Ten top tips to walking the Coast Path

Hallsands near Start Point. Photographer David Eales, Devon.
Hallsands near Start Point. Photographer David Eales, Devon.

Many people harbour thoughts of walking the entire 630 mile route of the South West Coast Path and few actually manage it. Those who do recall their first tentative steps and how once you start it becomes impossible to stop. Here’s an account of a walk of a lifetime along the South West Coast Path and the ten top highlights of the experience.

By Carolyn and Mike Findell.

1. A revelation – The Isle of Portland: why had we not known what a fascinating place Portland is? We have since taken Canadian cousins hiking on the Isle’s Path who also thoroughly enjoyed it.

2. Superb alternative – Many, including us, get a little frustrated when the course of the Path denies sight of the sea for too long… but the inland route north of Weymouth, the South Dorset Ridgeway, is never out of sight of the sea, with its glorious views and palpable atmospheric route through ancient historical sites.

3. The mysterious Landslip through the Undercliffs National Nature Reserve. Quite unique if interested in the geology; admittedly when first introduced to it in the 1970s it was more like an expedition into a jungle.

4. Hallsands, a lost village – an environmental lesson from the C19th about messing with natural sea defences.

5. Tricky estuaries and ferries in south Devon – a puzzle to plan; we did wade across the River Erme and how stony it was, and cold, even in September. A tip – have some old flip-flops or crocs to make it less painful as the crossing is surprisingly wide.

6. Unexpected Plymouth – not looked forward to, but they are proud to host the Path and on the whole mark it well; despite the industrial sites it makes an interesting interlude culminating for us in taking the Cremyll ferry with that wonderful feeling of setting foot in Cornwall.

7. Charlestown has become a favourite – to witness one of those tall ships entering or leaving that tiny harbour is a thrill, and the Museum/Heritage Centre has something for everyone.

8. Floral abundance – memorably in April from Goran Haven to Portloe accompanied by daffodils and carpets of primroses and violets the whole way. Elsewhere open clifftops of bluebells captivated us with their stunning hue. Woodland Trust woods are a strong memory, especially dappled sunlight through the candles of the ancient chestnut trees near Buck’s Mills (east of Clovelly).

9. Wonderful wildlife – badgers at the Goran Haven B&B; choughs at Lizard Point; and in south Cornwall the exciting sight at Rinsey Head of about 20 dolphins passing eastwards, and 2½ hours later at Bessy’s Cove to see probably the same pod returning westwards. Seals were often spotted, the most at Godrevy Point, north Cornwall, and it is no wonder that their ethereal calls created the stories of mermaids.  Birdsong was with us all the way with the heartening song of larks perhaps being the most uplifting.

10. Splendid North Cornwall – so many stunning vistas, nooks, crannies, twists, turns, dips, coves, climbs and surprises… and worth every ounce of the effort needed.  The ancient settlement site of Bosigran oozed with prehistoric atmosphere. At the remote Pentire Point with a view of The Rumps there is a little memorial to Lawrence Binyon who, it is claimed, wrote his poem For the Fallen in this area, and the quoted lines “They shall not grow old…” are so evocative in such a peaceful place.

11. North Devon – a complete unknown and we loved it. The storm winds at Hartland Quay nearly blew us off the cliff top, but what seas and drama. What geology too, surely good enough to rival the Jurassic Coast, with Millook’s cliff-face patterns being quite extraordinary.

12. Finally Exmoor – also unknown to us, but despite dreadful forecasts for our February birthdays we loved the remote moorland.  Lynton and Lynmouth are well worth exploring, especially the I½ mile walk to Watersmeet for a ‘day off’.

Kingswear to Brownstone – July walk of the month

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Dartmouth Daymark Sunburst. Photographer: Richard Frank Taylor (2014 Photo Competition entry)

A fairly challenging walk along woodland footpaths, with plenty of steep climbs and descents, the Kingswear to Brownstone Battery walk on the South West Coast Path is the walk of the month for July.

It’s just under 5 miles long and takes you along high cliff paths around the mouth of the Dart Estuary, giving fine views over the castles that protected this important waterway for more than 600 years.

Passing through woodland dedicated to the memory of a local hero and returning via the Daymark tower, erected in 1864 to show sailors the way into the harbour at Dartmouth, the route visits the extensive remains of the Brownstone Battery, built during the Second World War to prevent enemy landings on the beaches to the east. Skylarks trill overhead and seals can sometimes be seen on the rocks below.