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South West Slapton Devon - Slapton Ley, Slapton Sands and the D Day connection...

Slapton Ley is the largest freshwater lake largest natural freshwater lake in south west England and is separated from the sea by a shingle beach running from the cliffs at Strete Gate in the north to the village of Torcross in the south. This carries the A379, the main road from Dartmouth to Kingsbridge.

The Ley is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nature reserve, and managed by the Field Studies Council who have a field centre in the village.

It is made up of two parts - the Higher and Lower Ley. The River Gara feeds into the Higher Ley, which is now mainly reed beds with a few areas of open water. The Lower Ley has reed beds around the edges with woodland, scrub and marshland.


Slapton Sands is in fact a shingle beach which shelves rapidly with sand exposed at low tide.


In 1943, the beach was identified as a suitable place for large-scale rehearsals for the D-Day invasion of Normandy, by American forces who would be landing at Utah beach. Seven parishes with 180 farms, 750 families and over 3000 people along with all their livestock and belongings,were evacuated from the area. Exercise Tiger was one of the largest training exercises planned and involved the use of live ammunition as General Eisenhower felt that the men needed be hardened by exposure to real battle conditions. Unfortunately Coordination and communication problems resulted several hundred deaths during the exercise. It was hushed up at the time and for many years afterwards.

In 1984, a Sherman Tank was recovered from beneath the sea and is now displayed at Torcross as a memorial to the American soldiers who lost their lives. Memorial Services are still held by it.

Near the turn off to Slapton village is a large stone obelisk memorial, presented by the United States to the people of the area who were evacuated


Slapton is an attractive small village in a sheltered valley set back from the beach and Ley and protected by a hilly ridge. This picture is taken from the Slapton Parish Council website.


It has hardly changed over the years with narrow roads and old houses opening directly onto the road.

There is limited parking in the village and a small car park for visitors on the edge of the village with an information map.

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In 1850, it was a thriving village with 2 blacksmiths, five carpenters, three corn millers, nine masons, three shoemakers and two tailors, along with inn keepers, butcher, plasterer, machine maker and gardeners. Two pubs survive as well as a village shop. The village school at the top of the village has closed and is now the Start Bay Study Centre. The Field Study Centre is in an old hotel on the approach to the village.

Slapton was recorded in the Domesday Book. St James Church dates from the end of the C13th and predates the Collegiate Chantry of St Mary was founded the late C14th by Sir Guy de Brian.

Sir Guy de Brian, standard-bearer to Edward III at the Battle of Crecy and lord of the manor, founded a collegiate chantry here in 1373 to say masses for his soul, so after his death he would spend less time in Purgatory. It was one of only four Chantry Colleges to be built in the South West of England and was endowed with six priests, a rector, five fellows and four clerks. When Henry VIII dissolved Chantries (along with the monasteries), the buildings and revenues were granted to Thomas Arundel. It remained in the possession of the Arundel family until the C17the when it passed to the Page family. Now all that survives above ground is the west tower of the chantry church.


The Tower Inn by the Chantry Tower, dates from the C14th and is one of the oldest buildings in Slapton. It was was built to house the stonemasons and other workers building the Chantry College.

The Parish Church of St James the Great surrounded by its graveyard is behind the Queen’s Arm’s. It is a large church for what is now quite a small congregation with nave, chancel and two side aisles.

After the building of the Chantry College, Sir Guy de Brian arranged for the parish church be ‘appropriate’ to the College with one of its priests acting as the parish priest. All the tithes now went to the Chantry College until the dissolution of the Chantries in 1545. By then the church was in poor structural condition and the nave needed rebuilding, side aisles were added, along with the north porch. This had a priest’s room above and also served as the school.

The church was again in a ruinous condition by the late C19th and needed a massive restoration which took twenty years and was funded by the parishioners and was completed by 1905. The roof, windows and floors were replaced. The tower and spire strengthened and the bells rehung.

Inside is is a very simple and plain church with carved wooden screens separating nave and chancel and also the tower at the back of the church. The organ is at the east end of the north aisle and the vestry behind a curtain at the end of the south aisle. The Rood cross dates from the 1970s (hence the different colour wood) and was given to the church by two parishioners.




The chancel is very simple with a wood altar and reredos beneath the east window with its depiction of the crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist.


The pulpit was part of the 1905 restoration and the panels were carved by one of the parishioners.


There is no information about the simple stone font by the door, although the cover is Jacobean.


The Royal Coat of Arms on the south wall dates from 1776


It was a wet and windy October day when I visited with low cloud and limited visibility. I admired the Ley from the road but didn't attempt any of the footpaths around it to the bird hides.

Being set back from the road, Slapton tends to be ignored by the tourists unlike Stoke Fleming, Strete and Torcross on the main road. Apart from the Ley and the D Day connections, there is probably little to attract the visitor off the main road. That remains one of its attractions...

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