarm the surrounding waters, including the notorious Black Stone Rock. These treacherous rocks, combined with strong tides, rippling waves, eddies and hazardous currents, make for an incredibly dangerous strip of water. 

In fact, so dangerous are these parts for sailors that the coastline from Start Point to Dartmouth has become a real ship graveyard, strewn with shipwrecks from over the centuries, from warships and submarines to cargo ships and steamers. One nearby wreck-site produced a whole horde of Bronze Age axe heads, rapiers and a gold torque dating from around 3,000 years ago in a discovery that rewrote the history books. 

Other discoveries have included a collection of Islamic gold coins, jewellery, gold ingots and nuggets dating back to 1635, as well as whole cargoes of China clay, timber, tea, minerals, jewels and silver. Of course, huge numbers of men and women have been included amongst the casualties too, and it was the heavy loss of lives that eventually led to the creation of Start Point Lighthouse. 

Start Point Lighthouse

Approved in 1834, construction of Start Point lighthouse began in 1936. The brainchild of James Walker, who had already designed 29 lighthouses including the Needles and Wolf Rock, it was constructed with walls 4.6ft thick in parts and built up to the grand height of 67ft. Originally lit using vast oil burners, the light we see flashing from the lighthouse today comes from a 1,000 watt bulb shone through a series of connecting prisms that refract light into a single luminous beam.

Nearly 30 years after the lighthouse was built, a fog bell was installed in 1862 that could boom on its own for 4.5 half hours. Although this wasn’t a bad start, a much more effective fog siren was introduced in 1876, emitting a powerful siren that could be heard all the way in Salcombe. Initially manned by just two lighthouse keepers, this was increased to three with the arrival of the new fog siren to ensure the smooth running of the machinery – and to add some extra company!

Although the creation of the lighthouse hugely improved sailors’ abilities to safely navigate the waters around Start Point, it still didn’t put an end to the wreckage of ships on the area’s infamous rocks. Particularly dangerous were storms, when foul winds and raging seas would turn even the grandest, sturdiest of vessels into vulnerability toys. One especially catastrophic storm came in the form of the Great Blizzard of 1891, when at least seven ships were lost around Start Point alone and only a handful of survivors were plucked from the sea.

Wildlife 

Start Point is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, protected for its unique geology, rare lichens and invertebrates, and the array of rare flowering plants, breeding birds and sea life who call the area home. Despite its exposed position, even butterflies and moths are big fans of the headland, and notable species have included the Silver-Studded Blue. 

At the base of the cliffs, rock pools support a phenomenal ecosystem, boasting some rare species of seaweeds which only thrive in the warmest of Britain’s waters. In the sea, dolphins and porpoises are regular visitors, while the headland is home to a colony of resident grey seals who can often be seen nonchalantly bobbing about in the water and sunbathing on the rocks. Annual summer visitors like sunfish can sometimes be spotted, and if you are really lucky, you may even see a whale too.

Feeling inspired? Why not stay at one of our luxury cottages in Devon?

Start Point Lighthouse, Start Point, Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 2ET

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