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The Best Walks on the South West Coast Path

Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie, Marketing Executive
More by Alex

Six Hundred Miles of Sunshine

The South West Coast Path follows the coast of southwest England. Established as a national trail in 1978, it meanders from the quintessential seaside town of Minehead down to Europe’s largest natural harbour at Poole. A spectacular stretch of English coastline, over 70% of the route passes through national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

1,014 km/630 miles long, the South West Coast Path is the longest national trail in England. Usually walked anti-clockwise, the route starts in Somerset. Following the coast along north Devon, it then loops around coastal Cornwall. Back in Devon, the path ends on the eastern edge of the ancient Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

The South West Coast Path Association recommends 52 days to complete the trail. With ascents equivalent to climbing Mount Everest (almost) four times over, the route is no small undertaking. Most hikers choose to break the walk into sections. Read on to discover the best parts of the South West Coast Path.

I Want to Walk:

There is nothing quite like starting the South West Coast Path in the footsteps of so many others. Starting in the coastal resort of Minehead, look out for the South West Coast Path monument. A giant pair of hands clutching a map of the trail, this statue is sure to inspire you as you begin your adventure.

Fewer than 20 miles of the national trail are in Somerset. Enjoy these rolling green hills as the wild heather moorland and ponies of Exmoor take over. Heading into the Exmoor National Park, hike some of the highest coastlines in the country. Towering over the Bristol Channel, the path offers views across the water to Wales. Highlights include the unspoilt landscape of the Valley of Rocks (pictured above) and the summit of Great Hangman, the highest point on the South West Coast Path. The Valley of Rocks is an iconic feature of the Exmoor coastline, a dramatic valley formed during the Ice Age and now home to adventurous wild goats and unusual rock formations. Find out more about Exmoor and the other National Parks in England here.

Hikers often need to pay more attention to the South West Coast Path. Due to the ascents and descents, assume you will walk less in a day than usual. We recommend breaking this route up over three days, with stops in Porlock and Lynmouth. Both offer a range of accommodations to suit every hiker.

In the North Devon AONB, this stretch of the South West Coast Path boasts vast expanses of soft sandy beaches. From Woolacombe and Putsborough beaches to Saunton Sands and Braunton Burrows, this is a walk for beach lovers.

Golden sand isn’t the only thing to look out for on this day of literary favourites and military history. This section of the trail follows an area heavily used by American GIs during the Second World War. At the far end of Putsborough Beach, look out for a large arrow in the ground, used to signal bombers. Nearby, Baggy Point shows signs of its use in practice cliff assaults from the water below. Stretching out into the sea, Baggy Point is also a great stopping point to enjoy the sea air on your face and the feeling of being on the world’s edge. Further along the path, the military used Braunton Burrows (pictured above) to simulate beach assaults. Braunton Burrows is also a nature reserve and one of the UK’s largest sand dune systems so factor in time to explore this unique landscape.

As you walk the route, look for signs for the Tarka Trail. This 290 km/180 mile disused railway track makes a graceful figure of eight along the north Devon coast. The route taken by Henry Williamson’s beloved character, Tarka the Otter, inspired the way taken by the Tarka Trail.

Picking up just after the route before ends, this longer trail offers more of a challenge as soft sand turns to dramatic rocks. This three day hike starts in the wonderfully named Westward Ho!. Traversing some of the most complex parts of the South West Coast Path, challenging ascents are rewarded with breathtaking views.

Intrinsically linked to the sea, this landscape has a rich nautical history. The historic village of Clovelly makes an atmospheric stop for night one. With a fascinating smuggling history, this small gaggle of houses rises up the hill from the haven of the harbour. The final stretch of the South West Coast Path into Clovelly follows The Hobby Drive. This wooded walk offers beautiful views as you approach the village.

Walking towards Hartland Quay, day two leaves charming fishing villages behind. This is the most challenging stretch of the South West Coast Path, infamous as the site of more than 150 shipwrecks throughout history. A breathtaking sense of wilderness settles on you as you follow the coast. Look out for the Glenart Castle Memorial in honour of the British hospital ship sunk by a German U-boat in February 1918. The views of this contrasting landscape are unparalleled, a spectacular reward for tired legs. Accommodation is limited in Hartland Quay so book well in advance, or book a pitch in nearby Stoke.

Enjoy the drama of Speke’s Mill Mouth waterfall before entering England’s most southwesterly county. Crossing the border brings you to Bude. This seaside town offers a picturesque end after a challenging but rewarding adventure.

This two day journey offers a moderate hike through exceptional beauty. Day one starts at the picturesque harbour in Porthleven. Much of today passes by idyllic sandy beaches. Following the South West Coast Path, the route crosses Loe Bar. This sandy bridge separates the sea from The Loe, the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall. Highlights of day one include the charming harbour at Mullion Cove and the sheltered seclusion of Kynance Cove (pictured above). The day ends at Lizard Point, the most southerly point of mainland Britain. Head into nearby Lizard for a range of accommodations to rejuvenate and restore.

Walking up the coast to Coverack, the coastline beneath the path changes to craggy drops into the water below. Enjoy a morning refreshment in the fishing village of Cadgwith. Still a working fishing harbour, the buildings are a step back in time. We recommend lunch among the expansive Kennack Sands. End your journey in the fishing community of Coverack with a renewed understanding of Cornwall’s nautical past.

Walk the Coast of Cornwall With Us

In southwest Devon, this section gets progressively more strenuous as the South West Coast Path progresses. With two river crossings, you must carefully plan this hike to get the timings right. These challenges reward walkers with some of the most charming views on the path.

Less than two miles from Wembury is the first river crossing at the River Yealm. Shoals of yachts dot this sleepy waterway. A ferry crosses the river from April to September, or you will require a taxi around. From here, a chain of coves offers spectacular views out to sea. Take a slightly unexpected detour through Revelstoke caravan park to discover the Church of St Peter the Poor Fisherman. This hauntingly beautiful ruin offers an idyllic pause as you approach the second river crossing of this section. Strongly affected by the tides, the River Erme can only be crossed within one hour on either side of low tide. From here, the path undulates towards the end of the section at Bigbury-on-Sea.

We recommend spending extra time here. The villages of Bigbury-on-Sea and Bantham flank the River Avon as it meets the English Channel. Offering beautiful beaches beneath charming villages, don’t miss the time capsule of Burgh Island (pictured above). Find out more in our roundup of the best beaches in England.

Start your walk on the dramatic headland of Berry Head, near Brixham. This journey through the English Riviera offers a charming balance of seaside holiday and beautiful landscape. Begin at Berry Head Lighthouse, a lovely pop of mint and vanilla paint against a coastal backdrop. This headland is a key location within the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark, unique in western Europe for its limestones. Continue along the South West Coast Path, past the bustling fishing port of Brixham.

This charming route passes several idyllic coves and beaches, offering a perfect stop for a paddle. This famous holiday destination also hosts an array of promenades. Enjoy wandering along these quaint routes, dipping into seafood shacks and local ice cream shops. Don’t miss the childlike joy of an adventure along Paignton Pier. End your hike at Torquay Marina, the perfect starting point for exploring this seaside resort.

Tor Bay, the yawning stretch of coast between Brixham and Torquay, is the heart of Agatha Christie’s world. Imagine yourself following the footsteps of the ‘Queen of Crime’ as you explore Torquay, her birthplace. This route includes other key locations for the world’s best-selling novelist, such as Elberry Cove, just west of Brixham. Nestled on the River Dart, Greenway, Christie’s holiday home, makes a charming detour if you have a few hours to spare. The English Riviera hosts the Agatha Christie Festival every September for a truly immersive experience.

One of the final stretches of the South West Coast Path, this section includes some of the most iconic features along the Jurassic Coast. The route starts at Portland Harbour, the largest artificial harbour in the UK and among the largest in the world. Leaving the gaping expanse of sheltered water, skirt around the seaside town of Weymouth to begin your hike. The south coast of England is rich in chalk, and the bright cliffs that plunge into the English Channel beneath the path here are no exception.

If time permits, take a five mile detour inland at Osmington Mills to view the Osmington White Horse. Carved into the chalk hills of southern England, the white horses are a unique form of art, the oldest dating into prehistory. The Osmington horse is truly one of a kind, the only white horse to also feature a rider.

Enjoy some of the region’s iconic geology as the South West Coast Path approaches Lulworth. The picturesque sea arch of Durdle Door (pictured above) marks a small stretch of particularly fascinating geology. The sheltered cove of Stair Hole, with its rippling rock layers, is a short descent from the route, but it is a worthy detour. Finally, you reach Lulworth Cove, a neat cove boasting clear turquoise water, the perfect end to a great hike.

FAQs

What is the easiest section of the South West Coast Path? Read More

Although the entire trail is equivalent to scaling Mount Everest almost four times, there are plenty of lovely, calmer, sections to enjoy. Some of our favourites include the sections between Padstow and Porthcothan, Braunton and Westward Ho!, and from Berry Head to Torquay.

What is the hardest section of the South West Coast Path? Read More

A path around the coast of southwest England will always be full of adventure as you follow the soaring cliffs and plunging valleys. However, some of this national trail offers more of a challenge than others, including the sections between Hartland Quay and Bude, St Ives and Pendeen, and Sidmouth to Seaton.

How many days does it take to do the South West Coast Path? Read More

The South West Coast Path Association recommends 52 days to complete the route and offers a great itinerary following this time frame. Due to its length, many walkers choose to break the route into smaller sections, but it can be completed at a brisk walk in as little as 30 days.

In 2020, ultra runner Kristian Morgan completed the national trail in an astounding 10 days, 12 hours and 6 minutes!

What time of year is best to do the South West Coast Path? Read More

The mild climate of this part of England means you can do the trail at any time of year, but we recommend planning your hike between late spring and early autumn to see it at its best.

  • Hikers in Spring can look forward to landscapes bright with new blooms and sweet young animals such as skipping lambs.
  • Summer brings a burst of heather and gorse across the region. This season is also the warmest (and busiest!) time to undertake the South West Coast Path.
  • Autumn is a quieter time to complete the trail, as tourists head home and cooler temperatures begin. Migrating birds offer a spectacular backdrop.
  • Winter hikers should expect stormy weather, cold temperatures and dramatic crashes of waves.
Can you wild camp on the South West Coast Path? Read More

Wild camping is not permitted across most of England, and the South West Coast Path is no exception. However, there are plenty of campsites to enjoy along the route.

Walk the Coast of Cornwall With Us

Wilderness England Departure DatesAvailabilityStatusPriceBook
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

28th Sep - 4th Oct 2024

6 place(s) leftAvailable 2,495Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

3rd May - 9th May 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

24th May - 30th May 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

21st Jun - 27th Jun 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

19th Jul - 25th Jul 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

9th Aug - 15th Aug 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

30th Aug - 5th Sep 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now
Wilderness Walking – The Coast of Cornwall

4th Oct - 10th Oct 2025

8 place(s) leftAvailable 2,595Book Now

Meet the Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie

Born in the Scottish Highlands, I was lucky enough to spend my early childhood playing on beautiful, sweeping beaches and learning to ski (or, more often, fall over). My father’s job kept us on the move though, and I was soon just as at home amidst the rolling Wiltshire downs, the dramatic Yorkshire Dales and the expansive East Anglian coast. I’ve had almost 40 bedrooms to date across the UK, so I’m your gal if you need a good cafe recommendation (almost) anywhere in the country; if I haven’t been there yet, you can be sure it’s on my trip list…

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