The South West Coast Path

Durdle Door, Dorset
Durdle Door, Dorset

It's billed as ‘one of the world’s greatest walks’, and it’s not hard to see why. The path runs from South Haven Point at Poole in Dorset to Minehead on the edges of the Exmoor National Park. At 630 miles long, it’s far the longest National Trail in Britain, at over twice the distance of the Pennine Way and passes through some of the most remote, rugged and beautiful coastline in Britain.

To complete the South West Coast Path in one go takes around 8 weeks for an averagely fit walker, so it’s no surprise that most people tackle it in sections returning to complete another part of the route at different times.

Accommodation is less of a problem that with some other National Trails because the path passes through traditional tourist areas. So, you can carry your own gear, or make use of the many and varied B&Bs along the way. And there’s no shortage of places to eat and drink too. More than a quarter of the region’s visitors go to the area because of the lure of the path.

The South West Coastal Path Association (SWCPA) provide a guide that divides the whole route into manageable sections that can be walked in a day by most people.

History
The path is based on a working footpath that coastguards used to use to patrol on foot to try and catch smugglers. The old paths, most of which form the newer path,  were designed to literally hug the coastline to enable these latterday revenue inspectors to see into every cove and inlet around the peninsula. The cottages that were onced used to house the coastguards can still be seen at frequent intervals along the path.

The path passes through some stunning scenery and protected landscapes, and has been recognised as a worldwide ecological treasure. The main areas of note are;

Five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), designated solely for their landscape qualities, these are Dorset, Cornwall, and East, North and South Devon.

Two World Heritage sites – the Jurassic Coast (the first in England to be awarded that status), and the Cornish & West Devon Mining areas including St Agnes and St Just on the Cornish coast.

A UNESCO Geopark – the English Riviera Geopark at Torbay has a unique geological heritage and the Geopark takes in 32 separate sites covering 400 million years of earth history).

Britain’s first UNESCO Biosphere reserve in North Devon where a unique area has been designated for it’s living ecosystem, sustainability, environment, and biodiversity. 

Scenic highlights of the walk include;

Dorset

Lulworth cove
Durdle door
Stair Hole
Axmouth Undercliffs National Nature Reserve
Charminster
Lyme Regis
Golden Cap
West Bay
Moon fleet
Portland Bill
Chesil Beach
Bat’s Head
Anvil Point
Studland

Devon

Exmouth
Beer
Salcombe
Sidmouth
Braunton Burrows
Hartland Point
Baggy Point
Westward Ho!
Clovelly
Shipload Bay

Cornwall

Bude
Tintagel
Padstow
Chantock Point
The Crowns
Cape Cornwall
Mousehole
Morazion
Trewavas Head
Lizard
Mevagissey

Somerset

Minehead
Porlock Bay

Detours

Over the years a number of detours have been made to the main route, for example at Osmington Mills the South West Coast Path splits into two routes. The true coastal path continues to into Weymouth, with an optional extra 14 milesround the Isle of Portland and then along Chesil Beach. The detour leaves the coast and passes north of Abbotsbury, rejoining the coast route at West Bexington.
Occasionally cliff falls or landslips mean that sections of the South West Coast Path have to be closed. Temporary diversions that can occasionally be quite lengthy are put into place, these are posted on the official trail website.

Safety on the Coast Path

The coastal path follows some very high ground with spectacular views, so you need to take extra care to keep safe due to the nature of the terrain. If you’re planning to do any part of the path the official trail website has safety guidelines to follow, such as;

  • Take heed of any warning signs
  • Follow the Countryside Code at all times
  • Informal paths leading to beaches can be dangerous and are best avoided
  • If you are crossing a beach, make sure you know the tide times so you won’t be cut off
  • Keep to the path and stay away from cliff edges, a slip or trip could be fatal
  • Take special care of children and dogs, they may not be aware of potential danger
  • On the coast. mist, fog and high winds are more likely and can be especially dangerous
  • Stay within your fitness level – some sections of the Coast Path can be strenuous and/or remote.

Useful links

South West Coast Path - the official trail website

Youth Hostels Association

Long Distance Walkers’ Association

Telegraph article about how the round britain costal path plans have been ditched

VisitBritain for B&Bs and other accomodation along the route

Visit the map shop to buy maps for your family walk.
Visit OS getamap to plan your routes and load them to your GPS 



 
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