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SOUTHWEST COASTAL FOOTPATH

“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”

Mary Davies

WHAT & WHERE IS IT?

When people talk about hiking an epic trail they automatically think of the ‘Camino de Santiago’ (France & Spain), the ‘Haute Route’ (France / Switzerland), the ‘Appalachian’ Trail (USA) or ‘West Highland Way,’ which runs from Milngavie to Fort William in Scotland. But few know the ‘South West Coastal Footpath.’


The South West Coast Path is England's longest waymarked long-distance footpath and a National Trail. It stretches for 630 miles (1,014 km), running from Poole Harbour (Dorset) to Minehead (Somerset), along the coastline of Devon and Cornwall. Over 9 million people walk part of the trail each year.


The route undulates contouring hills and cliffs, those who successfully complete it would have climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest four times (35,031m).

START FINISH DISTANCE ELEVATION QUICKEST TIME AVERAGE TIME BEST TIME
Minehead - Somerset Poole Harbour - Dorset 630 miles 35,031m 10 Days (running) 30 - 40 days May - September

WHAT WILL I SEE?

The route hugs the coastline for the majority of the distance. Walkers will discover tiny fishing hamlets, rocky headlands, bustling beaches, wooded estuaries and golden surf-washed beaches. It is rich with wildlife, seabirds, flowers, dolphins and seals. The path passes through a number of National Nature Reserves and Heritage Coasts, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two World Heritage Sites, a National Park, a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve and a Geopark, these account for 74% of the path’s distance.

Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire

HISTORY OF THE FOOTPATH

Her Majesty's Coastguard was formed in 1822 to help ships in distress and prevent smuggling operations along the coastline. The coastguard operated a series of shore stations and watch stations along the coastline. The coastguard would patrol daily between the stations creating the foundations of the Southwest Coastal footpath.


By 1850, smuggling was beginning to wane, though the paths were heavily patrolled during both Great Wars to prevent spies being rowed ashore, from U-boats. In 1973 the costal path was officially formed  at Newton Abbot, since then it has gone through many changes and in 2014, £1m was spent improving the route and the signage.

Start point, Devon, united kingdom, Coast Guard
Start point, Devon,
Start Point, devon, united kingdom
Start Point, Devon
Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

For those new to hiking or wanting to complete an epic way, the South West Coast Path is an ideal footpath to start with. The route is easy to follow, and makes for a great challenge without needing any special training. The South West Coast Path Association, a charity looks after the footpath, and does an excellent job in ensuring the trial is accessible for everyone. They have created an excellent website and guidebook that will allow you to plan your route, breaking it down into stages around amenities, campsites and cafes.


A fast walker should complete the trail in around 30 days, whilst a more leisurely pace with time to stop and visit some of the areas en route might take between 49 and 56 days. The reason why many do not try the 'thru hike' is the cost and being able to take time away from work.

Intense,Rainbow,Over,The,Old,Pier,In,Swanage,Bay
Swanage Bay, Dorset
St Michaels Mount, Cornwall UK, Sunset Panorama
St Michaels Mount, Cornwall
The Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay
The Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay
Old Harry Rocks , Dorset
Old Harry Rocks, Dorset
Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire

WALKING THE TRAIL

Level of Effort: 3/5

Take: Waterproof, good hiking boots, camping equipment (if camping), water bottle, maps.

When: Between May and September

 

HOW IS IT MARKED?

As it is a National Trail of England, its symbol is an acorn. All National Trails are waymarked by the symbol of an acorn, in conjunction with various other signage, such as yellow, blue, or red arrows. The acorn can be found on all posts marking the way. 


PLANNING

Depending on your goals there are numerous website and maps available to you. The South West Coast path organisation have an excellent website that breaks the route into regional sections. They can provide maps and host a ‘completers’ section to inspire you . It is advisable to book lodgings in advance of starting the route, as these will be hard to find in the summer months.


RULES FOR WALKING RESPONSIBLY

  • Always follow way-markings, paths and trails.
  • Leave no trace. That means bagging up and taking away all rubbish.
  • In hot temperatures, always carry water. Sounds like common sense, surprising how many don’t do this!
  • Use stiles and ladders to climb over fences and walls.
  • If you are wild camping, pitch at least 60m from lakes and streams to prevention pollution.
  • Deposit solid human waste 15-20cm deep and at least 60m from water and trails.
  • Respect all rules about fires. Many national parks do not allow them, so check.
  • A responsible walker is also an insured walker in case an accident occurs.
Southwest footpath - Kimmeridge Bay
Southwest footpath - Kimmeridge Bay
Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire
Coastal footpath, Kimmeridge, Sign
Coastal footpath, Kimmeridge, Dorset
Walking into Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Walking into Worbarrow Bay, Dorset
Coastal Footpath, Dorset
Coastal Footpath, Dorset
Authour, Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset
Author, Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset

FINAL THOUGHTS

Whilst I have not walked the entire footpath, I have walked several segments over the years. My favourite area has to be the Jurassic coastline, which is a World Heritage Site. The Dorset coast has some of the most spectacular rock formations, which lead into hidden bays. In these coves you can search for fossils. At Kimmeridge Bay you will see the ‘Clavell – Tower’, built in 1830 as an observatory. The tower was moved back to its current location due to the cliff erosion in 2002.


Hopefully time permitting this will be one adventure that I would love to complete joing the 'completers' club.

The link below will take you to the offical site for the footpath.

Small Seperator, Downton Distillery, Wiltshire