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.
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The gateway to the Dorset Jurassic Coast, Lyme Regis provides a good base for visiting walkers. It's easy to reach on public transport with direct trains from London to Axminster taking around 2.5 hours from where its a short 20 minute bus ride on a regular service to Lyme Regis (or take a taxi which we can book or provide numbers for).
The main attraction in Lyme is the historic medieval harbour known as The Cobb, made infamous by the film of the French Lieutenants Woman. The simple and iconic structure was originally made of oak piles driven into the seabed with boulders stacked between them. With a drink from the Cobb Arms in hand this is the spot in the evening to watch the sunset over the ocean.
The town received its Royal Charter in 1248 and it was here that the Duke of Monmouth landed at the start of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. The town has long inspired artistic and literary visitors including, Tolkien, Tennyson and Jane Austen who set the Novel Persuasion here. There are excellent facilities with plenty of restaurants, pubs and cafes as well as an interesting selection of galleries and shops to explore in the old town which dates from the 14th C. An impressive working watermill dating from 1340 has been restored and is well worth visiting particularly as a small brewery is now on site here! Fossil fever is the obsession however with several fossil shops and if you want to take a guided fossil walk this is the place to do it, starting with the Ammonite Pavement where hundreds of them lie exposed in the flat rock.
For those spending more time here there is the award winning Lyme Regis Museum and the little Marine Aquarium and this is said to be the smallest town in the country to have its own cinema and theatre. The town’s most bizarre entertainment however deserves a mention - The annual “Conger Coddling” event which attracts thousands. A dead conger eel is attached to a rope and bowled at nine lifeboatmen standing on flower pots. Its a surreal kind of skittles match reported as " the most fun a person could have with a dead fish".
Walkers heading onward on the Jurassic Coast may well want to spend two nights here and take advantage of the chance to walk the surreal and unique Downlands Undercliff section of the South West Coast Path, as close to a jungle walk as you will get on the coast path. CLICK HERE to read about this 8.5 mile section which is the last days walk for those arriving in Lyme Regis from the Exmouth direction.
Nearby Charmouth can also operate as a starting location, smaller but with adequate accommodation and eating options. It is world famed for its fossils and its landslides - the combination of the two in the early 19C revealing the first complete Ichthyosaurus fossil found - a whopping 21ft in length. Charles 1st was an early visitor in disguise, failing in a plan to flee from the shores here by boat. Forced to abandon the attempt he had to undertake his own coastal walk and instead follow the cliffs all the way to Sussex on a route that is now reinvented as the Monarchs Way Long Distance Path. The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is well worth visiting in the old Cement and Lime Works before leaving the beach here – but do remember to have a quick look for fossils before departing.
West bay grew up as the harbour for nearby Bridport and was Thomas Hardy’s “Port Bredy”. Set right on the coast path it sits around a small harbour of fishing boats at the end of the River Brit with two piers and two fine beaches. There is a good selection of restaurants and inns for eating in including the Riverside Restaurant, which has been voted one of The Observer's Top 10 Seafood Restaurants. If East Beach looks familiar then its probably as it was here that the iconic opening sequence of Reginald Perrin was shot as he left his clothes on the beach to swim dramatically out to sea. Those with time can hire rowing boats out from the harbour and explore up the river Brit.
Its a short walk into Bridport itself for those staying here in a vibrant and lively market town set at the foot of the Dorset hills. A good sized place, there are all the facilities you would expect here with traditional shop fronts housing arts and crafts outlets along with frequent street and farmers markets. There is a strong artistic and literary feel to the place, the Bridport Literary Festival in November being an internationally visited event and the town has its own Art Deco Electric Palace cinema and a thriving arts centre.
Bridport has an open and airy feel to it mainly a result of its unusually wide Georgian streets and pavements which were due to its success as a centre for rope production. Flax and hemp were dried on these wide pavements and in the deep courtyards finished rope for nets and rigging was stocked. Everything from the Bridport Dagger (the local name for the Hangman’s Noose) to netting for Wimbledon was spun from here. Bridport town museum set in the Old Coach House covers all this and is worth a visit whilst wandering the wide streets complete with old almshouses and fine Georgian Buildings.
Finally those needing a drink are in luck and can visit the Palmers Brewery and adjoining Wine Store which has been producing award winning ales here for over 200 years.
Abbotsbury village is a fascinating historical location in a rather idyllic village, a protected conservation area of charming thatched cottages, pretty stone houses and a rich history based around one of the most important Abbeys in the South West.
The land for Abbotsbury was a gift from King Canute in the 11thC , and a Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of St. Peter, was founded by monks from nearby Cerne Abbas. The abbey here ruled supreme for 500 years until it was disbanded during the dissolution. Today there is little left of the main abbey structure though you will find some ruins around the Village Church which also holds a 13thC Marble effigy of one of the old abbots. What does remain is the Abbey Tithe Barn, the largest example in Britain at nearly 300 feet in length and now over 600 years old. This was the store for the grain paid by the locals to the Abbey as taxes.
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens were established here in 1765 as a kitchen garden for the Countess of Ilchesters nearby castle and again are world famous, now a magnificent 20 acre site filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world and well worth visiting. To the south of the village is the famous Abbotsbury Swannery which has been here as long as the abbey. The monks themselves farmed the swans to produce meat and the marshy swannery is still quite a sight, home to over 500 free flying swans.
Facilities for the walker are excellent, plenty of tea rooms and a couple of well placed pubs. There are art and craft galleries to browse with everything from Jewellery workshops and local honey to pottery on offer.
For an evening stroll from the village head to the iconic 14C St Catherine’s Chapel which holds its commanding position at the crest of the ridge staring out to sea and boasts an unusual stone tunnel vault Perfect for a sunset stroll with a view over Chesil Beach and Portland that has been voted the third best view in Britain by Country Life readers.
Most walkers arriving for the Isle of Portland Circle will be based at the main villages of Fortuneswell, Castletown and Chiswell which pretty much merge into one location and lie on the coast path just south of the mainland entrance to Portland. There are several B&B options here with good access to the beach, path and harbour area as well as a couple of more upmarket hotels further inland.
Fortuneswell is the largest of the eight villages on the Isle originally known as Fortunes' well because it was established around a small stream. Its now linked into Chiswell which sits just off the beach at the foot of the steep slopes that lead away to the northern end of Portland. Originally a fishing village, little cottages built on the back of the Chesil beach are linked by narrow lanes whose names reveal the seafaring past (Pebble Lane and Brandy Lane to name a couple). There are superb views for those staying here back over Chesil Beach and Fleet Lagoon and enough facilities for those staying overnight with several inns in the area including the famous shore side Cove House Inn with locally caught fish and seafood a regular feature. New options are arriving in time for the Olympics in 2012 at the nearby Portland Marina such as The Boat that Rocked Restaurant, named after the film of the same name which was shot on Portland a few years ago. There are also a couple of good bistro options one at The Heights Hotel further into the Isle.
For those with time the Chesil Visitor Centre is close by and well worth a look and close by is The Chiswell Earthwork Sculpture made up of five low walls representing different strata of rock. Otherwise, the best evening strolls would be down to Chesil Beach, the new marina and Portland Castle or head up to the New Ground Viewing area for the superb panoramas back to the mainland.
Weymouth is the quintessential Georgian Seaside Resort and Playground with elegant Esplanades and Promenades. It makes for an overnight stop with excellent facilities and a lot of amusement! Impressive Royal Crescents and Royal Terraces with fine Georgian and Victorian architecture give the town a classy feel and there are even good examples of Tudor and Elizabethan Town Houses still standing. Defoe and Thomas Hardy were just some of the famous trail of visitors the latter writing about the town which he referred to as Budmouth. Indeed George 3rd loved it here so much he was forever returning and it's at Weymouth he entered the sea in his new fangled bathing machine accompanied by fiddlers playing God Save the King. Apparently he claimed it cured him of his nervous disorder at any rate!
The towns earlier past is not so glamorous, a sign in the harbour confirming the exact arrival spot of the devastating Black Death in 1348 when a ship docked here and unwittingly unloaded the deadly disease which decimated the population of the UK at that time.
The Picturesque 17thC harbour is a good spot for restaurants and drinks as the seagoing world slides by, also in the old quarter is a redeveloped Victorian brewery with good eating spots and specialist shops in admirable surroundings. The marina walkway created in 2001 is a pleasant stroll running through the thousands of yachts and boats moored in the harbour area.
Of course the more brash side of Weymouth is to be found out on the Georgian Esplanade and Beach where everything from Punch and Judy and sand sculptures to the famous King George 3rd’s stature and Jubilee clock will be waiting for you. There is an excellent and informative Weymouth Sea Life Centre and for those who want a rest day with some water sports, here or Poole are the best options along this coast line with diving, sailing and windsurfing easy to arrange from Weymouth.
Facilities are excellent in the resort and travel connections make this an easy arrival and departure point with trains from Weymouth taking only 3 hours to reach London Waterloo.
Lulworth with its perfect azure horseshoe bay is another overnight highlight for the walker. Lulworth was formed by a stream breaching the limestone cliffs allowing the sea to enter and hollow out a magnificent cliff lined cove. Jumbles of nets, pots and fishing boats line the shore beside the little beach cafe and the Lulworth Heritage Centre here, without doubt one of the best along the whole route has exhibitions covering the geology, smuggling and fishing history in this remote coastal area. You can also book excellent Butterfly walks here and hopefully spot some of the unique species such as the Chalk Hill Blue and The Lulworth Skipper.
Cistercian monks set up a monastery here, no doubt inspired by the location though little remains of this today. The Poet John Keats also spent time here when close to his death as he travelled overseas in a failed attempt to get well and Thomas Hardy wrote of Troy swimming here in 'Far From The Madding Crowd. The Cove became infamous as a landing spot for the smugglers free trade goods, its isolation and natural protection leaving it awash with consignments of rum and brandy in its hey day. The row of 8 Coast Guard Cottages were built in 1824 to try and deter this and they provided accommodation for the Customs and Excise men in Lulworth Cove who tried in vain to prevent the smuggling.
Facilities are good for the walker, head Inland to find the thatched cottages and pubs of West Lulworth Village. There are several B&B’s, inns and small hotels for the walker along with a restaurant, beach cafe and a few small shops as well as the inevitable fossil emporium! For anyone wanting a rest day this is a superb choice. In season you can take kayaking trips or boat trips from Lulworth along the coast to see the Durdle Door Arch from the sea or walking inland you can explore the hunting lodge at Lulworth Castle, impressive if nothing else, but think Knights of the Round Table!
For those arriving or leaving from here, Public Transport to and from Lulworth is possible but not frequent, buses connect to the Train Station at Wool which is only 5 miles away. Where buses don’t fit in with the train’s, transfers can be arranged.
A thoroughly pleasant little village just inland of the path which dates back to pre-Roman times. A cluster of pretty limestone cottages (one of which was the home of the infamous smuggler Gulliver), huddle around a central green and pond. Add in the Norman Church of St Nicholas which is one of the oldest in Dorset and you have pretty much the idyllic old English village.
Most critical to the worn out walker is the superb Square and Compass Inn stocking real ales and Ciders, the Winner in 2008 of the best Real Cider Pub of the Year as awarded by the Campaign for Real Ales. This also has to be the only pub in the country with its own attached Fossil Museum! This is no gimmick either, local artefacts include impressive larger marine reptiles - Ichthyosaur and Pliosaur collected by the landlord and his father over many years of dog walking on the local beaches. It's a superb place for a rest at the end of the tough walk from Lulworth.
Accommodation is extremely difficult to obtain in the village with no rooms at the pub and only one B&B and then there is also only the option of pie or pasty in the pub which does not do evening meals. Given this we tend to use Worth Matravers as a transfer point to take walkers out to nearby Langton Matravers or Swanage which is a short road journey. We then drop you back here to Worth Matravers so you can continue along the coast path.
A pleasant overnight town which grew up as a small port and fishing village (this was Hardy’s Knollsea) until it flourished in the Victorian years as both a seaside playground for the rich and famous as well as a sizeable port for the nearby stone quarries. There are plenty of signs of the towns hey day, an attractive Victorian Pier and Promenade is still in place along with the interesting Wellington Clock Tower which up until 1867 stood at one end of London Bridge. As the bridge was widened the tower had to go and it was removed and then reassembled stone by stone down here by the Victorians looking for a reassuring little piece of the Capital at their latest resort by the sea.
The Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre here is worth a visit and the town is well served for overnight walkers with a good number of cafes, bars, restaurants and pubs as well as a reasonable amount of shops if the need arises. Its also one of the better locations for a swim with a gently sloping white sand beach which is sheltered and generally calm
For anyone staying a bit longer the main attraction nearby is the 11th Century remains of Corfe Castle one of Britain's most majestic ruins which nestles in the most stunning of locations at the gateway to the Purbeck Hills. Its superbly atmospheric with breathtaking views from its crumbling ruins. You can make a great day out by taking the Swanage Steam Railway up to the castle (what better way could there be to arrive!). After looking round these stunning and iconic remains, enjoy an easy 5 mile amble back down to Swanage along the ridgeway with superb views out to sea as you pass over Brenscombe Hill and past archaeological remains at Long Barrow and Nine Barrow Down where there is also some excellent examples of the old medieval Strip Lynchet Farming systems.
Poole is the decompression chamber for Coast Path Walkers - you are either stocking up here eager to head off for the coves or this is the end of a long trail and the location for a spot of post walk indulgence.
Either way it serves your requirements well. Excellent transport links make this an easy location to get to. There are regular National Express Coaches to London (3 hours) and direct trains straight into London Waterloo taking just over 2 hours and Poole is large enough to have plenty of good restaurant and accommodation options from B&B’s through to luxury hotels if you decide to have a last night splash out.
The Old Town Harbour and Poole Quay are a pleasant mix of old smugglers' passageways and elegant houses built by rich merchants in the 17th and 18th centuries. Regal buildings housing pubs and restaurants mix with redeveloped warehouses. There are some interesting public sculpture works on the Quayside walk and with the harbour below you its a good place for an pre evening meal stroll. The Lighthouse Arts Centre here is the largest in England outside of London and so its worth checking as there is a good chance there will be something of interest on.
Historically the town itself grew on a fearsome reputation for one thing only - its Pirates – though long gone today, the area of the town round Sandbanks sees a different type of riches on display, the real estate there being the forth most expensive area of property in the world ! The harbour here is the largest natural harbour in Europe and second in the world only to that famous one at Sydney and within its confines there is a lot to see and do for anyone taking an extra day here.
The Poole Waterfront Museum covers the pirates and smuggling history in some detail as well as housing the famous Poole Log boat. Over 2,200 years old and made from a single oak tree this vessel was plucked from the water here in 1964 and originally would have held 18 paddlers.
For those who are inspired enough to take to the seas themselves you can hire kayaks, dinghies, go kite surfing or this is the ideal place to learn to sail with lots of well renowned sailing schools. Poole’s beaches consistently win the European Blue Flag awards and there are over 3 miles of sandy beach for those who just want to relax having finally got to the end of their trail.
If on the other hand you still want to explore on foot then you should not miss taking a ferry out to Brownsea Island. Easy walking here through Pinewoods, heaths and lagoons reveal superb wildlife from the Sika Deer and peacocks brought here by the Victorians to avocets, peregrine, little egret and kingfisher. In the lagoons over 20 species of dragonfly mix with rare water vole and lizards and this is one of the last southern locations of the Red Squirrel who live here protected from the greys by a conservation project.
Bournemouth is classic British seaside with a twist and makes a great ending to your Dorset Coast Path Walking Holiday by offering plenty of comfort and lots of amusement! A nationwide survey recently revealed its residents to be the happiest in the UK with 82% of people questioned saying they were happy with their lives, no doubt partly thanks to its 7 miles of sandy beach. So if you arrive exhausted and soaked from your last days walk in from Swanage things are only likely to get better if you stay here!
It’s a fairly young resort, purpose-built at the beginning of the 19th century and within 40 years became one of the largest Victorian holiday destinations in Britain. The ornamental Pleasure Gardens and the grand Bournemouth Pier are the most obvious reminder of its genteel golden age along with the amusing Art Deco style Pavillion, in its day said to be the best municipal entertainment building in the world! Further down the shorline having just undergone a £2.4 million restoration project is Boscombe Pier a great place to stretch your legs unwind and watch the surfers as they play on Europe’s first artificial surf reef built right here. The brave can join them, there are plenty of watersports activities on offer for those who still have the energy here.
What is really endearing about Bournemouth is its rich run of ornamental gardens, Pine fringed seaside walks and carefully tended open spaces know as Chine's that lead down to the beaches and form a very attractive feature of the area – you don’t feel that you have been totally thrust back into the urban world here. The award winning Central Gardens for instance lead inland for several miles up the valley of the River Bourne from the centre of the town and make an excellent winding down stroll from the coast path.
If you have time, the Oceanarium is well worth a visit, bringing you eye to eye with mean-looking sharks, massive moray eels and giant turtles or if you prefer high brow try The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum - built at the end of the 1800s to showcase an eclectic range of souvenirs including a plaster version of the Parthenon frieze, Maori woodcarvings and art by Victorian masters such as Rosetti and Edwin Landseer.
Bournemouth is the largest town in Dorset with a population of around 168,000 and therefore offers a huge variety of eating venues covering every style and budget all within easy walking distance of your accommodation. After a week on the coast path you won’t know where to start. If nothing else, to complete your sense of achievement in having walked here from Lyme Regis, take a trip on the Bournemouth Eye in the Pleasure Gardens – a kind of hot air balloon ride with views from the top looking back over your walking route along the Jurassic Coast.
Bournemouth has an excellent range of accommodation with some very good hotels hidden in leafy suburbs or on the low cliffs overlooking the beaches. It has very fast and direct train connections to London and elsewhere in the UK and also offers super easy access on the very regular bus service from the Sandbanks Ferry at the end of the coast path.
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