10 magnificent day walks on the South West Coast Path
Brilliant coastal walks across Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset
1. Boscastle to Tintagel, North Cornwall - Best for… witches and wizards
The lovely fishing harbour of Boscastle has a trick up its sleeve – or a spell, at least. With fascinating and informative displays, the unique Museum of Witchcraft and Magic deserves a visit. But the spectacular section of coast path running south-west is more magical still. First skirt the Iron Age hillfort on Willapark promontory. Then tackle a succession of challenging climbs and descents on this dramatic stretch of shore. Finally, cross the bewitching Rocky Valley to reach the castle ruins atop Tintagel Head. By tradition this was the home of mythical King Arthur, with Merlin’s Cave in the cliffs beneath. Convenient buses link the two villages for a one-way 5-mile walk.
2. Porlock & Culbone, Somerset - Best for… hidden history amid the woods
The attractive village of Porlock, with its appealing pubs, shops and accommodation, makes a handy base for a day walk. This 5-mile route covers one of the loveliest stretches of coast path, returning along the Coleridge Way for more bucolic views. Cross the windswept saltmarsh to the pretty harbour hamlet of Porlock Weir, before climbing into Worthy Wood. Pass through a curious arched tollhouse before reaching tiny Culbone Church. Reputedly England’s smallest parish church, it’s secreted in a lovely cleft in the hillside. Cut down from here to Silcombe Farm and return through rolling farmland. Re-enter the woods to descend into Porlock past the thatched Ship Inn, where romantic poet Robert Southey composed a sonnet.
3. Fowey, South Cornwall - Best for… castles and coves
Yachts bobbing at anchor on the Fowey River reveal one reason why this handsome town is so popular. But there’s also scenic splendour and literary connections on a 7-mile circuit to the west. Follow the estuary to Readymoney Cove and St Catherine’s Castle, built by Henry VIII to guard this strategic harbour. Continue along the undulating coast path to Polridmouth. Here you’ll pass the turning to Daphne du Maurier’s former home Menabilly, inspiration for Manderley in her novel Rebecca. From the picturesque, rocky headland of Gribbin Point, turn north to the pretty cove of Polkerris, pausing for a drink or snack. Return to Fowey through peaceful farmland along the Saints’ Way.
4. Seaton to Lyme Regis, Devon/Dorset - Best for… a walk into a lost world
You wouldn’t be surprised to encounter a dinosaur in the lush shade of the Undercliff west of Lyme Regis. Indeed, you might stumble on a fossil in this unique landscape formed by landslips along the 200-million-year-old limestone and mudstone cliffs. Thanks to handy buses between Lyme and Seaton, it’s easy to enjoy a 7-mile one-way walk between the two. The coast path provides far-reaching clifftop views before ducking into the jungle-like landscape of the Undercliff, with occasional glimpses of sea and shore. Watch for ravens and other birdlife before emerging above the Cobb, Lyme Regis’ famous stone harbour wall.
5. Lizard, Cornwall - Best for… seals and sandy beaches
Mainland Britain’s southernmost point is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and all around by wonderful scenery, wildlife and history. An 8.5-mile circular walk from Lizard village takes in the best of these. A short tramp west across fields brings you to Kynance Cove, its golden sands lapped by astonishingly clear turquoise waters. Follow the coast path south-east, watching for red-billed choughs and, in summer, huge basking sharks cruising offshore. Beyond the lighthouse, look for grey seals bobbing in the rocky coves below. Continue past the thatched cottages of Church Cove to lovely Cadgwith, clustered around its little fishing harbour. Return over fields to Lizard Village for a well-earned pasty or pint.
6. Lynton to Heddons Mouth, North Devon - Best for… wild coastal scenery
Unusual rock formations prompted Victorian tourism pioneers to dub Lynton England’s Little Switzerland. This beautiful spot is the starting point for a 13-mile hike traversing one of the coast path’s most varied and spectacular sections. From the Cliff Railway top station follow the trail through the Valley of Rocks and down to Lee Bay. Plunge into the trees above Woody Bay to emerge onto bracken-clad cliffs providing fabulous sea views, before turning inland at Heddon’s Mouth. Refuel at Hunter’s Inn or the National Trust tearoom for the even loftier return route past a Roman fortlet. Finally, visit the scant hilltop remains of Hollerday House overlooking Lynmouth.
7. Around Porthcurno, Cornwall - Best for… clifftop drama
The incredible Minack Theatre, carved into the cliffs nearly a century ago, takes centre stage on this 7.5-mile circular walk. Start just inland at the comely village of Treen, blessed with a carpark, toilets and atmospheric pub. Head west across fields to peer through the rock arch at gloriously isolated Nanjizal beach. Then follow the coast path south and east, enjoying blissful solitude so close to the Land’s End crowds. This challenging route mounts numerous rocky headlands before dropping to a series of sheltered coves. Admire little Porthgwarra, Porthchapel below St Levan’s Well, the popular sandy beach at Porthcurno and tiny fishing harbour Penberth Cove.
8. Mortehoe, North Devon - Best for… rock outcrops and pools
The jagged talon of Morte Point is just the most prominent of the rocky outcrops studding this Atlantic coastline. No wonder Mortehoe was long a hotbed of smuggling and shipwrecks. An undulating 4-mile circuit around this perky village and along the coast path rewards with sea views and wonderful rockpooling. Head north from the carpark to reach the stumpy Bull Point lighthouse. Then follow the coast path southwest along the rugged shoreline, pausing to admire anemones and other sealife at Rockham Beach. Return to the village, where you can learn more about its heritage at the compact but fascinating museum.
9. Abbotsbury, Dorset - Best for… shingle strands and ancient history
The timeless village of Abbotsbury has plenty of charm, with the remains of its medieval abbey, huge tithe barn and hilltop St Catherine’s Chapel. But local history stretches back much farther, as explored on an 8-mile circular walk. Trace the Dorset Ridgeway west, passing ancient burial mounts and an impressive Iron Age hillfort. Then descend to the coast at West Bexington and Chesil Beach, the 18-mile-long shingle barrier formed by storms over thousands of years. Follow this curiously smooth shoreline east to the terminus of the Fleet Lagoon, site of Abbotsbury’s 600-year-old swannery.
10. St Ives to Zennor, Cornwall - Best for… luminous light and mermaid tales
St Ives is famed for its sandy beaches, historic fishing harbour and wonderful light that has long attracted artists. It’s also the starting point for a demanding but spectacular one-way 6-mile hike along the coast path to Zennor. The trail clambers over and around rock points and coves. Seals sunbathe below and in summer the fins of basking sharks carve the waves. End at the ancient village of Zennor to admire a mermaid carving in St Senara’s Church, linked to a Cornish folk tale. Cool off with a pint at the atmospheric Tinners Arms, from where you can catch a bus or follow an old coffin trail back to St Ives:
And we’ve got ideas for hundreds more wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website. Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests.
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