Stretching along the coastline of Bigbury Bay, and protected by the headland known as Bolt Tail, is a small village that many people are unaware even exists. A well kept local secret that boasts two glorious sandy beaches and an array of small eateries, Hope Cove is a delightful hidden gem worth visiting in any season.
Hope Cove – A Merging of Two Tiny Fishing Hamlets
Hope Cove is, in fact, the merging of the two tiny isolated fishing hamlets of Inner Hope and Outer Hope, and is located roughly midway between the well-known resort of Salcombe and Bigbury-on-Sea.
The impressive tidal Burgh Island can be viewed from the village and on a stormy blustery day, it’s hard to imagine that a causeway does exist at low tide!
The two hamlets were, until the 1970s, in different parishes. Inner Hope stood in the Parish of Malborough, and the congregation had to get to the Church of All Saints in Malborough itself. The residents of Outer Hope had to travel to the South Huish Parish Church of St Andrew.
The Spanish Armada and Hope Cove
In 1588, a Spanish Armada, of 130 ships carrying 30,000 men, sailed up the English Channel with the aim of removing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and restoring Catholicism to England.
The Spanish ships had passed close to Hope Cove as they moved up the Channel and once again as they retreated after being forced to abandon the invasion. On the 28th of October 1588, a great storm blew the San Pedro el Mayor (St Peter the Great) onto the Shippen Rock between the two hamlets of Inner and Outer Hope, as she attempted the retreat back to Cadiz.
There are a number of records pertaining to the San Pedro, including one dated November 5th 1588 by George Cary of the Cockington Estate who was Deputy-Lieutenant of Devon, and was visiting Plymouth at the time of the shipwreck:
“And during my abode there, having understood that one of the Spanish flee was cast on shore (at a place called Hope near Salcombe) and the great pilfering and spoils the country people have made, I rode thither and took order for the restoring and rehaving again of all such things as either by search or inquiry I could find out, and have put the same in inventory.”
Cary mentions that there were, “thirty mariners, one hundred soldiers, fifty appertaining to the hospital. There are now remaining about forty, or thereabouts.”
The only ship from the Armada, to have been wrecked in English waters, has never been discovered. However, timbers from the San Pedro are said to be found in the Village Inn at Thurlestone and Spanish armour, found in a wall locally, can be viewed at the Cookworthy museum in Kingsbridge.
Pilchards and Plunder
Like numerous small villages around Devon and Cornwall, Inner and Outer Hope were fishing ports that relied heavily upon the Pilchard industry along with lobster and crabs. This meagre existence would have been heavily supplemented by the smuggling trade, which reached its zenith in the 18th century, and the plundering and rich pickings of the many ships that were to founder off the rocks in the Bigbury Bay Area.
One such tragedy was the HMS Ramillies that sunk just off Bolt Tail on Valentine’s Day in 1760 with a huge loss of life. Of the seven hundred crew aboard less than thirty survived.
The Church of Saint Clement at Hope Cove
As mentioned earlier the villagers had to travel long distances to reach their respective churches. Consequently, many of the villagers stopped going to church at all and so it was decided to build a Chapel of Ease (ie. more accessible to the outlying parishioners), perched high on the cliff between the two hamlets, which was consecrated in June 1861.
The church is dedicated to the patron saint of tanners and mariners, and there is a fine window of St Clement above the altar, in the east window, created by the stained glass artist James Patterson in 1970.
A later un-dated stained glass window of St Peter, patron saint of fishermen, can be found to the rear of the church in the west wall.
Eateries in Hope Cove
Since the 1950s the Hope Cove has become a tourist destination, albeit far more low key than nearby Salcombe; and to this day remains relatively unknown to visitors outside of Devon.
There are numerous places to stay, either self-catering or a choice of hotels such as the Hope and Anchor, that offers fresh Devonshire produce and especially the local seafood.
Locals travel far and wide to eat at the gastropub – The Cove, and even on a blustery March day, the place was jam-packed with walkers. Like the Hope and Anchor, all produce is sourced locally and can be washed down with one of the many craft beers on offer at the bar.
Last but not least, a mention must be given to the quirky Lobster Pod that offers the most glorious views over Bigbury Bay in a number of purposes built heated pods, that need to be pre-booked.
Salcombe – A vibrant estuary town that’s full of small independent shops and places to eat. With an unspoilt harbour and a number of small beaches in the area, Salcombe is a water lovers paradise.
Bigbury-on-Sea – can be found just a short hop along the shoreline of Bigbury Bay. It has a wonderful sandy beach and a tidal island, Burgh Island, that can be clearly seen from Hope Cove.
Malborough – The sleepy village is home to the impressive ‘Cathedral of the South Hams’ which houses a 16th-century altar frontal and magnificent stained glass windows.