South West Coast Path National Trail
The South West Coast Path National Trail is by far the longest of Britain's nineteen National Trails, and perhaps the most challenging of all. At an official distance of 1,014 kilometres, it is more than double the distance of the next longest National Trail, the Pennine Way, and longer than the combined distance of the four National Trails that I have previously completed.
For me, the path began at South Haven Point, by the mouth of Poole Harbour in eastern Dorset. The path follows the coast west through Dorset, South Devon, and Cornwall, rounding Land's End before heading back eastwards along the north coasts of Cornwall and Devon and along the edge of Exmoor to the town of Minehead in Somerset.
The path is generally well-signposted in both directions, and from the fact that all three guidebooks I've read describe the path starting in Minehead, I have the impression that the majority of walkers tackle the path in the opposite direction to the one I chose. My choice of starting point was made because I had previously walked around the coast from the Thames Estuary to Poole, and it made sense to keep walking in the same direction.
Along the way, the path passes through many historic coastal towns and villages, and the bustling maritime city of Plymouth. In between the many coastal settlements are the real highlights of the path -- secluded coves and beaches, windswept headlands, splendid country pubs, spectacular clifftop views, lighthouses, castles, follies, smugglers' secret haunts, landslips that regularly reveal fossils, scenic preserved railway lines, the remnants of a once-thriving mining industry, and even an outdoor theatre carved into a cliff.
The coastline traversed by the path is constantly changing. This is particularly evident on exposed parts of the south-facing coast, where fierce winter storms regularly batter and erode the land, causing sections of the South West Coast Path to be temporarily diverted while repairs are made, or sometimes permanently re-routed when part of the path slips forever into the boiling sea. The winters of 2012 and 2013 seem to have been particularly harsh, with around thirty diversions in place along the path at the beginning of each of the subsequent summers -- guidebooks for the path get out of date very quickly.
As well as the lateral distance covered by the path, anyone who completes the entire route will also have climbed and descended more than 38 kilometres (or around four and a quarter times the height of Mount Everest). While there are occasional flat stages of the path, most days involve a few climbs, and some days are real rollercoaster rides.
The Coast Path crosses quite a number of river estuaries, and uses ferries to cross several of these where the nearest bridge is a long way upstream. This is all part of the experience and should not be considered cheating -- the ferries are part of the official route of the National Trail, though at least three of them have very limited operating hours and walks must be timed carefully to avoid a long wait or a lengthy detour upstream.
While it takes just a few hours to drive from Poole to Minehead, walking between the two took me much longer; 54 walking days, spread out over three summers. This is definitely a path where the journey is more important than the destination.
|Stage||Start and Finish||Date||Distance|
|1||South Haven Point to Swanage||24 Apr 2013||12.2km|
|2||Swanage to Kingston||26 Apr 2013||20.7km|
|3||Kingston to Lulworth Cove||27 Apr 2013||20.2km|
|4||Lulworth Cove to Ferry Bridge||29 Apr 2013||23.5km|
|5||Isle of Portland Loop||30 Apr 2013||23.5km|
|6||Ferry Bridge to Abbotsbury||03 May 2013||18km|
|7||Abbotsbury to Seatown||04 May 2013||20.3km|
|8||Seatown to Lyme Regis||07 May 2013||13.5km|
|9||Lyme Regis to Seaton||09 May 2013||11.1km|
|10||Seaton to Sidmouth||10 May 2013||16.8km|
|11||Sidmouth to Exmouth||16 May 2013||21.1km|
|12||Exmouth to Teignmouth||17 May 2013||13km|
|13||Teignmouth to Torquay||18 May 2013||20.1km|
|14||Torquay to St Mary's Bay||20 May 2013||16.3km|
|15||St Mary's Bay to Kingswear||21 May 2013||13km|
|16||Dartmouth to Torcross||25 May 2013||16.3km|
|17||Torcross to Salcombe||28 May 2013||24.8km|
|18||Salcombe to Wonwell||30 May 2013||30.6km|
|19||Mothecombe to Plymouth||19 May 2014||34.6km|
|20||Plymouh to Cawsand||20 May 2014||12.1km|
|21||Cawsand to Downderry||21 May 2014||20.3km|
|22||Downderry to Looe||22 May 2014||8.4km|
|23||Looe to Fowey||24 May 2014||19.8km|
|24||Fowey to Charlestown||25 May 2014||17.3km|
|25||Charlestown to Mevagissey||27 May 2014||10.8km|
|26||Mevagissey to Portloe||29 May 2014||19.7km|
|27||Portloe to Portscatho||30 May 2014||12.1km|
|28||Portscatho to Falmouth||31 May 2014||14.4km|
|29||Falmouth to Coverack||02 Jun 2014||32km|
|30||Coverack to The Lizard||04 Jun 2014||17.8km|
|31||The Lizard to Porthleven||06 Jun 2014||23.4km|
|32||Porthleven to Penzance||07 Jun 2014||23.1km|
|33||Penzance to Porthcurno||08 Jun 2014||18.6km|
|34||Porthcurno to Land's End||09 Jun 2014||8.8km|
|35||Land's End to Cape Cornwall||01 Jun 2015||11.3km|
|36||Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch||02 Jun 2015||7.5km|
|37||Pendeen Watch to St Ives||03 Jun 2015||22.7km|
|38||St Ives to Portreath||05 Jun 2015||28.7km|
|39||Portreath to Perranporth||06 Jun 2015||20.2km|
|40||Perranporth to Newquay||09 Jun 2015||21km|
|41||Newquay to Constantine Bay||10 Jun 2015||22.7km|
|42||Constantine Bay to Padstow||11 Jun 2015||17.4km|
|43||Rock to Port Gaverne||15 Jun 2015||20.2km|
|44||Port Gaverne to Tintagel||16 Jun 2015||13.7km|
|45||Tintagel to Bude||27 Jun 2015||34.7km|
|46||Bude to Morwenstow||29 Jun 2015||12km||47||Morwenstow to Hartland Quay||30 Jun 2015||13.3km||48||Hartland Quay to Clovelly||03 Jul 2015||15.9km||49||Clovelly to Appledore||06 Jul 2015||25.3km||50||Appledore to Barnstaple||07 Jul 2015||22.9km||51||Barnstaple to Woolacombe||09 Jul 2015||33km||52||Woolacombe to Combe Martin||10 Jul 2015||22.3km||53||Combe Martin to Lynmouth||15 Jul 2015||21.1km||54||Lynmouth to Minehead||18 Jul 2015||33.5km|