The South West Coast Path

If you’re interested in completing all or just sections of the South West Coast Path, below you’ll find:

  • The history
  • Useful facts and figures
  • Some of the many notable places along the way
  • And the wildlife

At 630 miles (1013 km), the South West Coast Path is the longest marked footpath and National Trail in the UK – soon to be overtaken by the England Coast Path which is due for completion imminently. The South West Coast path, as the name suggests, covers the whole of the south west coast of the UK from it’s starting point in Minehead, Somerset (Grid reference SS 97069 47077) to Poole in Dorset (Grid reference SZ 03631 86660).  

The path takes you through four of the most popular English counties; Somerset, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset and because of that, you come across an abundance of interesting, beautiful and historical sites and it’s very well maintained, helped by the fact that over 70% of the route runs through National Parks, Areas of Natural Beauty, 2 World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO Biosphere and a UNESCO Geopark.

South West Coast Path – Trail Planner
Highlighted full length of the SWC Path (Picture courtesy of Trailplanner)

Some pretty impressive facts and figures here for you:

  • With 115,000 feet of ascent and descent, walking the full length of the South West Coast Path is equivalent to scaling the world’s tallest mountain four times! 
  • Along the route you will cross 230 bridges, catch 13 ferries, go through 880 gates, climb over 436 stiles, pass more than 4,000 Coast Path signs and go up or down over 30,000 steps. 
  • Approximately 9 million people visit the Path each year.

The South West Coast path was originally created by the Coastguard on the lookout for smugglers who were rife in the 13th century and the Coastguard continued to patrol the route until the early 1900’s, because of this the path still runs very close to or through many of the coves and caves along the way, providing spectacular views of some of the UK’s otherwise hidden coastal gems. Evidence of the route being used goes back much further than that, however. Through the discovery of various fossils it is understood that our ancestors could have walked and hunted on sections of the route as far back as the end of the last Ice Age – approximately 11,700 years ago. I assume they probably didn’t have the same sign posts and markers to follow though.

On average it takes approximately eight weeks to walk the path. Most people divide it into sections and complete it over several years, however you do of course find that some people will complete the whole trail in one go. Various records have been set over the years for quickest completion time, in 2016 the outdoor journalist and GB ultra runner Damian Hall set the new fastest known time of 10 days, 15 hours and 18 minutes. Now that’s pretty impressive!

Damien Hall (The Guardian)

Many people wild camp along the route, and there are plenty of hidden places you could easily get away with that, but do remember that wildcamping is not permitted in England and you might be moved along if you’re not careful, also if you do wildcamp please also remember to leave no trace and try not to ruin the beauty for everybody else.

If wildcamping isn’t your thing though and you still want to give the path a go, then there is a plethora of campsites, B&Bs and hotels with the path running right by them or not too far away to make a slight detour.

So what will you see along the way? Other than 630 miles of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery, the path takes your through a number of iconic places such as: 

Exmoor National Park, Somerset & Devon

Port Isaac, Cornwall (As featured in ITV’s Doc Martin)

Lands’s End , Cornwall (UK’s most westerly point)

Lizard Point, Cornwall (UK’s most southerly point)

Chesil Beach, Dorset

Portland Bill, Dorset

Durdle Door, Dorset

There is also an abundance of wildlife you could see, such as:

  • Swifts and Peregine Falcons ( Two of the world’s fastest birds)
  • Kestrel
  • Wild goats and ponies 
  • Deer
  • Rabbits and hares
  • Basking sharks
  • Seals
  • Dolphins
  • Otters

You might also find us along there too! We have recently decided to make it our goal to complete the full 630 miles, breaking it into various 50-100 mile stretches. You can find my reports of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what we’ve seen on the site once we’ve done them. 

As well as the route appearing on various OS Maps, there are a great selection of guidebooks by Cicerone which focus mainly on the route allowing you to easily follow the path without getting tied up in your map.

You can find your OS Maps here and your Cicerone guidebooks here

If you want to find some more information about the South West Coast Path, have a look at the official website over here

Happy trailing!

Categories: Uncategorized

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