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’.

One of us was more keen than the other!

A completer’s story by Gareth Lawless and Clare Bullimore
Stoke Climsland, Cornwall

golden cap collage - Gareth LawlessOur Coast Path adventure covered 54 walks over 2½ years (March 2013 to September 2015).  We walked the trail in sequence but in the slightly more unconventional direction (Poole Harbour to Minehead).  We mainly used public transport to get ourselves in position and would encourage anyone to do the same; it adds to the experience. Getting to places in plenty of time and buying a latte while we waited for the bus became a regular occurrence.  The traveline site is great for planning and, despite catching 56 buses and 3 trains, they didn’t let us down once (though there were a few close shaves).

Looking back, we would find it difficult to single out highlights.  A couple of patches stick in our minds owing to their sheer splendour.  Torcross to Bigbury (in particular Start Point, Bolt Tail and Bantham) is simply stunning as is Godrevy to Perranporth (and I’m thinking of all of the seals at Godrevy Point, the sublime Trevaunance Cove and the mines at St Agnes’ Head).  We also have fond memories of looking across to Lundy Island and South Wales when they came into view.  Oh, and Marazion… and, Dartmouth, Lulworth, Dodman Point, the trains at Dawlish…  I should stop now.  We really could go on.

We walked the tough-going stretch between Rock and Hartland Point in the 2015 winter months and, while our legs certainly knew we’d been on those walks, it was rewarding and invigorating all the same.  But I should also mention the patches Clare enjoyed less (I still appreciated them).  This usually involved long, meandering treks through view-blocking woodland at the end of long walks.  Undercliff, Maidencombe and Culbone: we’re thinking of you.

At the start of this journey one of us was more keen than the other but we’re both thrilled that we completed it.

Our proximity to the path means we will always return and can do so in a more relaxed manner, allowing more time to savour it without the pressures of getting the miles in.  Our appreciation of the path, and of the Association‘s work to protect and preserve it, won’t subside.