WWII?RAF station our base of operations

By Contributed in Local People

Norman Maudsley writes: Three walking mates and I headed from Dawlish and Teignmouth down to the old Harrowbeer Airfield near Yelverton to meet 13 Newton Abbot ramblers for an eight-mile walk.

Today’s leader and back marker were husband and wife duo Alan and Hazel Hulme. After welcoming two new walkers who had joined us on this glorious winter morning they explained the outline of the route we were to follow.

We set out over this well-manicured airfield with the remains of rectangular concrete bases for huts together with the occasional circular one for anti-aircraft guns.

This was RAF Station Harrowbeer, operational from 1941 to 1945. The World War Two airfield was part of 10 Group Fighter Command, opening on August 15, 1941 and closing in July 1945.

Rubble from the Blitz on Plymouth was used as hardcore during construction. Most free-standing structures are now long gone. However, many clues to their existence still survive.

Records show that RAF Harrowbeer had people serving from Poland, Canada, USA, France and Czechoslovakia as well as Britain, all working together on the same project, keeping the West Country safe.

Harrowbeer provided aircraft for convoy protection against E-boats and U- boats in the English Channel and later, aircraft to escort bombers attacking targets in the area of the Brest peninsula. It was also home to 726 Squadron, Air Sea Rescue.

Among the aircraft flown from these grass runways were Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheims, Walruses, Ansons, Mustangs and Typhoons.

At times there were more than 2,000 personnel serving on this airfield. The morning could not be more different from those days 70-plus years ago. The area was so quiet and peaceful, with not a trace of the wartime smells that would have filled the air.

Leaving the airfield behind we headed north for Buckland Monachorum. Entering this well-kept village with pretty cottages surrounding the parish church, we found this to be an ideal place to sit and enjoy the tranquillity while enjoying our morning coffee stop.

There has probably been a church of some sorts on this spot for more than 700 years, and possibly dating back to Saxon times. The solid stone church has a high tower containing a ring of eight bells that often peel out across the surrounding countryside.

Coffee break over, most of the group took the opportunity to look inside the church to view the memorial to a George Augustus Elliot, Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar. His lasting claim to fame was that he and his men successfully defended Gibraltar during the long siege by Spain from 1779 to 1783. His memorial is worthy of his great deed.

Moving off, our route took us to the south-west corner of Dartmoor. Passing Berra Tor we started our descent down into the valley of the River Tavey with its disused tin mines.

We made our way through this natural woodland to find our lunch spot at Double Waters, another perfect space with plenty of rocks to perch upon while enjoying our packed lunch. Double Waters was named as where the lesser River Walkham having passed through Sticklepath Wood connects with the much bigger River Tavey on its way to join the River Tamar and finally discharge in to The Sound in Plymouth.

Lunch over, it was time for the group to leave the rivers behind. We joined the West Devon Way climbing steadily upwards through woodland that finally gave way to wonderful common-land with grass kept short by grazing sheep.

On this pleasantly sunny afternoon we soon realised that we were once again walking over the Harrowbeer Airfield. Before heading for the cars Alan told the group before we started the walk about a cafe on the edge of the airfield which was also a museum displaying artefacts gathered from the area.

The cafe at Knightstone was built in 1896 and later became the original watch office for RAF Harrowbeer from 1941 to 1945. Today it houses the Harrowbeer Archives including photographs, and Royal Air Force-related memorabilia along with copies of the station and most of the squadron operation records which can be viewed on request.

The cafe is open every day and is worth a visit for refreshments and to view a free exhibition of wartime Plymouth.

Most headed for their cars, but five regular walkers sampled the wares of the cafe while unwinding before hitting the road back home on the day that Plymouth was getting excited over meeting Liverpool for a replay on their own ground.

Back home I know at least one of our group would be watching the match on TV, by now those interested will know the score.

REGULAR readers of this column will remember that last Boxing Day I visited one of our Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers following his keyhole surgery for bowel cancer in Torbay Hospital. The good news is that since he has been home I have been out walking locally with Gordon Yeo to help with his recovery to get back to full health.

It is good to report that on Friday afternoon I met up again with Gordon on John Nash Drive for a longer walk including some hills.

By field paths and green lanes we headed out in a loop around the back of Holcombe before striking up onto Holcombe Down to exit high up on Higher Holcombe Road known locally as Piggy Wig. Turning left it was time to start heading down into Teignmouth.

Time to leave the countryside behind after a chance to take in the far-reaching views over Dawlish and Lyme Bay.

Dropping down Piggy Wig the views over to the Teign estuary and the harbour opened up.

Entering the urban area we wound our way down through Teignmouth where we cut through St James’ churchyard, the parish church of west Teignmouth. It’s thought a church building has been on the site from the mid-13th century, when there were two settlements in the area in east and west Teignmouth.

The oldest part of the present church is the clock tower which holds eight bells, still rung every Sunday and for special occasions.

It was rebuilt in 1821 and restored in 1890, with its latest restoration work in 1953 following the Second World War bombing of the east end of the church. This picturesque gothic-style hexagonal building stands proud, still serving the community today.

Moving on past Bitton Park House, the home of Teignmouth Town Council, once the home of poet, Matthew Praed.

Following part of the TeignmouthDawlish Way as it passes by the back of Teignmouth Rugby Club, we crossed Shaldon Bridge.

The present bridge was opened in 1827 and operated as a toll bridge. It replaced a wooden bridge built by the Romans but long since vanished. It had 34 wooden arches and a length of nearly one-third of a mile. At the time it was the longest wooden bridge in England.

On the warm, clear day we could make out Dartmoor up river and the working docks down river.

Over in Shaldon we kept close to the river as we wound through the village, stopping for a packed snack while watching the Teignmouth plate dredger stirring up the base of the channel, which moves the sand out with the strong ebbing tide.

Time to head up to the top of The Ness where Gordon took some photos of Teignmouth from the high vantage point.

Rested from the hill we passed the pitch-and-putt golf course. Those who know this area will appreciate there now came a real challenge for Gordon up the long hill. This gave us time to ease up and take in the view back across Teignmouth and out over Lyme Bay.

Soon we were hitting the countryside again to wind around the nature reserve before heading on down the lane back to Shaldon.

Retracing our path back over Shaldon Bridge we treated ourselves to a hot drink and cake in the superstore before heading back home to Dawlish.

Gordon enjoyed the walk and didn’t suffer any ill effects from it –well done!

ON?SUNDAY 10 Teignmouth and Dawlish regular walkers headed to Broadsands for an eight-mile walk on another warm sunny day around the area led by Richard Farr, our voluntary walk leader for the day.

Booted up with packed lunch and warm drink we headed first down to the coast to join the South West Coastal Path around Churston Point.

Here the path now passes between high hedges around Churston Golf Club, eventually arriving above Churston Cove. We carefully started the descent eventually breaking to enjoy our morning coffee stop on the rocky headland in a perfect spot to enjoy the warming sun.

The rest of the descent was better using steps that had been constructed in the face of the slope.

Down in the cove it was time to leave the sea behind and start heading inland, picking up the John Musgrove Heritage Trail which took us over a dismantled railway and on past Churston Ferrers and Churston Cross.

Crossing at the busy A379 we re-entered field paths to take us on to Greenway House.

From this high position we overlooked the River Dart as it winds in wide sweeps through the Dart Valley. A good place to sit on a well-positioned tree trunk, we again enjoyed the welcome January sunshine, eating our lunch while taking in the views.

The Greenway estate is steeped in history having been the home of many famous navigators and merchant explorers including a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Humphrey Gilbert who founded the colony of Newfoundland while searching for the North West Passage.

Our route wound around high ground with changing views of the meandering river far below before we started our descent down to Galmpton Creek.

Using the Greenway Walk we left the creek behind and headed up to Galmpton back to the cars. We passed under the Hookhills Viaduct, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. With nine arches it stands 85 feet high and 116 yards long, a fine memorial of Brunel’s achievements.

Used by the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway, the construction of this massive stone monolith commenced in 1860 and opened for the railway in 1864.

Back at the cars Richard was thanked by all present for a fine walk before heading home.

Need I say that our car of four called in on the way home to unwind over tea and cake...­

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