I can’t claim to know about St. Mary’s Bay, Devon because of clandestine local knowledge or childhood summers spent paddling there. I simply found this beautiful, off the beaten track cove because I was staying at South Bay Holiday Park in Brixham for a cheap half term holiday and wandered there.
It was an amazing surprise to part the undergrowth and find a beautiful unspoilt beach, complete with a little brook and amazing views out to sea. No one was around and the weather was great so we wound up with our own private beach! Once I nailed getting up and down to the beach with 2 under 3 in tow, we headed over almost every day of our holiday.
Sharing is caring, so here’s everything you need to know about St Mary’s Cove including getting there, access, tide times and some scattered interesting facts. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures so the photos here are all credited.
About St. Mary’s Bay
St. Mary’s Bay is a beautifully secluded cove that sits between the Berry Head National Nature reserve in Brixham and Sharkham Point on the Southwest Coastal Path in South Devon.
St. Mary’s Bay beach
The beach has sand, pebbles and shingle. There are large scattered rocks toward the steep cliffs with rich green vegetation that surround the beach.
St. Mary’s Bay history
St Mary’s Bay has not always been called St Mary’s Bay. It was originally Mudstone Bay and the more recent name comes from St Mary’s, upper Brixham (“Cow Town”). The nearby Mudstone Lane in Brixham is reminiscent of this name and the mudstone bedrock of the area. The name is also apt because, when it rains, some of the more level paths toward the bay become mudbaths.
Here in Devon, you can’t have a cove without prolific smuggling and according to The Book of Brixham by Frank Pearce, St Mary’s Bay had its fair share of activity including escapades of the famous Jack Rattenbury, Rob Roy of the West. Wily Brixham fishermen cum smugglers prolifically trafficked tobacco, brandy, silk and tea through this secluded bay by moonlight. Stakes were high because if the authorities caught the smugglers, they were hanged!
St. Mary’s Bay geology
Plopped on the beach, you’ll be sitting on the local mudstone and limestone bedrock. Beachcombers have found many fossilised corals and shellfish in the area.
The wood carving at St. Mary’s Bay
This wooden carving of a woman looking out to sea sits above St Mary’s Bay is a great landmark for the bay. She’s a bit mysterious so if you know who created this carving, let me know in the comments! To the west of her lies Sharkham Point and Kingswear, to the east is Brixham. Find her, and you have found the access point for the beach!
What’s available at St. Mary’s Bay?
It is more of a cove than a full-on bay, especially because of its steep access down multiple flights of concrete steps. The water is clean, clear and calm because of its sheltered position, ideal for a paddle or bathing. If you got to the bay via boat, well, you can moor and live it up on the beach. It is unmanned by lifeguards and there are no toilets or other amenities nearby. At high tide the beach is almost totally obscured, so knowing your tide times is essential.
Are dogs allowed at St Mary’s Bay, Devon?
Yes, this is very much an anything goes little cove, so dogs can run free 365 days per year! We love dogs, but if you are a dog owner on the beach, leashing or calling your dog back to you when children are around, will help youngers enjoy your dog, even more, when they’re around. There were no dog issues on our visits to St Mary’s Bay, the few dogs that were there were having too much fun in the sea!
Fishing St Mary’s Bay Brixham
Keen anglers can get in some decent fishing at St. Marys’s Bay, Devon, especially off the rocks as the tide comes in. You can catch Brixham classics like:
Getting to St Mary’s Bay
St Mary’s Bay is only accessible via the single footbath that links Berry Head and Sharkham Point. You can also access it via a path (which gets a bit muddy) directly from the closest St Mary’s bay Devon holiday park, South Bay Holiday Park. If you drive, you can park up at the level parking at Sharkham Point and hit the coastal path.
St Mary’s Bay location
Here is a map of St Marys Bay:
St Mary’s Bay access
You’ll have to work to get to this fabulous beach. They separate this little slice of Devon heaven from the SW coastal path by about 100 steep narrow concrete steps and a metal handrail. Having tackled it with young children, if a toddler is not tired out by the beach, the steps and walk back will do the job!
St Mary’s Bay tide times
Remember, a high tide obscures beach access, so keep an eye on your tide times to plan your visit. You can get accurate tide times at this handy link.
We hope you get around to checking out this beautiful little bay. If you are a local its a great cheap day out and if you’re visiting, St Mary’s Bay is the perfect escape from the tourist saturated areas.