Smuggling was a traditional ‘occupation’ along the South West coast for hundreds of years and Teignmouth and its surrounding areas was no exception. If you walk along the seafront following the railway line after about a mile and a half you reach Smugglers Cove (or “Smugglers Gap”) which lies at the bottom of Smugglers lane leading up to the village of Holcombe.
According to a 1948 Official Guide:
“….. Smugglers’ Gap where, in by-gone days, smugglers landed their contraband and took it, on the backs of mules, to the neighbouring towns …..”
Also, around the headland from Smugglers Cove is the famous ‘Parson and Clerk’ rock formation. According to the booklet ‘Down Smugglers Lane’, opposite this rock formation:
“….. is a huge cave ideal for the job of smuggling. A man would take up position inside the cave and show a light to his mates out at sea when they were ready to come in, during darkness of course. His light could be seen out at sea by the smugglers but not by the coastguards at Dawlish or Teignmouth owing to the cliffs on either side of the cave protruding well out to sea.
Twenty or so yards from the entrance the cave widens out into a large circle and, if the moment was not opportune to get the brandy up to the Lobster at time of landing, the smugglers would leave it there, quite safe.”
The Lobster Inn referred to used to be an Inn on the main road, now a residence called Sunnylands. There is supposedly a tunnel from here down to the cave. Again according to the same booklet:
“….. When digging in the grounds several years ago, the writer discovered a deep hole or cavern; having no time to explore the site it was covered over by a couple of old doors and at the present time forms part of the garden to the south-east …..”
“….. The tunnel the smugglers used to bring their stuff ashore, running from the sea to the Lobster, is still in existence. I have seen one end in the Inn yard, and a magnificent photograph of the seaward end taken by a party of skin-divers who stayed at Sunnylands last year. I have been told a Mrs Oakes, who came from Hole Head House, Holcombe, was the last person to have travelled the whole length of the tunnel before the railway blocked the seaward end off with an iron grille.”
There is also a Smugglers Tunnel leading to Ness Cove on the other side of the Estuary from Teignmouth and tales of the Coombe Cellars Inn (see Keats Teignmouth poem) being a smugglers haunt from where contraband would be ferried across the river to be hidden in the Haldon hills.