SOUTH WEST COAST PATH (SWCP)
source: Main image: https://www.masarnenramblers.com/south-west-coast-path-2017.html
- Start/End: Minehead, Somerset
- End/Start: Poole Harbour, Dorset
- Length: 630 miles (1,014 km)
The South West Coast Path offers (SWCP) 630 miles or 1,014 km of stunning coastal walking around the entire South West peninsula. Depending on where you start, you cover the Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, North Devon and Exmoor coastline. Here’s the link for the most comprehensive website for the Path to help you plan your walk.
Only since I started walking parts of the SWCP in 2020 with friends did I realise the therapeutic benefits of being by the sea…Simply staring out to sea can change our brain wave frequency, luring us into a calm and meditative state. The colour blue is associated with feelings of calm and peace and listening to the ebb and flow of waves. The swell of the sea naturally soothes and relaxes the brain.
Depending on several factors, we decide what part we want to walk, usually for 3-5 days walking, and this is only sometimes consecutive stretches of the Path. However, I will probably do a five- or seven-day walk around Minehead and Cornwall. This is because we usually travel by train and for the paths furthest away from where I live in London, I’ll need to allow a day on either side for travel.
The route has over 115,000 feet of ascent and descent – the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest four times! But you don’t have to walk it all at once, and millions of visitors like my friends and I enjoy the various segments each year. We carry all our items for the trip in backpacks, so you must pack as lightly as possible. Some travel companies organise walks and send your backpack to your next destination. Or, on a couple of occasions when it has been boiling, we have paid our hotel to send our bags to the next hotel.
The Path is usually walked in an anti-clockwise direction from Minehead to Poole. Still, it is well-signed in most sections, although having an Ordnance Survey map is helpful. I need to improve at map reading; luckily, I always walk with someone who can!
Starting at Minehead in Somerset, it runs along the coastline of Exmoor, continuing along the coast of North Devon into Cornwall. It follows the entire coastline of Cornwall, goes across the mouth of the River Tamar and continues into Devon. After running along the south coast of Devon, it then follows the Dorset coastline before finally ending at Poole Harbour.
Walking along the dramatic coastal scenery and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and moorland is incredibly therapeutic and beautiful. For my friends and I, it has similar benefits as ski-ing but without the price tag; hence we’ve coined the walks ‘like skiing, but on budget’: lots of fresh air and stunning scenery, lots of exercise as parts of the walk are described as ‘easy, moderate or strenuous’, and an incredible sense of achievement when you arrive at your destination (a pub/inn or hotel) in the evening exhausted and exhilarated and ready for delicious hearty hot meal and a cheeky drink or two. And you’ll get a good night’s sleep with all the day’s exertions and fresh sea air! The bonus is the swims depending on where you walk and the time of year you go.
Choose the part of the SWCP you’d like to walk depending on the type of walker you are; there’s something for everyone – whether you’re an experienced trekker looking for a considerable challenge, a relaxed rambler wanting scenic strolls, a young backpacker embarking on an adventure or a family keen to explore the great outdoors. Many resources, including maps, are available to help you plan your walks: South West Coast Path Association, a registered charity, helps care for the Path and support the interests of its users. Here are some highlights from my recent walk in North Devon from Barnstaple to Hartland Quay.
Top tips from a relatively new walker, aka me!
You will need four items of good kit: a waterproof and windproof jacket, showerproof or waterproof trousers; walking shoes or boots (trainers will not cut the mustard) on parts of the walk; and a comfortable, well-fitting 30-35 litre backpack for a 3-7 day walk.
Ensure you set off with plenty of water and lunch, as some stretches of the Path have no amenities.
If, like me, you’re a water baby and swimming in the sea is a vital part of the experience, time your walk and the part of the Path that allows you access to beaches. Although it’s a coastal Path, some beaches are not accessible.
Ideally, for your safety, it’s best to walk in a group of four if you are an absolute beginner.
In terms of what to pack, make sure you take miniatures of everything, especially if, like us, you plan to carry your possessions point to point. You can buy small, lightweight plastic pots to fill with toothpaste, suncream etc., from Boots etc.
The cost for three nights is approximately £300-£500 once you factor in accommodation, travel costs and meals. The quality of accommodation and meals varies considerably.
I would advise setting off early; we were usually on the Path by 9.30 am. This will allow for plenty of stops and swims, and you can be slower on paths marked ‘strenuous’ because of the steep ups and downs.
Ignore some of the distances marked on the signposting; at times, it felt they were grossly inaccurate and measured by a muddled intern!
Finally, it’s a wonderful staycation holiday with friends and family, parts of the Path, won’t be suitable for young children. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me: at email@example.com
Enjoy your walk!
With our friends Mark and Clare Cameron