Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
Highlights: St Aldhelm’s Head, Durlston Park, Old Harry’s Chalk Stacks, Golden Sand beach and dune finish.
Your first climb today along the Jurassic Coast brings the wild protrusion of St Aldhelms Head passing en route an isolated and poignant little memorial garden to The Royal Marines where you are invited to “Rest awhile and reflect that we who are living can enjoy the beauty of sea and countryside” .....and you will from here. The views are outstanding from the headland, back to Portland one way and now as far as the Isle of Wight the other, fulmar, kittiwake, razorbills and even the odd puffin can be spotted up here as well as dolphin in the waters below the huge cliffs. At the top you encounter the stark 12thC St Aldhelms Chapel with its Norman Vaults and tremendous buttresses and pillar. Originally the isolated abode of a solitary priest who said daily prayers for the safe passage of ships below and lit a nightly beacon above the Coast Path.
Beyond this the walking is superb on a high level cliff top path traversing the occasional hanging valley, look out for the rare Lulworth Skipper Butterfly amongst patches of chalk milkwort and spider orchid. The remains of Winspit Quarry are the first of several on this route, this area so remote that rock drawn from the mines and quarry face by horse power was then lowered down the huge cliffs to waiting barges. Any boat in this area was taking risks, at Headbury Quarry you can see a canon lying far below you marking the resting place of the Halsewell sunk here on its way to India with 168 lives lost in 1786, the bodies buried close to the path in a mass grave..
Approaching Swanage you enter the Durlston Country Park passing nautical Daymark towers and the lighthouse at Anvil point (open for guided tours). You will encounter the square cut holes of the Tilly Whim Caves, cliff face limestone quarry shafts that became welcome holding sites for the smugglers hauls after the quarries shut in 1815 and these days they are the roosting holes for the rare Horseshoe Bat.
At Durlston Head you reach the bizarre 3m diameter globe made from Portland Stone weighing a mere 42 tonnes and somehow sited just inland of the Dorset Coast Path in 1887. It illustrates a very Victorian view of the world inscribed with scriptures, geological data and quotes from the great poets. The viewing platform here is one of the best spots for seeing Peregrine Falcons and Dolphins. For those who need it you can pause here for refreshments at the Lookout Cafe in the splendid Victorian folly of Durlston Castle also now the new 'Gateway Information Centre' for the Jurassic Coast Path.
You then descend to the Promenade to walk through Swanage with its an attractive Victorian Pier. You may want to take a day out here to visit nearby Corfe Castle.
Overnight stops at Swanage on the South West Coast Path
Ballard Down has its own chalk loving flowers and butterflies including the Adonis Blue and takes you to the final headland of the entire South West Coast Path at the impressive white stacks of Old Harry. These towering pinnacles of chalk are the remains of what was once a continuous ridge that linked to the Isle of Wight, its famous needles being the mirror end of this formation. Have your camera ready, the towering stacks are beautifully white, sheer and very memorable.
Passing pretty Studland with its fine Saxon Church, you reach Fort Henry, here in 1944, Montgomery, Mountbatten, Churchill and Eisenhower met to watch the preparations for D Day on the beach below.
You now end your journey with a superb contrast in the walking on three miles of soft sandy beach bringing the Dorset Coast Path adventure to a pleasing and reflective close. Offshore keep looking if you are yet to spot a bottlenose dolphin on this trip, inland is the rough grass, dune and heath of the Studland Heath Nature Reserve, housing everything from roe deer and nightjars to sand lizards and the rare smooth snakes.
Much fun is made of the well known Nudist beach which is the last obstacle (or attraction depending on your point of view) before reaching the ferry at South Haven Point. You can choose to avoid the naked by taking the National Trust’s thoughtfully provided heather walk through the dunes. Either way from here your South West Coast Path journey ends with a boat ride across the largest natural harbour on the UK’s south coast at Poole.
Overnight stops at Poole at the end of your South West Coast Path Walking Holiday
Finishing at Bournemouth
The South West Coast Path ends at the Sandbanks Ferry - this is still over 4 miles from the centre of Poole and we can help with advising on the options (walk, taxi, bus). Many people prefer however to travel onto Bournemouth which is about the same distance but is easier to get to with more buses. In addition Bournemouth provides a much wider range of accommodation, easy access to onward travel and with all its facilities and activities can be a more inspiring end to your Dorset Coast Path walk. We can provide accommodation in either location and help advise on the best option - just ask.
Overnight stops at Bournemouth on the South West Coast Path
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