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.
14 miles Moderate Grade with two strenuous climbs from Porlock Weir (16 miles from Porlock Village) - what these grades mean
Its no gain without some pain however as you leave Porlock Weir this morning with a heart-pumping climb first thing that rises from sea level at Porlock Bay through leafy forest tracks teeming with rabbits and then into narrow trails through the mighty forest that is the backdrop to "the Weir". This is Worthy Wood and you climb and climb through patches of wild garlic, past old stone quarries and through shady clearings always keeping an eye out for the deer that forage here. Eventually you emerge into the light and join the old drovers track to Ash Farm. It was here that Coleridge when in residence was forced to abandon his finest work Kubla Khan - unfinished forever as the Postman from Porlock, who would have arrived along the same lane you walk, ruined his train of thought. The unfortunate messenger has now himself gone down in history as having cut short one of the greatest ever literary works !
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.....
Just beyond Ash Farm is the chance (and everyone must take it) to divert off the Coleridge Way to drop 1/2 mile through the dense coastal woods to reach the simply perfect little church of St Beuno's at Culbone. This place hidden in a leafy glade is the smallest church in England with only a handful or rough wooden pews. It must also be one of the most remote, the parishoners still forced to walk 2 miles out along the coast path from Porlock Weir to attend services. It really is one of those other worldy spots that feels as close to heaven as to earth, always peaceful, empty and well worth the rigours of the steep ascent back to the Coleridge Way
Just so you don't feel like you missed out The Coleridge Way then joins one of the sections of the South West Coast Path contouring along a long forgotten byway that gives fine views over the oceans from the edge of tree lined valleys before departing inland to climb the flank of the moor itself arriving high above the Brendon Valley. There is a totally different feel to the walk now - the coast is quickly forgotten replaced by wild heather and gorse and far reaching views inland to the desolate and brooding plains and empty moors of the interior..... of the 'Ex-moor' proper.
In between you and the high moor but far below your feet you now catch sight of the secret Brendon Valley and the first test is a steep descent down the magnificent Deddy Combe a spine like ridge between deep stream valleys that knife cuts through the heather on a glorious descent to Oare. Welcome to Doone County !
Oare and the Brendon Valley area is the setting of R D Blackmore's classic novel of 17th Century outlaw clans and its easy to see how this deep and atmospheric valley inspired him to write it.
At the hamlet of Oare divert to the lonely Church of St Mary the Virgin, dwarfed by the surrounding moors and clinging to the highest meadow on the fringe of the void.
In the novel it was here that Carver Doone shot Lorna at the alter on her wedding day (based on a true events from nearby Dartmoor on the Two Moors Way walk, where a local bride, Mary Whiddon was shot dead on the steps of Chagford Church). There is a memorial here to Blackmore whose grandfather did survive a tour of duty as Rector here in 1809 and this was no mean feat as the local rhyme suggests
Culbone, Oare and Stoke Pero
Parishes three no parson 'll gio tio
Culbone, Oare and Stoke Pero
Three such places you'll seldom hear o'
The lawlessness and remoteness of the areas you are walking through was far more then than mere fiction as nearby "Robbers Bridge" still testifies and the "Dounes" were indeed a nasty lot, forced out from Scotland and ending up here as outlaws who survived by raiding farms, practicing highway robbery and abducting the local women to be hidden away in their camp at the highest points of the steep Bagworthy valley above Malmsmead.
Whilst 'Lorna Doone' has spawned no less than 10 films and has devotees across the world, you won't find many of them actually make it here and its likely as not you will have the silent church to yourself as it would have been 300 years ago in Blackmore's tale.
Back on the Coleridge Way you are now fully acquainted with your guide to the coast - the gurgling bouncing Oare Water river, as it tumbles between heather and twisted copses at the start of its forceful charge to the sea. At Malmsmead you reach a typical Doone Valley hamlet with a couple of sturdy stone farmsteads, one now the Lorna Doone Inn overlooking a crossing point of Badgworthy Water that rushes off the moor here. This is the entrance to the Doones hidden valley and higher up it you will find a memorial to Blackmore and the abandoned medieval Village at Hoccombe Combe that inspired the book.
An ancient bowed packhorse bridge saves you using the old ford to cross the Badgery if you don't want to get your feet wet. Today its cream teas rather than sanctuary from the outlaws that will draw you to this spot but the tranquility of resting in pretty river meadows below a towering moorland can't have changed much in the last 400 years.
Fuelled by cream tea.. or perhaps local cider, you can now take on a steep and significant climb, toiling up Ashton Cleave on a haul up from the river towards the heights of County Gate and the entrance to Devon. Once again the views along the valley are stunning with only the occasional hard won farmstead in sight to break up the line of low forest and high moor and thankfully having worked hard on the climb up the combe you stay high on the ridge now heading towards distant trickles of fire smoke in the valley to the west which signal the final steep drop through the gorse and heather to the village of Brendon. Those on the relaxed walking itinerary will be ready for refuge here in the welcoming Staghunters Inn
Click Here to read about overnight stops in the village of Brendon on the Coleridge Way Extension.
Beyond Brendon the Coleridge Way surprises yet again by immediately cloaking the walker in a totally new landscape, the valley sides suddenly thrust up for the skies in a wall of steep dense forest that towers above the walker and the river. Here the Oare Water gets a new lease of life and now gathers speed sensing the coast is getting close in a churning, boiling and snaking line of rocky rapids and white water - its the final stage of the Coleridge Way so congratulations, you have made it to Gorge Country!
The Coleridge Way keeps pace with the ever quickening river one minute having you clambering along the banks of the rushing water, the next climbing high above creeper covered cliffs when the river decides to push itself through deep and narrow clefts.
The water is rarely calm but now and again you come across a hesitant deep trout and salmon pool where you can take a refreshing swim. At the appropriately named hamlet of Rock you can take a high suspension bridge across the drama to visit the Rockford Inn and rest up in a beer garden right above the watercourse in this dark forested valley. The forest canopy continues to reveal an array of wildlife with red deer, dippers, heron, woodpeckers and even otter present along its banks.
Arriving at Watersmeet cream teas and cake awaits for those who feel that now you are in Devon you should behave accordingly. Run by the National Trust, Watersmeet is like something straight out of Hansel and Gretel, a former fishing lodge set deep in the forest at a point two rivers join forces before a final combined charge for the sea. Look for the lines from a Wordsworth Poem inscribed above its doorway as you enter.
There are options here to continue on the Coleridge Way gorge route into Lynmouth OR for those who want a challenge you can divert instead onto The Two Moors Way for the final few miles where you will climb high into "The Combes" to join a high level traverse at the top of the gorge lip on a narrow ridge that gives the most amazing views over what the Romantic Poets named "Little Switzerland".
Whichever way you end the walk you will reach Lynmouth in a blur of white water, rocks the size of cars and lush green forest with just a whiff of salt in the air that tells you the end is ahead long before you reach the little stone harbour quay in Lynmouth with its iconic Rhenish tower.
One mile beyond the town and after one short climb (or a ride on the Victorian Cliff Railway), you reach the end of your Poets Pilgramage at the "Valley of the Rocks" and its a fitting final location.
Here, herds of wild feral goats skip along the huge sea crags and climb through the castle like rock mountains and pinnacles. Its been a place of inspiration to all the romantic poets who came here and then to generations of visitors ever since who arrive to view the formations of the White Lady, Mother Meldrum and the Devils Cheesewring. The Coleridge Way finishes at the restored 19th Century "Poets Shelter" and if you can catch the end of the day here and witness the setting sun over the rocks - well then never mind the lost ending of Kubla Khan - you will finally get what Coleridge was about !
Click Here read about an Overnight in Lynmouth, "Little Switzerland" at the end of your Coleridge Way Walking Holiday
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