Michael Portillo treks the South Hams

By Richard Harding   |   Kingsbridge and Ivybridge reporter   |
Wednesday 22nd September 2021 10:34 am
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Michael Portillo Channel 5

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The South Hams features on tonight’s episode of Coastal Devon & Cornwall with Michael Portillo on Channel 5.

The former Defence Secretary and MP unexpectedly lost his safe Enfield Southgate seat in the 1997 general election. He has since reinvented himself as a presenter of travel programmes most famously his Great Railway Journeys which have taken him around the world as well as closer to home. He has recently set aside the iron horse for Shanks’s pony to follow sections of the South West Coast Path which runs between Minehead in Somerset and Poole in Dorset.

Michael’s trek begins in North Devon at England’s highest cliff, The great Hangman, where Exmoor meets the sea, past Ilfracombe and Bull Point lighthouse before crossing into Cornwall with a stop-off at Tintagel Castle, well known for the legend of King Arthur and Mount’s Bay, the counties’ biggest natural harbour.

Back in Devon but the south this time and his first day in this area begins near Start Point and continues past hidden coves.

Viewers will hear the extraordinary story of Hallsands, the village that fell into the sea on the night of 26 January 1917.

Dredging work nearby to supply sand and gravel for the expansion of Devonport naval dockyard in Plymouth began in 1897 and in the following four years around 660,000 tonnes of material was removed. On the fateful night the prevailing sou’westerly winds swung round to the north-east and coupled with an exceptionally high tide, the sea pounded the houses causing devastation.

Miraculously all the residents managed to scrabble to safety.

128 people had lived in the village and only one, Elizabeth Prettejohn, remained in her home.

Next stop to the north is Beesands which suffers from widespread flooding during the winter storms and a coastal cleanup by boat also featured in the one-hour episode.

The three-mile long shingle beach at Slapton Sands comes next with its lagoon, the largest freshwater lake in the region. Michael learns the dark story of the up to a thousand US troops killed practicing for the D-Day landings. The tragedy happened on April 28 1944 during Exercise Tiger. German E-boats stumbled across the practice session and destroyed two of the landing craft. Bodies washed up on the beach for days to come.

His second day begins with a walk to a hidden wildlife sanctuary behind the Slapton Ley lagoon then a woodland carpeted in wild garlic and he plants a wooden signpost for walkers inscribed with his initials. His local walk ends near the mouth of the River Dart.

The programme can be seen at 8pm tonight on Channel 5.

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