These are my favourite sections of the South West Coast Path, says  Fiona Barltrop

“WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SECTIONS OF THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH?” you might well ask. It’s an obvious question, but with so many wonderful stretches and so much variety, selecting the top ten is far from easy. Obviously, my choice is subjective, but I know I am not alone in some of my preferences. These are all favourites, the majority, admittedly, in Cornwall (which, I confess, is my favoured county of the four the coast path goes around), but then the Cornish coastline does account for almost half the distance of the entire Path. A number of worthy contenders have had to be omitted, for which I can only offer my humble apologies.

  1. Ilfracombe to Croyde Bay, North Devon

Almost all this beautiful stretch of coast is National Trust land, comprising a mixture of cliffs and coves, sand-dunes, beaches and headlands. It’s an excellent, full day’s walk, with a couple of bus rides linking each end. The coastal scenery all the way is superb, especially round the two headlands of Morte Point and Baggy Point. Woolacombe beach can get very busy in summer so a good alternative is to go along the top of Woolacombe Down, which provides wonderful views. (PS If I could sneak in an extra north Devon section, my second choice would be the Exmoor stretch from Lynmouth to Combe Martin.)

  1. Hartland Quay to Bude, North Devon/North Cornwall

Arduous though it may be, the Hartland Quay to Bude section, which crosses the Devon/Cornwall border part way along, is one of the most scenically dramatic and exhilarating of the Coast Path. The SWCP Association’s annual guide grades it ‘severe’ with an overall ascent of 4,170ft. But any suitably fit person with plenty of stamina who takes it in their stride should enjoy a great day’s walk. Fine settled weather makes all the difference and late spring/early summer when the cliffs are carpeted in wild flowers is particularly lovely. There are buses between Bude and Hartland, but no public transport to Hartland Quay (a couple of easy miles to walk, but it does make the distance that much longer). I simply love this section, and always try to pick the best day of my stay for it when visiting the area.

There is perhaps no finer coastal walking anywhere along the Coast Path than the half-dozen miles either side of Land’s End.

  1. Widemouth Bay to Tintagel, North Cornwall

This is another tough, but glorious day’s walk. I reckon it’s the most strenuous stretch of the whole Coast Path for the distance involved (about 18 miles and 6700ft of ascent), but it’s easy enough to shorten it, if need be, since it’s on a regular bus route. Appropriately enough it takes in High Cliff, the (unimaginatively named) highest point on the coast path in Cornwall. Starting from the south end of Widemouth Bay (where there’s a bus stop), it’s up and down all the way to Boscastle via Crackington Haven, but the last few miles to Tintagel are easier. The cliff scenery is of the highest quality, and the rugged High Cliff-Rusey Cliff terrain really feels like mountain walking by the sea. Again, the wild flowers are a delight in spring.

  1. Tintagel to Polzeath, North Cornwall

Here we go again: another wonderful but strenuous stretch of splendid cliff scenery! But as with the above, since it’s on a regular bus route, it’s easy to shorten it, or make two days of it. It takes in the picturesque fishing village of Port Isaac (which viewers of ITV’s Doc Martin, with Martin Clunes, will be familiar with even if they’ve never been there) as well as the wonderful Rumps and Pentire Points. Polzeath is a surfer’s paradise – a taste of things to come….

  1. Padstow to Mawgan Porth, North Cornwall

This is a much gentler section than the previous few, which will come as a welcome relief to many. There’s the Camel estuary at the start, then low cliffs and big sandy bays, beloved of surfers. The highlight is undoubtedly Bedruthan Steps,one of the most photographed scenes on the Cornish coast. Not surprisingly it’s a popular beauty spot but arriving here late in the day, you may be lucky and have it to yourself. The pink and yellow of thrift and kidney vetch adorn the cliff-tops all the way along this section: again at their best in May. (NB Bustling Padstow, aka Padstein, is always busy!)

  1. Mousehole to Land’s End (or Cape Cornwall), South Cornwall

There is perhaps no finer coastal walking anywhere along the Coast Path than the half-dozen miles either side of Land’s End. The lichen-encrusted granite cliffs, especially on the southern side, are quite spectacular. Of particular note is Porthcurno Bay, rightly considered the most beautiful in Cornwall with its turquoise-tinged sea and light golden sands backed by the impressive cliffs. Cut into the cliffs here is the unique open-air Minack Theatre with the Logan Rock headland on the opposite side of the bay. There’s many a wondrous view along this stretch but perhaps the loveliest of all is that from Treen cliff-top of Pednvounder beach with the aforementioned headland beyond. The ideal is to arrive at Land’s End around sunset, for which this most westerly point of the English mainland is renowned. But the few miles from here to Cape Cornwall shouldn’t be missed either!

  1. Perranuthnoe to the Lizard, South Cornwall

Although there’s undoubtedly good walking on the east side of the Lizard peninsula, my favourite is the western side. It’s a long day’s walk from Perranuthnoe to the Lizard, the British mainland’s most southerly point, but there are regular bus services, so it’s easy to shorten it or make two days of it. Highlights include the harbours of Porthleven and Mullion as well as a number of scenic coves such as Poldhu and Kynance. Marconi undertook some of his pioneering radio experiments on the Lizard peninsula – there’s a monument on the cliffs south of Poldhu Cove.

  1. Torcross to East Portlemouth, South Devon

The finest coastline of south Devon is to be found in the southernmost part of the county. Stretching from the Tamar in the west to the Dart in the east, there are five estuaries which have to be crossed if you’re walking the Coast Path – not all of which are served by ferries all year round. Fortunately, for what is one of the best day’s walks along this coast – from Torcross to East Portlemouth – there is an all-year-round ferry across the Salcombe estuary from East Portlemouth. From Salcombe there are buses via Kingsbridge to Torcross. This section takes in the headlands of Start and Prawle Points, the latter the most southerly point in Devon.

  1. Kimmeridge Bay to Osmington Mills, Dorset

The Jurassic coast is my final choice for the last two sections, but in both cases linear day walks relying on public transport are a problem because of the lack of bus services. This first section, too, has the added restriction of limited access along the coastline between Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove, part of the MoD owned Lulworth Ranges, open only at weekends and during school holidays. But it’s not to be missed! My preferred option is two separate one-day circuits. West of Lulworth Cove (hugely popular so to be avoided in the summer/on bank holidays) is the much photographed Durdle Door.

  1. Swanage to Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset

For a one-day walk, I would skip Swanage and park at either Acton or Kingston (both just inland from the coast), and from the former join the coast at Dancing Ledge, a former coastal quarry site. This stretch takes you past the quarry caves at Winspit to St Aldhelm’s Head, a splendid viewpoint. To return from Kimmeridge Bay I would head inland to the village, continue along Smedmore Hill to Swyre Head and thence back to Kingston. There’s a bus service between here and Acton, though it’s not that far (a couple of miles) to walk, which I’ve done, if you don’t mind the road. Excellent coastal scenery.

Fiona Barltrop

Fiona Barltrop

This article first appeared in The Great Outdoors (TGO) magazine in June 2018, and is re-published here with the author’s permission. Copyright © Fiona Barltrop 2018. All rights reserved.
Fiona Barltrop is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer, with a particular love for coastal walking. She has been a regular contributor to UK walking magazines, including The Great Outdoors and Country Walking, for many years. She is also a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild and available for commissions.

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