South West Coast Path
South West Coast Path Waymarker

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diversions in place along the path at the beginning of each of the subsequent summers -- guidebooks for the path get out of date very quickly.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

Day 1

South Haven Point to Swanage

South Haven Point to Swanage

24 Apr 2013
12.2km

Day 2

Swanage to Kingston

Swanage to Kingston

26 Apr 2013
20.7km

Day 3

Kingston to Lulworth Cove

Kingston to Lulworth Cove

27 Apr 2013
20.2km

Day 4

Lulworth Cove to Ferry Bridge

Lulworth Cove to Ferry Bridge

29 Apr 2013
23.5km

Day 5

Isle of Portland Loop

Isle of Portland Loop

30 Apr 2013
23.5km

Day 6

Ferry Bridge to Abbotsbury

Ferry Bridge to Abbotsbury

03 May 2013
18km

Day 7

Abbotsbury to Seatown

Abbotsbury to Seatown

04 May 2013
20.3km

Day 8

Seatown to Lyme Regis

Seatown to Lyme Regis

07 May 2013
13.5km

Day 9

Lyme Regis to Seaton

Lyme Regis to Seaton

09 May 2013
11.1km

Day 10

Seaton to Sidmouth

Seaton to Sidmouth

10 May 2013
16.8km

Day 11

Sidmouth to Exmouth

Sidmouth to Exmouth

16 May 2013
21.1km

Day 12

Exmouth to Teignmouth

Exmouth to Teignmouthng

17 May 2013
13km

Day 13

Teignmouth to Torquay

Teignmouth to Torquay

18 May 2013
20.1km

Day 14

Torquay to St Mary's Bay

Torquay to St Mary's Bay

20 May 2013
16.3km

Day 15

St Mary's Bay to Kingswear

St Mary's Bay to Kingswear

21 May 2013
13km

Day 16

Dartmouth to Torcross

Dartmouth to Torcross

25 May 2013
16.3km

Day 17

Torcross to Salcombe

Torcross to Salcombe

28 May 2013
24.8km

Day 18

Salcombe to Wonwell

Salcombe to Wonwell

30 May 2013
30.6km

Day 19

Mothecombe to Plymouth

Mothecombe to Plymouth

19 May 2014
34.6km

Day 20

Plymouth to Cawsand

Plymouth to Cawsand

20 May 2014
12.1km

Day 21

Cawsand to Downderry

Cawsand to Downderry

21 May 2014
20.3km

Day 22

Downderry to Looe

Downderry to Looe

22 May 2014
8.4km

Day 23

Looe to Fowey

Looe to Fowey

24 May 2014
19.8km

Day 24

Fowey to Charlestown

Fowey to Charlestown

25 May 2014
17.3km

Day 25

Charlestown to Mevagissey

Charlestown to Mevagissey

27 May 2014
10.8km

Day 26

Mevagissey to Portloe

Mevagissey to Portloe

29 May 2014
19.7km

Day 27

Portloe to Portscatho

Portloe to Portscatho

30 May 2014
12.1km

Day 28

Portscatho to Falmouth

Portscatho to Falmouth

31 May 2014
14.4km

Day 29

Falmouth to Coverack

Falmouth to Coverack

02 Jun 2014
32km

Day 30

Coverack to The Lizard

Coverack to The Lizard

04 Jun 2014
17.8km

Day 31

The Lizard to Porthleven

The Lizard to Porthleven

06 Jun 2014
23.4km

Day 32

Porthleven to Penzance

Porthleven to Penzance

07 Jun 2014
23.1km

Day 33

Penzance to Porthcurno

Penzance to Porthcurno

08 Jun 2014
18.6km

Day 34

Porthcurno to Land's End

Porthcurno to Land's End

09 Jun 2014
8.8km

Day 35

Land's End to Cape Cornwall

Land's End to Cape Cornwall

01 Jun 2015
11.3km

Day 36

Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch

Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch

02 Jun 2015
7.5km

Day 37

Pendeen Watch to St Ives

Pendeen Watch to St Ives

03 Jun 2015
22.7km

Day 38

St Ives to Portreath

St Ives to Portreath

05 Jun 2015
28.7km

Day 39

Portreath to Perranporth

Portreath to Perranporth

06 Jun 2015
20.2km

Day 40

Perranporth to Newquay

Perranporth to Newquay

09 Jun 2015
21km

Day 41

Newquay to Constantine Bay

Newquay to Constantine Bay

10 Jun 2015
22.7km

Day 42

Constantine Bay to Padstow

Constantine Bay to Padstow

11 Jun 2015
17.4km

Day 43

Rock to Port Gaverne

Rock to Port Gaverne

15 Jun 2015
20.2km

Day 44

Port Gaverne to Tintagel

Port Gaverne to Tintagel

16 Jun 2015
13.7km

Day 45

Tintagel to Bude

Tintagel to Bude

27 Jun 2015
34.7km

Day 46

Bude to Morwenstow

Bude to Morwenstow

29 Jun 2015
12km

Day 47

Morwenstow to Hartland Quay

Morwenstow to Hartland Quay

30 Jun 2015
13.3km

Day 48

Hartland Quay to Clovelly

Hartland Quay to Clovelly

03 Jul 2015
15.9km

Day 49

Clovelly to Appledore

Clovelly to Appledore

06 Jul 2015
25.3km

Day 50

Appledore to Barnstaple

Appledore to Barnstaple

07 Jul 2015
22.9km

Day 51

Barnstaple to Woolacombe

Barnstaple to Woolacombe

09 Jul 2015
33km

Day 52

Woolacombe to Combe Martin

Woolacombe to Combe Martin

10 Jul 2015
22.3km

Day 53

Combe Martin to Lynmouth

Combe Martin to Lynmouth

15 Jul 2015
21.1km

Day 54

Lynmouth to Minehead

Lynmouth to Minehead

18 Jul 2015
33.5km