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Salcombe waterfront
Salcombe is located in Devon
Population 1,909 (2011 census)
OS grid reference SX7339
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town SALCOMBE
Postcode district TQ8
Dialling code 01548
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament
  • Totnes
List of places
50°14′13″N 3°46′55″W / 50.237°N 3.782°W / 50.237; -3.782

Salcombe is a popular resort town in the South Hams district of Devon, south west England. The town is close to the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary, mostly built on the steep west side of the estuary. It lies within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The town's extensive waterfront and the naturally sheltered harbour formed by the estuary gave rise to its success as a boat and shipbuilding and sailing port and, in modern times, tourism especially in the form of pleasure boats and yachting. The town is also home to a traditional shellfish fishing industry. The town is part of the electoral ward of Salcombe and Malborough, for which the 2011 census recorded a total population of 3,353.

Kingsbridge Estuary (actually a ria or drowned valley) lies between Bolt Head and Sharpitor on the west and Portlemouth Down on the east, and runs inland for some 8.6 kilometres (5.3 mi). The estuary was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in February 1987 and is also a Local Nature Reserve.


There are a number of shipwrecks off Salcombe. One is of a Bronze Age ship, one of only three known in Britain, which had weapons and jewellery made in what is now France. The Salcombe Cannon Wreck is of a 17th-century ship that contained 400 Moroccan gold coins and Dutch items. In 1936 a Finnish four-masted barque, Herzogin Cecilie ran aground on the Ham Stone and was subsequently beached at Starehole Bay, near Bolt Head. Also off Salcombe is HMS Untiring which is a Second World War submarine that was sunk in 1957 as a sonar target.

A description of the South Hams is given in the 9th century charter S298. This does not show Salcombe but its area is part of Badestone (Batson). "Salcombe" first appears in the records in 1244, on the boundaries of Batson and West Portlemouth. In 1570, there were 56 mariners while two years later another survey shows five ships under 60 tons at Salcombe.

In 1566 there were ten seine nets at Salcombe while in the 1580s Salcombe fishermen travelled to Padstow annually for the new herring fishery. While there they rented cottages and storehouses.

During the English civil war the town sided with the Royalists and held out against the Roundheads. The ruins of Fort Charles remain towards the south of the town. It held out from January to May 1646 and was the last Royalist stronghold. This fort was built for Henry VIII to defend the estuary. It was slighted on the orders of Parliament.

There is little record of the town between 1650 and 1750, but it is thought that the inhabitants lived by fishing and smuggling. In 1764, the first holiday home, The Moult, was built in Salcombe.

In the 19th century, Salcombe was a major centre for shipping in the fruit trade. Salcombe vessels sailed to Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean as well as to the Azores and Newfoundland. The fruit cargoes were oranges and lemons from the Azores, and pineapples from the Bahamas and West Indies. Other cargoes brought back included sugar, rum, coconuts and shaddocks. In addition wood such as ebony and mahogany was brought for furnishing ships. Salcombe and Kingsbridge were busy ship building places, producing the Salcombe schooner. This was a fast boat that could be sailed with few hands. However, almost half the fleet were lost with all hands. A mutual marine assurance association had been established in 1811 to insure Salcombe ships.

The Salcombe fleet also was involved in the coastal trade supplying coal from Wales and taking away cider, malt, grain and slates. A ferry to Brest was set up in 1870 but did not last.

By 1871, the central part of Salcombe, excluding the outlying districts, numbered 776 people, with 34 shipwrights and 13 ships carpenters. There were also five sawyers, three block makers, two ship's riggers, three sail makers, a tin plate worker and four blacksmiths. However, in the 1870s the fruit trade declined due to outbreaks of orange and pineapple disease and because of the advent of steamships. Some work was found taking salt to Newfoundland and returning with cod but by 1914 there were only three or four locally owned trading ships in the estuary. At this time there was the start of pleasure sailing at Salcombe with the yacht club being founded in 1874. One of the boats raced was the Salcombe Yawl for which an owner's association has been set up.

Salcombe became a ship registry port in 1864, but still came under Dartmouth for customs. A customs house was later built at Salcombe which still exists. Between 1796 and 1887 at least 200 vessels were launched from Salcombe. To have more space the shipyards were extended by reclaiming the foreshore. These were later built over and new ones made in Shadycombe Creek. However, many vessels were lost, including seven local boats off the Azores in November 1851. There were four sailmakers lofts at Salcombe and three shipsmiths in 1851. The majority of the Victorian houses seen in Salcombe today were built by shipowners and masters. After 1880, with the advent of steam propulsion and larger ships, there was less new construction and repair work. Salcombe's seamen and craftsmen moved to the deep sea fishing ports or to the dockyards.

A turnpike road was built to Salcombe in 1824. Originally Salcombe was part of Malborough parish but a chapel-of-ease was built at Salcombe in 1401. The parish church was not built until the 19th century. The population of Salcombe was 972 in 1841, but had risen to about 1500 by 1850. There is also a Wesleyan Chapel and a Catholic church.

Between the two world wars Salcombe developed as a holiday resort, with Salcombe Sailing Club being founded in 1922.

During the Second World War a radar station was set up on Bolt Head and Salcombe became an Advance Amphibious Base for the United States Navy in September 1943. The Salcombe Hotel became the latter's headquarters and 60 other properties were requistioned, as well as Quonset huts being built on the hill near the Rugby Club. Whitestrand Quay and slipway was constructed. 137 officers and 1793 men were based at Salcombe. 66 ships and many auxiliary vessels sailed from Salcombe on 4 June 1944 as part of "Force U" which landed on Utah Beach, Normandy. Afterwards Shadycombe Creek and Mill Bay were used to repair damaged landing craft. The base closed on 7 May 1945. A plaque was set up in Normandy Way to commemorate the United States Navy. Salcombe and district suffered a number of bombing raids during the war and a list of the casualties is available online.

The former radar station at Bolt Head near Salcombe was set up to be used as the Regional Seat of Government in the event of attack during the Cold War. This has subsequently been dismantled.

There have been many changes to the Salcombe Waterfront since World War II, the most noticeable being the construction of the Creek car and boat park, and the road to Batson. Salcombe became an urban district following an Act of Parliament in 1972.

The Pier and Harbour Order (Salcombe) Confirmation Act 1954 established the harbour as a statutory harbour under local authority ownership (i.e. a municipal port) and conferred powers on the urban district council of Salcombe (which was later to be incorporated into the South Hams District Council) to "authorize the Council to construct works to maintain manage and improve the said harbor and estuary and to levy tolls rates and charges and for other purposes."


Salcombe estuary from Sharpitor
Kingsbridge estuary from Sharpitor Salcombe is on the left, Sunny Cove beach on the right, and in the middle distance the estuary meanders towards Kingsbridge

Salcombe and Kingsbridge estuary lies between Bolt Head and Sharpitor on the west and Portlemouth Down on the east, and runs inland for some 8.6 kilometres, with numerous side channels. The "estuary" is actually a ria or drowned valley caused by rising sea levels rather than a true estuary: in total the estuary covers an area of 674ha of which 446 ha are inter-tidal. At high water the length of 'coast' within the ria is 48.6 km. Although there are no major water courses entering the estuary, its total catchment area is 6800 ha (or 68 km2). The estuary was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in February 1987 and is also a Local Nature Reserve. Furthermore, in 2014 the European Sea Ports Organisation awarded the harbour Eco-Port status.

Bar and RNLI lifeboat

Towards the mouth of the estuary is the Bar, a spit of sand protruding from the east bank which is exposed at low spring tides. In this state of tide and with strong southerly winds the bar can make the entrance to the estuary nearly impassable.

It is believed that Lord Tennyson's famous poem "Crossing the Bar" was inspired by a visit to Salcombe during the 19th century. The poem begins with the lines,

Sunset and evening star and one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea

The moaning refers to the noise of the water breaking over The Bar. Salcombe Lifeboat Station was established by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1869. In 1916 the Salcombe lifeboat, an open rowboat "The William and Emma", was capsized crossing The Bar resulting in 13 of the 15 crew's lives being lost. However another crew was soon formed and the station continues to this day. There is Tamar-class all-weather boat and an Atlantic 75 inshore boat. The original lifeboat station on South Sands is no longer used and there is a lifeboat museum and shop in Salcombe town, at the lifeboat station itself.


The Jubilee Pier at Salcombe

Further into the estuary on the east side are a series of popular sandy beaches: Sunny Cove (nearest the bar), the large Mill Bay, Cable Cove (the landing point of a cross-channel cable), Small's Cove and Fisherman's Cove. Adjacent to Fisherman's Cove is a landing slip used by the ferry — open-topped clinker-built motorboats — from Salcombe directly across the estuary, communicating with the hamlet of East Portlemouth (and much used by tourists for access to the beaches).

From East Portlemouth you can link up to the National Trust Coast Path. A popular circular walk is to Gara Rock.

Opposite the Bar on the west side of the estuary are the beaches of South Sands and North Sands. A picturesque ferry operates between Salcombe and South Sands, with a Sea Tractor ferrying passengers between the boat and the South Sands beach. South Sands beach has been awarded the coveted Blue Flag Beach status for several years. The adjacent North Sands and Mill Bay beaches share the same high standards of cleanliness and water quality but have not sought the award because of cost considerations.

North of North Sands Salcombe town begins, occupying the steep west side of the estuary opposite the beaches and East Portlemouth and extending north and west into the first of the estuary's many creeks: Batson Creek by Snapes Point. Others, including Southpool Creek and Frogmore Creek, branch off to the east and north east, while the main channel continues to Kingsbridge itself. A larger boat operates in the summer as a ferry between Salcombe and Kingsbridge when the state of the tide permits. Salcombe now also has spread down the west side of The Berry below the main road to Malborough.

Sailing and other marine-based activities

Although Salcombe harbour hosts a small but active shell fishing fleet of approximately 20 boats (the largest of which is less than 20m in length) the harbour is primarily a recreational leisure port which accommodates approximately 1600 residential yachts and power vessels, and which welcomes around 6,000 visiting vessels a year (2015 figures). There are no commercial vessels which ply their trade in this harbour, predominantly because the Bar at the harbour entrance limits the maximum draught (and hence size) of visiting vessels. The estuary is a relatively sheltered body of water upon which a wide variety of marine pursuits take place: Standup Paddleboarding, kayaking, yacht and dinghy sailing and racing are popular activities, as is swimming from one of the many beaches within the estuary. The harbour has inspired its own class of dinghy known as the Salcombe Yawl

Also up the estuary, there is the ex-mersey ferry, Egremont, which is owned by the Island Cruising Club.

Salcombe Sailing Regatta

Salcombe Yacht Club hosts the Salcombe Yacht Club Regatta every August, attracting up to 400 dinghies in 10 or more dinghy classes plus handicap fleets. The Salcombe Yawls take pride of place as they were all designed and built in Salcombe using traditional boatbuilding techniques. The sailing regatta classes include: Fast & Asymmetric Handicap,RS200, Medium Handicap, Enterprise, Larks, Laser Standard, Laser Radial, Topper, Junior Handicap, National Twelve, Salcombe Yawls, Solos and Cruisers.

Salcombe Town Regatta

The Salcombe Town Regatta and sailing regatta form a very popular and busy fortnight in Salcombe. The order in which they run switches each year and usually coincides with favourable tidal conditions for the various events.

The Salcombe Town Regatta is the busiest week in the calendar year. Family friendly events include mud races, the cross harbour swim, fun-run, rowing races, swimming gala, sandcastle competition, fishing competition, water treasure hunt, land-based treasure hunt, spot the bloomer, crabbing competition, fireworks, Crabbers Race, torchlight procession, children's sports and family fun day, fancy dress parade and air displays. Occasionally the Red Arrows are booked to perform over the estuary.


Because of the narrow streets and the priority given to pedestrians, a park and ride scheme operates during the summer from the outskirts of Salcombe. Near Salcombe primary school is a swimming pool. The rugby club is a centre of activities during the winter. A locally flavoured pantomime is put on near Christmas.

The Salcombe Maritime Museum, founded in 1975, has information on the fruit schooners and other items of interest. Temporary exhibitions are arranged each summer mainly with loaned items. Since 1991, the museum has occupied the ground floor of the former council offices and the collections have expanded to fill the two rooms completely.

By South Sands is Overbeck's a house and gardens belonging to the National Trust. In the house are inventions of Otto Overbeck.

Salcombe is a good place for walking and is on the South West Coast Path. It is also the terminus of NCR 28 from Okehampton, part of the National Cycle Network.

The nearest golf course is at Thurlestone being 11.4 miles from Salcombe and there are various tourist attractions in the district. Dartmouth Golf & Country Club is close to the historical town of Dartmouth and is 16.3 miles from Salcombe. Wrangton Golf Club is 17.8 miles from Salcombe and half of the course is on Dartmoor amongst the sheep and half set in a luscious green valley.

There is a 20m outdoor heated swimming pool in Salcombe which forms part of the Salcombe Primary School. Run by volunteers, it is situated at the top of town on Onslow Road with parking available at the swimming pool.

The pool is open May to September each year and is available for private hire outside of the opening hours.



Due to its unspoilt beauty, sandy beaches and harbour facilitating sailing and yachting, Salcombe has one of the highest average property prices in the UK, soaring above Sandbanks, Poole in recent years. Many of the shops, bars and restaurants in the town, especially towards the waterfront, cater for a predominantly well-off, fashionable and nautically-inclined clientele, with prices to match. There are many clothes shops and art galleries. Salcombe has hotels and bed and breakfast establishments as well as self-contained apartments and houses which help its population soar from approximately 1900 in the winter months to nearly 25,000 during the height of the summer.

Salcombe has a number of boatyards and marine stores, while boats are stored on the carpark by the fishing quay during the winter. There is a power boat school and SCUBA diving is popular, although consent from the harbour office must first be obtained to ensure safety. The town and yacht club regatta weeks are one of the main features of the summer season. There are races for dingies and yachts as well as crabbers in addition to other activities. Salcombe Estuary Rowing Club is a member of the Cornish Pilot Gig Association and takes part in races around the south west.

Fishing is still carried out at Salcombe, mostly of shellfish. About 2,000 tons a year were landed between 1986 and 1990.

The Marine Hotel was bought in 2012 by the Harbour Hotel Group and transformed into the Salcombe Harbour Hotel at a reported cost of £12million. Fourteen villas and apartments were constructed in front of the refurbished hotel and sold off-plan in 2012-2014 at prices were from £1.2 to £2.85 million. Some villas are used exclusively by the owners and others are rented out as holiday lets.

Stores include Fat Face, Joules, Musto, Henri Lloyd and White Stuff. Fashion brand Jack Wills was founded in 1999 at 22 Fore Street.

Salcombe is also home to Cranches, the oldest sweetshop in Devon.

Notable people

Salcombe residents include;

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