South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest National Trail, running from Minehead in Somerset to South Haven Point near Poole Dorset - see below. The path is 630 miles (1014km) long and traces the coastline of part of Somerset, all of Devon and Cornwall and part of Dorset. The path takes in some of the most dramatic scenery in the UK - there are plenty of gentle stretches as well as dramatic headlands, steep coastal valleys, sheltered estuaries, busy harbours, intimate coves, moorlands and sandy beaches.
The path has been some 25 years in the making but its history goes right back to the nineteenth century. Much of the path is based on the route of an ancient track that was used by the coastguard to patrol the coastal region in their duties of Revenue protection against smugglers attempting to land contraband. The old track used to hug the coast and the coastguards would patrol between fishing villages, across headlands and clifftops on a daily basis. In some of the more remote areas cottages were built so that the men could stay overnight and presumably keep an eye out for smugglers - who do not keep regular hours! Many of these cottages are still to be found along the path but they are in different uses today many are used as holiday cottages.
The start of the South West coast Path in Minehead
The coast path can be used in many different ways - for short walks of a day or less, for access to a specific section of coast i.e. The Lizard peninsular or you may wish to tackle the whole trail but this is a major undertaking which needs some planning. The South West Coast Path Association, which oversees the management of the path, estimate that around 8 weeks are required to tackle the whole trail. This would work out at around 11 - 12 miles per day assuming you walked every day. This may not seem much in terms of mileage but there are several factors that influence this figure. Whereas many long distance paths are along valleys or along ridges - the SWCP follows the contours of the coast and there are a lot of ups and downs along the route. The SWCPA has carried out a detailed survey and come up with the following amazing statistics - if you walk the whole path you will encounter - 26,719 steps, 921 stiles, and 302 bridges. If you cover the whole distance you will have climbed and descended 91,000 feet vertically - around three times the height of Everest and you won't need an ice axe! Another factor that with affect the time taken is that of river crossings. There are many rivers to cross on the route and this may necessitate either catching a ferry or taking a detour inland - this may be several miles. Walkers should check on ferry times before setting out and make alternative plans for detours.
Most people will walk the path in sections, may be a few days or a week at a time covering around 60 - 80 miles in a week. To this end the SWCPA have produced a suggested itinerary starting from Minehead on the Somerset coast and travelling west towards Poole. See below for a summary - more details are available at their website.
This is a very useful way of visualising the route but it not a rigid plan - it should be possible for most competent walkers to plan their own route taking into account their own interests and and abilities.
It is worth making a few cautionary points at this stage as this is a serious walk along rugged coasts and clifftops and there are dangers and hazards along the way. See below for some guidelines from the SWCPA website.
At some locations, the Path is very close to cliff edges Ė keep away from these as much as possible.
Be aware that other walkers may be frightened by dogs. Ensure your dog is on a lead and under close control. Animals often graze on land crossed by parts of the Coast Path. Be careful not to annoy or spook them.
Adverse weather conditions, such as wind and rain, can cause slippery conditions. Also, watch out for some grassy sections of the Path being slippery in dry conditions. Wear appropriate footwear and clothing.
Take care of others, particularly young children.
Keep your wits about you and donít get distracted.
Take great care if swimming from rocks or hidden coves - the rescue services may be a long way away.
A final point to remember when tackling this route is that although there is an abundance of accommodation along the south west peninsular places may be fully booked in the summer months and quite a lot of places close during the winter months - it pays to book ahead.
More information is available from the websites below.
South West Coast Path Map
South West Coast Path official website - www.southwestcoastpath.com/
See these other feature pages below.....