In the 1880s, Edward Baring, the 1st Baron Revelstoke, employed out-of-work fishermen to create for him ‘Revelstoke Drive’; a nine-mile circular carriage ride.
A member of the Baring bank family, the Baron owned the nearby country estate of Membland and wanted to entertain guests with a dramatic rides along the South Devon coast. Stone walls were built to prevent horses (and presumably their riders) from tumbling into the sea on sharp bends.
The story goes that when work was completed, the labourers looked so dejected at the prospect of unemployment once more that Baring ordered them to make it three-feet wider.
But while he was widely admired and respected in the City and elsewhere, his business acumen left a little to be desired. Under his leadership Barings took more risks in some of its work and got into such serious financial trouble it needed rescuing by the Bank of England. Baring did not play a role in the reorganisation that followed; held personally responsible, he was forced to sell his Membland estate and possessions.
More than 140 years later, Barings bank – which can trace its origins to Devon when John Baring settled in Exeter in 1717 – no longer exists: it collapsed in 1995 after suffering catastrophic losses from fraudulent investments.
Luckily for us, Edward Baring’s visionary Revelstoke Drive and its stone walls remain intact. The Drive now forms part of the South West Coast Path and makes for a spectacular ramble or run. I find it ironic his legacy lives on in the beauty and simplicity of his creation which makes use of our natural world – about as far away as you can get from the man-made financial institution of which he was part.
From the small jumbled village of Noss Mayo, we immediately climb out of the village on a rough track which eventually flattens and joins a road – where there are tantalising glimpses of the sea – until we stand at a stile which joins the coast path.
The vista takes in the seascape east and west: Plymouth and West Cornwall; Beacon Point and Agatha Christie’s retreat of Burgh Island. Beyond that the smooth headland of Bolt Tail twinkles in the April sun.
We run west, high above evocatively named coves and jagged headlands: Bloody Cove, Rugger Rock and Gunrow’s Down. Here and there skylarks sing and flutter on the easterly wind which, fortuitously, blows us along nicely.
Flowering gorse tarnish the slopes yellow and several newborn lambs trot away as quickly as the cantering clouds overhead. When not looking at the white-tipped sea we pick out landscape features: ruins of former pleasure houses, long-silent quarries and old look-out stations.
Our most westerly point is opposite the triangular hulk of Great Mewstone in Wembury Bay. Once occupied by people, its residents are now seabirds such as shags and cormorants.
We’re on the home straight now: gently coasting down through woodland alongside Newton Creek. The air is pungent with wild garlic and bluebells are beginning to show their purple hats. Pub lunch? Why not, we’ve worked up a good appetite.
START AND FINISH: Noss Mayo, Devon. Limited parking in village and public loos. No public parking by the church on Sundays. OS grid ref: SX 5500 4769.
RUN: (9 miles, 1,900ft of climb, OS Explorer OL20): From church head downhill out of village. At bottom, just before end of creek take public access route at Bridgend; climb up stony lane. The track becomes a road; keep ahead past Great Prieaux Farm. At T-junction turn right; at next T-junction cross road to stile opposite. Follow arrow-signed ‘public footpath link to coast path’. Stay on coast path for 5.5 miles – enjoy the views! – and keep following coast path signs to Noss Mayo. Path eventually turns inland to Noss Mayo through woodland, onto a quiet road and back into the village.