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.
Distance 13 miles - Grade - Moderate Walking - what these grades mean
Highlights - Lighthouses, quarries, castles, views, Pulpit Rock and Dorset’s most southerly point
The Isle of Portland Circle only became part of the official South West Coast Path National Trail in 2003 but don’t be deceived into feeling you must doggedly walk it for this reason alone. Portland is completely different from anything else on the 630 miles of this trail and if you miss it out you lose out on not only an important part of the coastal context but a unique and fascinating detour into the past on an island that since the Romans, has been a wild and isolated frontier post literally hanging off the mainland UK.
The Dorset Coast Path here is often high level above the cliffs and offers the most far reaching panorama’s on this entire coast. With every turn you will meet the bizarre, the unexpected and despite its ruggedness the beautiful as you twist through old castles, long abandoned quarries and isolated fishing shacks.
You arrive on the island along the route of the old railway from the Chesil Beach causeway, Thomas Hardy’s “Dead Mans Cove” on your right, his nickname for this notorious magnet for ship wrecks. Passing the Chesil Visitor Centre you climb through abandoned quarries where the land has been left to the wild flowers and grasslands creating a unique habitat for many rare species of butterfly. These Quarries have provided Portland Stone, the most famous building stone in the world, to buildings around the globe from Whitehall and St Pauls Cathedral to the Raj buildings in New Delhi and the UN building in New York
The South West Coast Path winds past huge slabs of stone as you pass remains of the hand cranes that somehow loaded the rock onto horse drawn trailers. All along here watch out for a huge variety of birdlife with kittiwakes, fulmar, peregrines and guillemots in the area. At Old Trout Quarry you can wander through 40 superb sculptures in the Portland Sculpture Trust site where the art work sits amid an area of protected wild orchids. From here the Dorset coast path takes dramatic turns joining old tramways under immense rock arches, past stone seats, old World War 2 Gun emplacements, tumbling screes and quarry spoil but always returning above the sheer cliffs that allow uninterrupted views out over Fleet and Chesil and beyond to Lyme Regis Bay and what was the distant start of your walk.
At the end of the isle you reach desolate Portland Bill itself, the most southerly point on this walk and along the entire Dorset Coast. Here is the notorious Portland Race where two tides meet in a churning angry sea so treacherous that even today you will find three lighthouses on the route, the original one coal fired ! At the gigantic stone plinth of Pulpit Rock those brave enough can shin up to the superb rock platform where you feel at the end of the World. For the less daring you can visit the Modern Lighthouse and climb the tower for the views. On a clear day you can see as far back as Start Point in mid Devon - an amazing 118 miles back down the Coast Path if your walking holiday has brought you that far. You can see more of the coast from here than from any other part of the entire South West Coast Path - overall over one quarter of the whole route is visible.
Returning on the east coast the views change to no less impressive rolling chalk cliffs stretching towards Swanage from a trail that passes old fisherman’s shacks, then wide tracks through quarries mixed pleasantly with zigzag paths through landslips. At Church Ope Cove see the Cave Hole formation below the cliff top remains of St Andrews Church with its Pirate Graveyard. Close by you can see the aptly named Pennsylvania Castle built for the Governor of the Island in 1800. The nearby thatched Portland Museum is housed in the cottage Hardy used for the dwelling of Avice the heroine in The Well Beloved.
The Dorset Coast Path now continues past the 15C Rufus Castle, above huge sea cliffs often being scaled by climbers, old Engine Houses, hand cranes, isolated chimneys and tramways complete the surreal walking route before you reach the towering Victorian Portland Prison now a young offenders unit. Beyond this the path takes you to the moat and tunnel of the impressive Verne Citadel built on huge ramparts for 1000 soldiers in the 1860’s and yet another prison today - due to its wild tides and isolation this has always been England’s answer to Alcatraz. One last battery fort at the grassy slopes of High Angle before the final part of the walking circle is completed above Portland Harbour the largest artificial harbour in Britain built, no surprises here, by convict work gangs, its far end rebuilt for sailing and water sports events in the 2012 Olympics
If time allows before leaving the Isle its worth visiting Portland Castle, probably the best of Henry VIII’s string of coastal forts. You can enter the Tudor kitchen and step inside the Great Hall as well as wander the canons and gun emplacements set with superb views of Portland Harbour from its ramparts.
From Portland enjoy some easy walking following the waterside Rodwell trail on the course of the old railway into Weymouth itself. The Dorset Coast Path passes the ruins of 16th Century Sandsfoot Castle another Henry VIII coastal castle, though this one is now disappearing into the sea. On low cliffs enter delightful Nothe Gardens where you can pick your path through to Napoleonic Nothe Fort standing in a prominent position overlooking Weymouth Bay with its 12 gun battery open to the walker to wander round. A short ferry ride takes you over the neck of inland Weymouth Harbour a safe haven for its cluster of working fishing boats before a stretch along the waterfront Esplanade one of the best in the UK
Overnight stops at Weymouth on the South West Coastal Path
Map of all
for this walk
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