The wind whistles through the Napoleonic Era remains at Berry Head. Today, what was once a hub of military activity is now a conservation area, home to some of the most unusual and rare wildlife the British Isles have to offer. Now, where soldiers once marched, tourists snap photos and bird lovers flock en masse.
Berry Head: Centuries Worth of History & A Napoleonic Era Fort
Evidence suggests that some of the earliest human settlers in the UK first inhabited the sea caves surrounding Berry Head. And some millennia later, a prominent Iron Age Hillfort was constructed on-site. However, the original fortifications were completely demolished and destroyed during the extensive works by the Torbay Naval College during the late 18th and early 19th-centuries.
Today, by far the most prominent feature of the landscape is the expansive Napoleonic era Fort. Constructed during a time when the English were at war with the French, now two forts remain; the North and South forts. Canons, the fortified ramparts, and the remains of several guard and powder houses can still be visited.
The views across Torbay truly are breathtaking and the park’s prominent position means that it’s also home to an important lighthouse. While the inside of the working Berry Head lighthouse can’t be visited, its exterior can still be admired. Constructed in the early 1900s, the light reaches up to 19 nautical miles and gives a double flash every 15 seconds.
Porpoise Spotting at Berry Head Napoleonic Fort & Battery
Best seen in the summer when the weather is warmer, the winds are at their lowest, and the porpoises are most likely to be bathing in the water near the cliff edge, there’s no feeling like that moment you first spot a porpoise! Dolphins and seals are also often seen off the South West Coast.
It was an overcast and blustery day when we made our way across the fairly flat level that is the lower fort of Berry Head. We wandered past the visitor centre, away from the café and spotted a Cold War era Bunker and similarly historic WWII bunker en route. But our destination was to the very edge of the headland, a place where the wind never stops blowing and where the sky meets the sea.
We’d headed to Berry Head in the hope of spotting a seal or two. However, upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that something much less spotted was within eyesight. I quickly turned to a gentleman who seemed knowledgeable and he explained to myself and a friend that a school of porpoises were swimming below.
How can you tell if the sea creature is a porpoise or a dolphin? I hear you ask. Well, via several techniques. Firstly, a porpoise is generally a little smaller than a dolphin. By comparing the width of the birds circling above to the creatures below, it’s possible to gauge size. Another way to tell the difference between a porpoise and dolphin is via the fin on the mammal’s back (a porpoise’s fin being more triangular in shape).
How to visit Berry Head
If you’re a history fan, wish to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and want to take yourself for a stroll, then I highly recommend a visit to Berry Head, particularly if you’re in the Torbay area. On-site, there’s paid parking which is on the more expensive side of things.
Alternatively, it’s more than possible to hike up to the Napoleonic Fort from the pretty fishing town of Brixham below. Once at Berry Head, there’s a visitor centre (though, as it’s volunteer-run, there’s never any guarantee that it will be open during your visit), as well as a café where you can enjoy the salty sea breeze while sipping on your coffee.
The visitor centre and coffee shop are housed within a Grade II listed building which was built in 1802 and Napoleonic Fort Guardhouse. When visiting Berry Head Napoleonic Fort, be sure to bring sturdy shoes, a windproof jacket, and some binoculars.
After all, whether you wish to spot birds or porpoises during your visit, you’ll regret not bringing a pair! Be sure to also bring your camera but leave your drone at home as these are no longer allowed to be flown anywhere on the Nature Reserve.