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.
A cascade of picture postcard flower covered white cottages, tiny alleys and tea shops tumble down the side of an impossibly steep hill into a tiny curved stone harbour lined with lobster pots.... a village like a waterfall as one poet described it.Clovelly is without argument Devon’s showpiece harbour village, almost unfathomably perfect and a clotted cream advertisers dream! Privately owned, car free and unusually for the West Country protected by rules against second homes you will find a living village where 98% of the beautiful little cottages are lived in year round.
Reached by a torturously steep cobbled street which is known as up along or down along depending on which way you are walking... little alleys reveal pubs, tea shops and finally the famous stone pier. Have a look at The church which has a fine Jacobean Pulpit along with the inevitable memorial to the villages most famous resident Charles Kingsley, his former home now the Kingsley Museum. The Quay itself dates back to the 14C..... and looks it. The big change here came as tourism started to replace fishing helped by the literary input from the Romantics, Kingsley and even Dickens who rather aptly penned a message from the sea here.
All sounds too good to be true? Well we may be well covered for atmospheric and unspoilt fishing villages down here but they don’t get any prettier than this in the West Country. With motor vehicles banned from the village its a joy to explore and staying overnight you can really get to wander in peace and soak up the scenery once the day trippers have departed. If you are late departing next day you will spot your bags going back up the cobbled street on wooden sledges which are the only way of moving heavy items now that most of the donkeys have retired.
Whether you arrived here on the lonely road to start your walking or got here zig zagging down from the cliffs, Hartland Quay feels like the end of the world. Precariously clinging to the black twisted slate cliffs this tiny huddle of buildings, now The Hartland Quay Hotel, has resisted more than its share of attempts to wash it away by the tormented Atlantic Ocean which seems to surround it on all sides.
The Quay and small harbour has been here since Elizabeth 1st and indeed Drake and Raleigh were part of a group who financed the attempt to put an outpost here. It was the severe gales of 1887 and then again in 1896 that finally put paid to any commercial future, they destroyed a pier that had had to be continually repaired after every storm encroached closer and closer Battered, neglected and eventually allowed to be swept away by the wildest of Atlantic rollers whatever else it must have been a hardy life out here...in 1874 the Inn was closed for a while due to excessive drinking !
Today’s rambling inn may not be the height of luxury but its location is unrivalled and a wander out of the front door at sunset with a backdrop of stars and a soundtrack of thundering waves. What survives is a pub a shop and small but fascinating museum detailing the trading, wildlife and terrible shipwrecks of this infamous spot.
Morwenstow truly is as dramatic and timeless as it gets. Reached by walking inland along the 12th Century Ancient way, this is the first Cornish hamlet on the path since arriving from Devon and there is a wild outpost feel about the handful of dwellings, church and 13th century inn that make up the settlement. Trees here are permanently bent over at bizarre angles, this is a harsh, windswept and isolated spot many miles and years away from the towns and cities "upcountry".
Fascinating however, due in the main to one Parson Hawker, the eccentric opium smoking poet and vicar who was in charge here in the mid 1800's. The first vicar posted here for over a century, at a time when it was reported that the Morwenstow wreckers were happy to "allow a fainting brother to perish in the sea without extending a hand of safety." Hawker was fixated by the numbers of sea dead washed up on the rocks below the church and specifically the local practice of beach burial.
Despite a healthy proportion of smugglers and wreckers in the pews he took to bribing them with healthy amounts of Gin to help him in bringing the dead back up the sheer cliffs to a proper Christian burial. He built a small hut (Hawker's Hut) from driftwood clinging to the precipitous cliffs, where he spent his time writing his poems, smoking opium and keeping watch for the shipwrecks. This driftwood hut is now the smallest property in the National Trust portfolio and passed on the path as you leave for Bude. His antics included dressing up as a mermaid and excommunicating his cat for hunting mice on Sundays but he left his mark however as it was here he created a new service celebrated today all over the UK, The Harvest Festival.
In his churchyard you can spot a granite cross marked "Unknown Yet Well Known", marking a mass grave of 30 or more dead seafarers he had brought back up the cliffs by the villagers. From here look over at the nearby Gothic style vicarage with the towers he commissioned, one as a replica of his mothers tomb !
A wild and imposing place Morwenstow offers the modern walker two worthy points of shelter, The Bush Inn a place of refuge for travellers since 950AD when it was used by travelling monks. An appropriately atmospheric place which still has its leper's window in place where the needy were passed scraps, later used as a lookout by the wreckers and smugglers who operated from this alehouse. If that all sounds too intimidating, beside the church is the award winning Rectory Tea rooms - one of the best (and certainly one of the most remote) in Cornwall.
After many miles of coast path Bude provides a sizeable town and facilities (the first in Cornwall) or for those starting their walking a gateway to the sands of Widemouth bay and your climb up into the cliffs of Smuggling Country. Whilst not the most in vogue location, (try Fowey or Port Isaac for that), it retains appeal for its excellent beaches and lively (for Cornwall) town which has developed a strong surfing connection.
The Bude canal is certainly worth a look, opened in 1823 it runs through the lower end of town and has its own unique sea lock. It's a surreal sight to follow it to the Atlantic and see the canal meet the ocean on a beach!
At the end of the canal there is plenty to occupy you on an evening stroll over the cliff top and out along the breakwater to the barrel rock at low tide.
Bude castle and Heritage Centre, its gardens, art gallery and the rather surreal Bude Light are also close by. For those needing to refresh those feet, you have the tidal swimming pool or if that's too much effort consider hiring a rowing boat to explore the canal.
Bude has some of the UK's best surfing beaches and culture and for those keen to immerse themselves in the Atlantic then this is the place to do it, consider a rest day option here with a surfing lesson built in.
For the overnight walker you are blessed with good range of accommodation, restaurants, café's and bars to choose from. Some of the more atmospheric are to be found close to the surfing haven at the Summerleaze beach end of town.
All in all with its locally run shops and businesses Bude has a pleasant and laid back feel about it and as a launching pad for the wild walking to come is a stress free and hospitable stop with pristine golden sands stretching in all directions.
Whichever way you arrive at Crackington Haven you can't fail to be impressed with the almost unrivalled panoramas. Hemmed in tightly below the towering dark cliffs of Pencarrow to the east and the expansive jutting headland of the Cambeak to the West, the steep sided cliff tops are awash with heather and gorse drawing you down into the little lush valley far below containing the village. Crackington Haven itself is little more than a smattering of dwellings only separated from the shingle beach by the road where it bridges the mouth of the steam that actually flows onto the beach and out into the Atlantic Rollers.
This tiny place was a former port trading in slate and the Coombe Barton Inn was the former Quarry master's house. The "free trade" of the smugglers continued in the coves to both sides of the village, with records of armed pirates and wreckers as far back as 1342. Inland a scattering of cottages climb the hillside above the rolling valley including 3 thatched former yeoman residences which would have been Cornish longhouses with family and livestock together under one roof.
The beach itself is tucked in between fascinating rock formations with huge slabs dominating the western edge of the beach and impressive distorted zigzag strata beds below the towering cliffs to the east. Two small café's, a pub and hotel provide basic but welcome facilities and for those that are mesmerised by the rolling surf there is the chance to cool off and hire out a wetsuit and board and play below the cliffs in this well sheltered and atmospheric harbour.
The beach can feel quite busy during the day in high season but for those on an overnight stay as the day trippers leave you will enjoy a tranquil and unspoilt atmosphere underneath the majestic cliffs on a beach only yards away from your bed. If energy allows, a pre dinner wander back up the cliffs to Pencarrow head will give rise to fantastic end of day views towards the sunset or you can take a stroll up one of inland wooded valleys to visit the church of St Genny's and its holy well where the locals were known as the "St Genny Wrestlers and Wreckers". The tiny hamlet occupies a haunting position in the lee of cliffs circling with kestrel and buzzard and if you like bizarre, the churchyard is so steep that one of its paths is almost level with the roof !
Boscastle's medieval Harbour is indeed a dramatic spot, a twisted miniature fjord squeezed into a knife like ravine of crags and cliffs. There is plenty to explore here and it's a worthy overnight stop on your walk for those who want to see more of the Boscastle and Tintagel areas.
Below Penally point above the dog legged harbour is the Devils Bellows a blow hole which blows a horizontal jet of water across the harbour opening about 1 hour each side of low tide. The whole harbour area, promenade and walls are fascinating to wander around but don't miss the excellent Museum of Witchcraft.
An historically focused exhibition with a very un-Harry Potter like collection of fascinating artefacts which explore beliefs and practices whilst tackling the stereotypes often associated around Cornwall's pagan past.
Boscastle became known to an international audience in the summer of 2004 when a 3m flash flood of water funnelled into the harbour area wreaking havoc following freak weather conditions. With over 90 residents and visitors airlifted out in a true battle against time and nature this is now a significant part of the harbours history.
There is lots of information in the visitors centre about the events of that day and the epic efforts of both locals and rescue services that amazingly resulted in no fatalities. Today, with restoration work virtually complete the village is back to its stunning and appealing former self.
For the walker seeking a rest from the path, the harbour area itself has a good selection of art and craft shops, bakers, restaurants and tea gardens and several atmospheric 16th Century inns for some liquid refreshments. If staying visit the excellent Visitors Centre, Cafe and Shop run by the National Trust in one of the restored harbour buildings has exhibitions covering the village and its highlights.
This area is well worth further exploration so for those spending more time or staying overnight here then Boscastle village itself is a bit of an oasis of calm set back up the hill from the harbour area. It's a trip back in time and there is a rewarding short walk (details from the visitor centre) taking in its most interesting spots and excellent views of the harbour and inland valleys. More exploring will take you to the 42 Forrabury Stitches behind the church one of the best examples left of medieval strip farming and Celtic land use known as Stitchmeal. Combine this with a pre dinner sunset stroll to the viewpoint at Willapark with excellent views back over the village and along the coast in both directions.
For Thomas Hardy fans or those who want a break from the coastal delights, a 4 mile walk up the beautiful ancient woodland in the Valency river valley and over its old granite gate post stepping stones, takes you past an abandoned hamlet and up to the isolated and stark St Juliot's church. This is true Hardy country and locations from A Pair of Blue Eyes are all around. He met his first wife Emma here while working to restore the church and they spent their early days together picnicking by these waterfalls in the wildlife filled woods of the tranquil Valency River.
Tintagel town itself may have more than its fair share of tourist trappings and plastic Excalibur's but don't be put off, as an overnight stop to refuel for more coast path you are well provided for. There are plenty of good options for eating and drinking and enough to explore in the village if you have the energy. Most importantly no amount of tourist tat can take away from the castle and immediate coastline below the town which is absolutely unrivalled in atmosphere, drama and panorama and should not be missed or rushed through. The big advantage of staying here is you can visit early in the morning or late in the day before or after the masses and contemplate these black foreboding ruins the in semi isolation they deserve.
The remains of the castle visible today herald from much later than any tenuous connection with King Arthur's Camelot but this mesmerising site on a precipitous off shore island has monastic and fortified remains dating right back to the 6th Century. It is these ruins that have drawn and inspired visitors such as Turner, Tennyson and Dickens to develop the literary cult of King Arthur.
According to the legend, Merlin smuggled Uther Pendragon into Tintagel using magic to disguise him as the Duke of Cornwall so that he could make love to Igerna, the duke's wife, Arthur was duly conceived here and the legend born. The small gap between land and island was reached by a drawbridge and is now replaced by a stunning walkway leading you to the ruins.
Beneath the castle a newly installed vertical stairway takes you down tumbling cliffs to the beach at Castle Haven and the chance at low tide to explore Merlin's cave which runs right under the island to meet the sea on the other side.
Back up in the village the Old Post Office is actually a fascinating 14th Century National Trust manor house, its oak pieces, gallery and buttress construction well worth investigating. For those more interested in the Arthur cult visit King Arthur's Great Halls with its storytelling approach to the Legend. Keep your tongue in your cheek and it's an amusing and admittedly impressive attempt by one 20th Century eccentric to encompass all things Arthur on an appropriately monarchic scale. With over 70 stained glass windows depicted the deeds of the knights as well as granite thrones, sound and light shows and of course that obligatory round table.
If you become Arthured out head inland to St Nectan's Glen (also accessible from Rocky Valley and the Coast Path between Boscastle and Tintagel), where at the head of a lush valley a stunning 60ft waterfall crashes through a natural rock arch into the forest floor.
The Kieve (the natural bowl at the base of the falls) is now a hermitage reported to be on the site of St Nectan's Cell and is claimed to have been a place of reverence, worship and healing since pre-Christian times. If you can stand the water temperature you can still bathe in its mysterious and therapeutic atmosphere but if it all sounds a bit chilly, with plenty of good pubs boasting roaring fires in the colder months Tintagel town will happily accommodate the weary and hungry as they look for rest from the coastal climbs.
Gently nestling around its own natural sea inlet and wedged back into the surrounding valley sides Port Isaac has a timeless quality about it and is probably everyone's idea of a quintessential Cornish Fishing Village. Narrow streets of slate capped and whitewashed cottages wind steeply down to its harbour, always a lively spot with the crabbers and fishing boats arriving to tie up and land their catch, much of which can be eaten in the surrounding restaurants only a few steps away. At the mouth of a deep, steep-sided valley a rushing stream runs down through the colourful higgledy-piggledy cottages and into the sea over the harbour wall.
Weatherbeaten mariners would long to catch sight of Port Isaac whilst trawling along the inhospitable coast and today as an overnight stop for weary coast walkers, it's a cosy and welcoming place, with a healthy number of eating places in the village as well as nearby Port Gaverne. A taste of things to come ahead of you in cosmopolitan Padstow you can find everything from those staple fish and chips at the harbour wall to highly rated restaurants serving international cuisine and with fishing and crabbing still going on there is lots of locally caught lobster and shellfish to sample. This may be the most choice since you started walking but don't go too wild if you need to negotiate infamous "Squeezebelly alley" on your return to bed.
Exploring these tiny lanes or "drangs" you will find a pleasant handful of art galleries, café's and shops as well as a working pottery overlooking the harbour. If you are here on a Friday night watch out for "The Fisherman's Friends" a group of local residents and fisherman including the Postmaster who gather at The Platt on the harbour wall to sing timeless sea shanties to anyone who cares to listen. A well protected conservation area since 1969 it may well look familiar having been the location of several films including Saving Grace as well as providing yet another backdrop for Poldark and more recently the quirky "very Cornish (!)" village from the TV series Doc Martin.With a good range of facilities and an unspoilt backdrop Port Isaac is one of the most welcome and picturesque stops on your walk. Those taking a rest day can get an unforgetable experience of the coves and sea caves by paddling a kayak to them from the harbour with Cornish Coast Adventures
Even the least informed visitor to Cornwall will have heard wondrous tales of Padstow – most of it thankfully still with some basis. Without doubt the harbours position perched on the golden sands of the Camel Estuary is unrivalled. Still a working fishing port Padstow’s new found fame is as Cornwall’s culinary culture thanks in the main to the arrival of Celebrity Chef Rick Stein (though he is now being given a further run for his money by one Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant further down the coast path at Watergate Bay).
For those not able to afford the world famous Steins seafood restaurant you can still try Rick’s superior fish and chips on the pier or eat alfresco sat on the harbour wall with take outs from his renowned patisserie or delicatessen and if you like what you eat you can even enrol for a quick lesson in his cookery school!
Without doubt the cult of Steinism has created a welcome mushrooming of other high quality restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, coffee houses and curio shops. For the weary coast path walker used to more basic overnight stays Padstow gives a real de-mob, end of trail feel, a time for some well earned indulgence for those having completed the toughest of sections of the Wreckers Trail from Westward Ho! or the chance to stock up on some reserves for those arriving to trek out on the beach path to St Ives.
It’s not just food however, with a warren of tight and winding streets often adorned with flowers and greenery, a wander round Padstow's cafés, galleries and working harbour is a pleasant activity in itself. Whilst in high season during the day the town can become overrun, for those walking in or out you have the best of the place arriving just as the day trippers leave to meet a more serene pace of life around the tiny harbour and medieval streets – and even when it is busy you don’t need to wander far to escape.
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