The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest, and one of its most-loved, national trails. Stretching 630 miles (1,014 kilometers) along the coast of Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset, the trail explores some of England’s most beautiful, historic, and wildlife-rich sections of coastline.
Along the trail you will wander through some internationally-important wildlife habitats and see the only place in the world that displays 185 million years of geological evolution, the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
You will see evidence left behind from thousands of years of people living, working and battling along the coastline, whilst exploring some of the finest cliff-top trails, best beaches, cleanest seas and most picturesque fishing villages this country has to offer—plus much more.
In general, the South West Coast Path should not feel particularly crowded, even during high summer. Of course, the trail passes some of Britain's most-popular beaches and holiday destinations, and many sections of the trail are popular day walks. However, the trail is so long that many sections afford a real sense of solitude and many of the beaches, coves and villages you pass are also very serene as there is no easy access to them.
There is no set itinerary or direction for completing the trail. However, in this series of Collections we opt for the most popular itinerary: 52 days of hiking, split over eight weeks, starting from Minehead and finishing at South Haven Point.
At this pace, you have time to explore the many sights along the trail and take in the wonderful scenery. This itinerary also ends on the Jurassic Coast, arguably the climax of the South West Coast Path.
In this Collection, the first seven routes explore the rugged moorland of Exmoor National Park before passing the surfer beaches of Woolcombe and around the Taw and Torridge Estuary. The latter seven routes, from Westward Ho! to Padstow, are considered to be one of the most challenging but most spectacular sections of the trail, with dramatic cliff-top views, hidden coves, golden beaches, serene villages, and many wildlife hotspots.
If you are planning to arrive by public transport to complete these routes, you can catch a train to Taunton railway station, which is served by direct trains from London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bristol. From Taunton, catch the 28 bus service, which runs every 30 minutes to Minehead.
To get home, you can catch the hourly 11A bus service from Padstow to Bodmin Parkway railway station, which has direct trains to London and has connections around the country.
If you are planning to arrive by car, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B a rate to stay for a night either side of your hike in Minehead and to park your car for the duration. From Padstow, you would need to catch the 11A to Bodmin Parkway railway station, then a train to Taunton, and then the 28 bus from Taunton back to Minehead.
For more information about the South West Coast Path, visit: southwestcoastpath.org.uk.
For the 28 bus service timetable, visit: bustimes.org/services/28-taunton-bishops-lydeard-williton-watchet-minehe.
For the 11A bus service timetable visit: bustimes.org/services/11a-bodmin-padstow.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
In order to see the whole South West Coast Path, click the links below to see more Collections.
Part 2: komoot.com/collection/887634/conquer-britains-longest-trail-south-west-coast-path-part-2
Part 3: komoot.com/collection/887746/conquer-britains-longest-trail-south-west-coast-path-part-3
Part 4: komoot.com/collection/887875/conquer-britains-longest-trail-south-west-coast-path-part-4
The start of the 630 mile (1,014 kilometer) South West Coast Path is marked by a magnificent metal sculpture of a map held between two hands.
As you leave the sculpture and pretty coastal town of Minehead, it is a challenging climb to the summit of Selworthy Beacon, where you are afforded wonderful views over the rolling countryside and out to sea.
The trail takes you through woodland, along cliff tops and down wooded combes with bracken, gorse and streams, you can see lots of wildlife and many rare species of flora and fauna, as well as red deer skipping through the landscape.
Whilst there are a few challenging climbs and descents on this first stage, the hiking is relatively easy-going and at less than ten miles (17 kilometers), it makes for a good introduction to this iconic trail.
There is a range of accommodation and places to eat and drink around Porlock Weir.
After an easy introduction to the South West Coast Path, stage two is more challenging but offers much reward for your efforts.
From Porlock Weir it is a steep ascent through Yearnor Wood to Culbone. Here, you can follow the cliff-top route, which affords wonderful views over Exmoor and the Welsh coast, or take the more direct path through the ancient Culbone Woods.
Whichever route you take, the landscape is a dramatic and beautiful. These landscapes were a huge inspiration to English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who penned The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan whilst staying on Exmoor.
Stage two finishes in the picturesque twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, which offer a wide range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
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The highlights come thick-and-fast along this superb, yet strenuous, section of the Coast Path.
Taking you to one of the most dramatic sights, Valley of Rocks, to the highest point along the trail, Great Hangman, and to some hidden coves and beaches, there is plenty to experience.
The stage begins with a steep ascent to grassy cliff tops before you reach the iconic Valley of Rocks—one of Exmoor’s most-prized sights.
There are lots of challenging ascents and descents over the next few miles but you will visit some wonderful hidden coves along the way; the perfect place to rest your legs.
From the rocky smugglers’ bay of Heddon's Mouth, it is a steep ascent to Holdstone Hill, where Aertherians believe that Jesus appeared to their founder Dr George King—in a spaceship nonetheless.
Following another descent, it is a steep climb to the summit of Great Hangman, which at 1,043 feet (318 meters), is the highest point on the entire South West Coast Path.
The stage finishes in the village of Combe Martin, which has a wide range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stage of the Coast Path is packed with wild charm and beautiful scenery.
After some challenging hikes recently, you will find this stage to be a little more easy-going, albeit with some challenging ascents to contend with.
From the picturesque beach at Combe Martin, the trail undulates through patchwork fields and woodlands, along cliff tops, and passes through the Hillsborough nature reserve, which is rich with wildlife and boasts wonderful views over the coastline.
Following some strenuous ascents and descents, you eventually reach Barricane Beach; a picturesque cove that is famous for exotic sea shells and a wonderful place to relax and swim.
From the beach, it is only a short step to the seaside resort of Woolacombe, which has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stunning stage explores a wildlife-rich and geologically-significant section of the Coast Path.
If your legs are screaming a little after some strenuous stages, you will be pleased to know there is almost no climbing on this hike.
Much of the trail along this stage is managed by the National Trust and also follows part of the Tarka Trail; a 163-mile (262-kilometer) trail that follows the journey of Tarka the otter through picturesque countryside, over dramatic sea cliffs and down to beautiful beaches.
Towards the end of the hike, it is worth taking a slight detour to explore Braunton Burrows National Nature Reserve. The largest sand dune system in England, the Burrows is extremely rich in lichens and herbs and is home to many rare plants and animals.
This stage finishes in the village of Braunton, which has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This completely flat stage takes you across one of the longest medieval bridges in Britain and through the bird-watcher’s paradise of Isley Marsh.
You continue to follow the Tarka Trail on this stage of the Coast Path as it clings alongside the estuary of the River Taw. The route passes through some internationally-significant areas of marshland and mudflats that are home to many rare species of birds and other wildlife.
Once you have crossed Barnstaple Long Bridge, a Grade I-listed monument and one of the largest medieval bridges in Britain, you follow the other side of the estuary through the RSPB-managed Isley Marsh Nature Reserve, a haven for birds such as teal, curlew, greenshank, dunlin, and spoonbills.
This stage finishes in the small town of Instow, which has a wide range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This leisurely stage gives you chance to gently saunter, breathe in the fresh sea air, and keep a look-out for wildlife—before the challenging terrain returns.
From Instow, you follow the old railway line along the Tarka Trail to the well-preserved station at East-the-Water, and onto Chudleigh Fort, which is nearby.
You cross Bideford’s historic Grade I-listed Long Bridge over the River Torridge and follow the other side of the estuary. Eventually, you reach Northam Burrows Beach. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, this huge grassy coastal plain, with salt marsh and sand dunes, is home to myriad flora and fauna.
This stage finishes in Westward Ho! The seaside village has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
After some easy recent stages, the terrain becomes more of a challenge once again. However, your efforts are richly rewarded.
The treat at the end of this stage is the one-of-a-kind village of Clovelly, which has a long history of smuggling and shipwrecking. Clinging to a 400 foot (122 meter) cliff, the cobbled streets of the functioning fishing village are so steep that there is no vehicular access—only donkeys and sledges.
Before you reach Clovelly, you can admire the views from Cornborough and Abbotsham Cliffs, take an enchanted wander through the wild oakwoods beyond Peppercombe, and take a delightful saunter along Hobby Drive; an ancient, wildlife-rich forest which affords tantalizing glimpses of the coastline.
Clovelly has a few options for places to stay, eat, and drink—but not many. As such, it is advisable to book in advance.
This stage showcases the beautifully-contrasting landscapes of the Hartland Peninsula.
From Clovelly, you descend through ancient woodland to Blackchurch Rock. This magnificent natural rock arch is filled with fossils and is situated in an area with a rich smuggling heritage.
You emerge from the woodland into lush farmland pastures and can experience wonderful views out to sea.
On reaching Hartland Point, the landscape becomes more wild and dramatic as you follow the rocky coastline to Hartland Quay. During the winter months, you might see grey seals in this area when they come ashore to breed.
This stage finishes in Hartland Quay, which experiences some of the roughest seas along this section of coastline. There is not much at the former port, so have a research and book in advance.
This stage of the Coast Path is said to be the most challenging section of the entire trail. As ever, though, when the going gets tough—the highlights are abundant.
With unabated and unforgiving ascents and descents, rocky terrain, and an isolated landscape to contend with, there is no easy way to complete this hike. So, take it steady, watch your step, and make sure you enjoy this spellbinding stage.
The trail rises above a shoreline that is notorious for shipwrecks—more than 150 ships have been lost between Morwenstow and Bude—past waterfalls and crosses ten rugged river valleys before easing up a little on the approach to Bude.
The small seaside resort town of Bude has a has a wide range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
Throughout this strenuous stage, you are afforded awe-inspiring views over the Atlantic as the trail heads high onto crumbling cliff tops and down into deep valleys.
After a leisurely start, the trail soon becomes challenging and numerous rough and narrow sections will test your skills. The trail plunges into steep valleys, too, including Scrade, which is one of the deepest on the Cornwall section of the South West Coast Path.
If you are hiking during the winter, keep a look-out for breeding grey seals on the beach below Phillips Point Nature Reserve; a breathtaking natural phenomenon to witness if you have the chance.
There is a range of places accommodation in Crackington Haven. However, the small coastal village does not have a great deal else.
History, legend, abundant wildlife, breathtaking scenery and classic cliff-top hiking combine to make this a truly memorable stage of the South West Coast Path.
Taking you to the highest point along the Cornish section of the trail, High Cliff, to the serene Boscastle Harbor, the hidden coastal cove at Bossiney, and finishing with the impressive sights of Tintagel Castle and Merlin’s Cave—this really is a hike to cherish.
The trail can be very challenging in places; rocky and steep and with severe drops in some places. Along this section it is important to stick to the footpath as the crumbling cliffs can be dangerous and the drop into the Atlantic is lethal.
If you enjoy wildlife, then this section is a winner. Look out for birds such as falcons, buzzards, kestrels, guillemots, and razorbills. Seal spotting is also possible and feral goats can often be found clinging precariously to the cliffs.
Countless Roman artifacts have been found along this section of trail and the legends of King Arthur give the area a rich folklore heritage.
This stage finishes in the village of Tintagel, which has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stage of the Coast Path begins as a leisurely saunter but soon becomes a challenging hike with steep descents and some grueling climbs.
The reward for all the hard work is the quaint fishing village of Port Isaac. With its narrow and winding streets—lined with old white-washed cottages and traditional slate and granite Cornish houses—it is packed with character and has plenty of harborside cafes and pubs.
The section of trail between Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac is especially challenging. With some steep descents into valleys and tough climbs up to the cliff tops again, especially beyond Bounds Cliff, your fitness and technical ability will be tested.
However, you will find this section abundant with beautiful scenery, wildlife, and a fantastic fishing heritage that dates back hundreds of years.
Port Isaac has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
The highlights come thick-and-fast along this picturesque, unspoiled, and leisurely stage of the South West Coast Path.
Beginning with an awe-inspiring view over Port Isaac from Lobber Point, to the serene yet ghostly village of Port Quin, onto the impressive sea cave of Lundy Hole, to the Iron Age fort of Rumps Point, and onto the golden sands of Polzeath Beach and Daymer Bay—the final stage of this Collection is one to remember.
After a challenging hike to Polzeath, crossing valleys and winding around weathered headlands, the rest of the hike to the ferry crossing is easygoing.
Catching the ferry from Rock across the river Camel to Padstow is a real treat, too. And once you reach Padstow, a jewel on the Cornish coastline, you will find the charming fishing town is rich in history and heritage and has lots to see and experience.
Padstow has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
The Padstow ferry runs every 20 minutes between Padstow and Rock. The ferry departs from one of two points in Padstow depending on the tides. Tickets cost £4 for adults, £2 for children, and £1 for dogs. For more information visit padstow-harbour.co.uk/phc_ferry.html.