South West Coast Path National Trail

South West Coast Path South West Coast Path Waymarker

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diversions in place along the path at the beginning of each of the subsequent summers -- guidebooks for the path get out of date very quickly.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.

 StageStart and FinishDateDistance
South Haven Point to Swanage 1 South Haven Point to Swanage 24 Apr 2013 12.2km
Swanage to Kingston 2 Swanage to Kingston 26 Apr 2013 20.7km
Kingston to Lulworth Cove 3 Kingston to Lulworth Cove 27 Apr 2013 20.2km
Lulworth Cove to Ferry Bridge 4 Lulworth Cove to Ferry Bridge 29 Apr 2013 23.5km
Isle of Portland Loop 5 Isle of Portland Loop 30 Apr 2013 23.5km
Ferry Bridge to Abbotsbury 6 Ferry Bridge to Abbotsbury 03 May 2013 18km
Abbotsbury to Seatown 7 Abbotsbury to Seatown 04 May 2013 20.3km
Seatown to Lyme Regis 8 Seatown to Lyme Regis 07 May 2013 13.5km
Lyme Regis to Seaton 9 Lyme Regis to Seaton 09 May 2013 11.1km
Seaton to Sidmouth 10 Seaton to Sidmouth 10 May 2013 16.8km
Sidmouth to Exmouth 11 Sidmouth to Exmouth 16 May 2013 21.1km
Exmouth to Teignmouth 12 Exmouth to Teignmouth 17 May 2013 13km
Teignmouth to Torquay 13 Teignmouth to Torquay 18 May 2013 20.1km
Torquay to St Mary's Bay 14 Torquay to St Mary's Bay 20 May 2013 16.3km
St Mary's Bay to Kingswear 15 St Mary's Bay to Kingswear 21 May 2013 13km
Dartmouth to Torcross 16 Dartmouth to Torcross 25 May 2013 16.3km
Torcross to Salcombe 17 Torcross to Salcombe 28 May 2013 24.8km
Salcombe to Wonwell 18 Salcombe to Wonwell 30 May 2013 30.6km
Mothecombe to Plymouth 19 Mothecombe to Plymouth 19 May 2014 34.6km
Plymouth to Cawsand 20 Plymouh to Cawsand 20 May 2014 12.1km
Cawsand to Downderry 21 Cawsand to Downderry 21 May 2014 20.3km
Downderry to Looe 22 Downderry to Looe 22 May 2014 8.4km
Looe to Fowey 23 Looe to Fowey 24 May 2014 19.8km
Fowey to Charlestown 24 Fowey to Charlestown 25 May 2014 17.3km
Charlestown to Mevagissey 25 Charlestown to Mevagissey 27 May 2014 10.8km
Mevagissey to Portloe 26 Mevagissey to Portloe 29 May 2014 19.7km
Portloe to Portscatho 27 Portloe to Portscatho 30 May 2014 12.1km
Portscatho to Falmouth 28 Portscatho to Falmouth 31 May 2014 14.4km
Falmouth to Coverack 29 Falmouth to Coverack 02 Jun 2014 32km
Coverack to The Lizard 30 Coverack to The Lizard 04 Jun 2014 17.8km
The Lizard to Porthleven 31 The Lizard to Porthleven 06 Jun 2014 23.4km
Porthleven to Penzance 32 Porthleven to Penzance 07 Jun 2014 23.1km
Penzance to Porthcurno 33 Penzance to Porthcurno 08 Jun 2014 18.6km
Porthcurno to Land's End 34 Porthcurno to Land's End 09 Jun 2014 8.8km
Land's End to Cape Cornwall 35 Land's End to Cape Cornwall 01 Jun 2015 11.3km
Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch 36 Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch 02 Jun 2015 7.5km
Pendeen Watch to St Ives 37 Pendeen Watch to St Ives 03 Jun 2015 22.7km
St Ives to Portreath 38 St Ives to Portreath 05 Jun 2015 28.7km
Portreath to Perranporth 39 Portreath to Perranporth 06 Jun 2015 20.2km
Perranporth to Newquay 40 Perranporth to Newquay 09 Jun 2015 21km
Newquay to Constantine Bay 41 Newquay to Constantine Bay 10 Jun 2015 22.7km
Constantine Bay to Padstow 42 Constantine Bay to Padstow 11 Jun 2015 17.4km
Rock to Port Gaverne 43 Rock to Port Gaverne 15 Jun 2015 20.2km
Port Gaverne to Tintagel 44 Port Gaverne to Tintagel 16 Jun 2015 13.7km
Tintagel to Bude 45 Tintagel to Bude 27 Jun 2015 34.7km
Bude to Morwenstow 46 Bude to Morwenstow 29 Jun 2015 12km
Morwenstow to Hartland Quay 47 Morwenstow to Hartland Quay 30 Jun 2015 13.3km
Hartland Quay to Clovelly 48 Hartland Quay to Clovelly 03 Jul 2015 15.9km
Clovelly to Appledore 49 Clovelly to Appledore 06 Jul 2015 25.3km
Appledore to Barnstaple 50 Appledore to Barnstaple 07 Jul 2015 22.9km
Barnstaple to Woolacombe 51 Barnstaple to Woolacombe 09 Jul 2015 33km
Woolacombe to Combe Martin 52 Woolacombe to Combe Martin 10 Jul 2015 22.3km
Combe Martin to Lynmouth 53 Combe Martin to Lynmouth 15 Jul 2015 21.1km
Lynmouth to Minehead 54 Lynmouth to Minehead 18 Jul 2015 33.5km