Walking the South West Coast Path in 2023
The South West Coast Path is like no other route in the UK. This path spans 630 miles starting from Minehead, Somerset and finishing in Poole, Dorset. You will pass through or visit 300 towns or villages, whilst walking the South West Coast Path.
WALKING THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH
The South West Coast Path (SWCP) was originally a route created by the coastguards to patrol for smugglers. Because the path hugs the coast this was the best way for them to be able to spot any suspicious activity. The path is no longer used for this purpose and is purely used for enjoyment by the public who wish to take in the spectacular views and walk or run the trail. The path is now looked after by volunteers, the National Trust and members from the South West Coast Path Association.
The South West Coast Path offers you the opportunity to explore so many differing landscapes across the counties of Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. Described as one of the UK’s best walking routes, it boasts Heritage coastlines and numerous Nature Reserves as well as five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two World Heritage Sites (the Jurassic Coast and Cornish Mining Heritage), a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a National Park! Within The South West Coast path are the smaller coast path routes such as, Devon Coast Path, Cornish Coast Path, Jurassic Coast Path, Dorset Coast Path.
You can click here to visit our ‘Ancient Sites’ article page.
What are the hardest and easiest parts when walking the South West Coast Path?
Many people often ask about the hardest and easiest parts of the South West Coast Path, whilst this answer may vary slightly for each individual, we consider the easiest parts of the Coast Path to be between Salcombe and Lyme Regis (6-8 days walking) or Padstow and St Ives (4-7 days walking). And we consider the hardest daily parts of the South West Coast Path to be between Hartland, Clovelly and Bude, or St Ives, Zennor and Pendeen.
- The section around the Hartland Peninsula, Clovelly to Bude, is exposed, and have numerous accents and descents meaning that you’ll be concentrating on your walk all day. However, this area does offer some of the most spectacular scenery of the entire South West Coast Path.
- The section between St Ives, Zennor and Pendeen is often quoted as being tough due to the rocky and boggy ground. This area is known for its granite, which protrudes from the ground across the entire Cornish landscape. Therefore in this area you will spent a lot of time looking at your feet and won’t be walking at the same pace as other sections. But, be assured that you will see some of the most stunning views and turquoise seas in the UK.
“IF YOU CAN FIND A PATH WITH NO OBSTACLES, IT PROBABLY DOESN’T LEAD ANYWHERE.” – Frank A. Clark
When to walk on the South West Coast Path?
Often the most popular time of year to walk the South West Coast Path is during the spring and late summer. However, the path is open all year round, but there are lots of things to consider when walking in the winter and autumn months. Often walking on the Coast Path during the winter can prove to be slippery and muddy making the ground uneven and sometimes unsafe to walk on. During the winter months many of the amenities (cafes, ferries, small shops, public toilets) on the South West Coast Path tend to close down.
Facts about the South West Coast Path –
- When walking the South West Coast Path it is equivalent to walking Mount Everest four times.
- The South West Coast Path is the longest waymarked trail in the UK at 630 miles long.
- You will cross 230 bridges and climb 436 stiles when walking the South West Coast Path.
- The half way point of the 630 mile South West Coast Path is Porthallow on the Lizard Peninsula.
- You can purchase a South West Coast Path Passport from the SWCPA and collect stamps as you walk. There are over 100 stamping points to have your passport stamped when walking the South West Coast Path.
Can I arrange my own walking holiday on the South West Coast Path or should I use a holiday company?
The answer to this is completely personal choice. The booking process is possible either way. If you intend to book your walk on the South West Coast Path yourself there are many things to consider. Click here to view our ‘Booking Yourself vs Holiday Company’ article for more information.
Photo Credit: Antony Bank
Frequently Asked Questions About The South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path is England’s longest National Trail walking route. The South West Coast Path stretches 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset, through North Devon, Cornwall, into South Devon and finishing in Poole, Dorset. The path offers something for everyone with its culture, stunning scenery, history, wildlife, and geology. There are many coastal valleys, bustling harbours, golden beaches with beautiful coves, estuaries, and outstanding headlands. The South West Coast Path varies in difficulty, with some parts being fairly easy to walk, whilst other parts offer extreme terrain making it harder to walk in areas.
Officially, the South West Coast Path is 630 miles long from Minehead to Poole walking through the 4 counties of Somerset, Devon, Cornwall & Dorset. Unofficially, including detours, temporary diversions, ferry crossings, and the walking to and from accommodations, if walking the entire South West Coastal Path you will walk closer to 650 miles.
Whilst the official end of the path is at South Haven Point, most walkers in the past have crossed to Sandbanks and walked into Poole for their final night’s accommodation. Over the past few years, we have see more and more walkers opting to cross to Sandbanks, then walk along the promenade to Bournemouth using the Bournemouth Coast Path, which is approximately the same distance as walking to the train station in Poole.
The official start of the South West Coast Path is located on the waterfront at Minehead in Somerset. It’s marked with a large steel pair of hands and a map sculptured by Owen Cunningham, based on a design by Sarah Ward.
The official 630 mile end point of the South West Coast Path is located at South Haven Point, Dorset. It’s marked with a sculpture by David Mayne.
The official 315 mile half way point of the South West Coast Path is located on the beach at Porthallow on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall.
The South West Coast Path is officially 630 miles long starting in the seaside town of Minehead in Somerset, before hugging the coastlines of North Devon, Cornwall, South Devon and finishing in Poole, Dorset.
The path is normally completed in 35-52 days over 5-8 weeks. Some walkers will do this in one go, but many will visit multiple times walking 1-2 weeks each visit.
Of those walking the entire path in one go, few book all accommodations at once. Most will plan a week or so ahead, allowing changes for rest days, minor injuries and bad weather.
The South West Coast Path welcomes thousands of walkers each year of all abilities. Some come for a few days, whilst others walk the entire 630 miles in one visit. It is considered tougher than some other walking routes in the UK, due to the ascents and descents and the variable terrain underfoot.
When planning an itinerary, please remember that around 80% of walkers on the South West Coast Path opt to walk around 10-14 miles per day and the remaining 20% is split equally between those averaging under 10 miles per day and the experienced long distance walker/runner covering a maximum of 25 miles per day.
You can view the route profile of the South West Coast Path below on the handy walking app Komoot.
Hopefully, this will go some way in to answering the question.. “How hard is it to walk the South West Coast Path?”
The average walker on the South West Coast Path walks between 10-14 miles per day, with the occasional longer or shorter day. Others will leisurely walk it in 6-10 miles per day, with advanced hikers and runners covering between 16-30 miles per day. However, the amount of miles you can walk in a day is very much dependant on your ability, the part of the South West Coast Path you’re walking and how long you’re planning to walk for.
The 630 miles of the South West Coast Path is well marked with thousands of signs and way markers. All of them contain the recognisable acorn logo used by all national trails throughout the UK.
It is fairly difficult to lose the path, but not impossible. So, we would suggest at a minimum a good map, and if you’d like to know a little more about the area your walking, a guide book. There are also plenty of apps now available to assist with navigation.
The majority of the South West Coast Path is well posted, but it is always useful to have a map and guidebook for the area you plan to walk. There are many guidebooks available, with our favourites being the set of 3 that cover the entire South West Coast Path printed by Trailblazer. These guidebooks are updated regularly and have easy to follow instructions and maps as well as lots of useful information about planning your itinerary. We recommend these guides for all abilities of walker. If you’re a experienced walker, you may wish to look at the Cicerone South West Coast Path guidebook written by Paddy Dillon. This single guide covers the entire South West Coast Path.
Maps for the route are printed by AZ Maps and OS Maps.
Over the last few years, a number of navigational apps for mobile devices have become available to assist with planning and navigation. We recommend Komoot.
That’s like asking “what’s the best biscuit in the world?”. Ask anyone who’s completed the path, and they’ll all give you a slightly different area for many different reasons.
In our opinion, the area between St Ives and Falmouth offers the very best of the South West Coast Path. You get to see the rugged north coast, the mixing of the seas near Land’s End, the theatre chiselled into the cliff at Porthcurno, before the noticeable change in landscape as you round into Mounts Bay. Here you’ll find the picturesque village of Mousehole and the iconic St Michael’s Mount rising from the Sea. Beyond the Bay, you’ll wander along the Lizard Peninsula past village harbours and the impressive Kynance Cove. The Lizard has seen hundreds of ship wrecks over the years, and it’s not hard to see why with the rocky coastline and hidden reefs. Once you pass Lizard point, the coastline softens visibly as you pass through the fishing village of Cadgwith and Coverack. The final part of this route takes you round the creeks and rivers of Gillan and Helford, before finally finishing in the popular port town of Falmouth.
The South West Coast Path caters to a range of abilities. If you’re looking for a easy day’s walking, then the promenades around Torbay, Mounts Bay and Weymouth all make for a gentle stroll.
If you’re planning a short break on the South West Coast Path and are looking for a few days easy walking, have a look at the area between Salcombe and Lyme Regis or Padstow and St Ives.
Ask any walker who’s completed the Path “What’s the hardest part of the South West Coast Path?” and most will answer with one of two locations.
- Hartland – The two days walking between Clovelly and Bude are exposed, and have a good number of ascents and descents to keep your concentration up all day. It’s also an area with limited access, meaning once you’ve started walking for the day, you’ll have very little opportunity to leave the path. That said, this area does offer some of the most spectacular scenery of the entire path.
- West Penwith – The area around St Ives, Zennor and Pendeen. Whilst not as challenging as some other areas on the path, this particular section is often quoted as being tough due to the rocky and boggy ground. This area is known for its granite, which protrudes from the ground across the entire Cornish landscape. You will spend a lot of time looking at your feet, and won’t be walking at the same pace as other sections. But, be assured, you will be rewarded with some of the most stunning views and turquoise seas in the UK. Do not let this put you off.
Whilst both of these areas are considered the hardest, it does not stop walkers of all abilities venturing to these areas. The rewards far outweigh the difficulties.
*However, please note that we would say that the hardest part of the South West Coast Path is very much dependent on each individuals ability, the weather conditions and the footwear worn when walking.
The most popular seasons to walk are spring and late summer. However, the paths are open all year round, but there are lots of things to consider when walking in the winter and autumn months. Luggage transfers operate between March and October.
You can click here to view our ‘Seasons to go walking’ article for more information about the best time to walk the South West Coast Path.
There are no charges to walk on the South West Coast Path. But, if you are planning to walk over multiple days, you will have to factor in accommodation costs and food.
There is a range of accommodation available on or near the South West Coast Path including campsites, youth hostels, inns, pubs, guest houses and hotels. Prices range from less than £10 for a camping pitch, to £300+ for a high end spa hotel. This is what makes the South West Coast Path so appealing to all walkers. There really is a comfortable accommodation for every budget.
Other costs to consider include:
- Public transport
- Luggage transfers
- Guidebooks and maps
The South West Coast Path takes on average between 35-52 days to complete, so spending time managing your budget is essential.
Yes and No. There are lots of official campsites set up close to the route throughout the South West, which we advise you to use. Although there is a legal right to walk the South West Coast Path, wild camping is not allowed without the permission of the land owner and is considered trespass without this permission.
Yes, you can bring your dog with you. There are things to consider regarding safety on the paths, such as keeping them on lead, keeping distance from livestock, keeping your dog away from cliff edges, and ensuring that you have enough water for them. If you’re crossing a beach with a dog ban during the summer months, the best way to cross this beach, if it is part of a path, with your dog is to keep them on a lead, do not hang around, and keep to the line of the path.
Luggage transfers can carry dog items such as dog food, dog bed and dog toys/essentials as long as they are in handled bag with a label on.
Both ways are entirely possible. When planning on the go you will need to bear in mind that accommodation will be limited to what is available and it may mean you’ll have to walk longer or shorter days, inland, or even pay for a bus or taxi transfer to an accommodation nearby. This will likely also increase the cost of a luggage transfer if it’s longer that an average day’s walking.
There are at least 17 river/estuary crossings on the South West Coast Path. Many of these have bridges or regular ferries. There are at least 3 river crossings that require some planning around the tide. For more information about river crossing please see:
Some river crossings provide a boat, ferry or bridge to enable you to cross the river, whilst some rivers are only able to be crossed when the tide is out, therefore meaning you have to plan your walk based on tide times. Please click here to visit our ‘River Crossing’ page for further information.
Yes, you can walk the South West Coast Path in the reverse direction, from Poole to Minehead (clockwise). Each year approximately 90% of our baggage transfers are going in the anti-clockwise direction from Minehead on the North Coast to Poole on the South Coast.
The Jurassic Coast is a 95 mile stretch of stunning coastline, spanning from Devon to Dorset which can be walked in 5-9 days. The Jurassic Coast is well known for its white chalk rocks, this section of the Coastal Path is so significant because each days walk provides a different walking environment, breath-taking views, and different terrain.
You can view 2 suggested itineraries that include the Jurassic Coast here:
Brixham to Lyme Regis over 4-7 days
Lyme Regis to Poole over 5-9 days
Yes we still provide baggage transfers for walkers of the South West Coast Path even if their accommodation is inland. In some locations along the Coast Path there is very little option when it comes to finding accommodation, meaning that in some areas walkers would stay in the same location for two nights and use public transport to commute to and from the path, or stay further inland.
Booking your own walking holiday can be time consuming and takes a lot of thought. There are many things to consider, whether you plan to walk a chunk of the path, or the whole route, a lot of planning will need to go into it. Often, booking yourself can work out cheaper than if you were to use a holiday company, however as mentioned above a lot of work goes into the planning on a walking holiday.
If you choose to use a holiday company to book your holiday, it will be stress free. You can provide them with your requirements and sit back and relax.
You can find more information regarding the advantages & disadvantages on booking yourself vs booking with a holiday company by clicking here.