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.
Staying in Torquay is a very different experience to most of your other overnight stops along the South West Coast Path. Most people choosing to stay here will have done so to avoid the Brixham to Torquay section through Paignton and the beaches of Torbay.
Torquay is a busy seaside resort with the attendant night life but it has appeal as a cosmopolitan overnight stop with its floodlit gardens to stroll through, an international marina housing ocean going yachts and the widest variety of shopping and eating facilities for those wanting to stock up on either before starting their walk.
Torquay boasts no fewer than 20 beaches and 22 miles of coast.
It has been a holiday hot spot since the French Wars of the 18th century when touring Europe suddenly didn’t seem such a good idea. Ever since Torquay has dubbed itself “The English Riviera” in respect of its mild climate, waving palm trees, azure blue seas and red sandstone cliffs, so much so that this place was very much the playground of the rich and famous during the 1940s and 50s.
For those arriving with a bit of time to explore there is plenty worth hunting out. The prehistoric caves of Kents Cavern where you can take hour long tours underground through impressive galleries and chambers which hold fossilized remains of mamoths and Sabre Tooth Tigers. Basic flint axes found here date back nearly 500,000 years making these caves the oldest accommodation in the UK let alone on the South West Coast Path. You can take a trip on the Paignton steam train to nearby leafy Dartmouth or cross calming Tor Bay by ferry and still get to visit Brixham...without the walk.
Torre Abbey and Torquay Museum provide the more high brow alternatives both well worth a visit and within easy walking distance of the accommodation areas and for those who are fans of Agatha Christie you can follow the Agatha Christie Mile Trail along the seafront and unearth her links with the area on foot.
For those that do want an active rest day here then the marina provides all sorts of mainly wet options from watersking and kayaking through to sailing tasters. There is an excellent range of accommodation for the walker everything from basic B&B's through to luxury hotels and the centre of town and marina area gives plenty of options for a gourmet "last supper" before heading East on the trail.
Babbacombe set around the headland from Torbay has a different more relaxed atmosphere than the likes of Paignton and Torquay. Its “olde worlde” charm made Babbacombe the number one honeymoon destination following the Second World War, thanks to the stunning beach and spectacular views across Lyme Bay. The beach here is the main draw a lovely sand and shingle affair hidden deep below the forested cliffs that make Babbacombe seem much further away from Torquay than it actually is. The classic beachside Inn The Cary Arms sits here along with a beach cafe and the chance to rent a kayak from the beach for an hours paddle around the bay at the end of the days walk is well worth taking.
The attractions here are geared towards these genteel days of tourism and family holidays with the model village, museum and Tessier gardens, as well as the historic Cliff Railway, built in 1926 and still carrying passengers up the 240ft cliff from Oddicombe Beach to Babbacombe Town.
You will either take the railway or walk some switchbacks to get to your accommodation which is all in the village of Babbacombe above the cliffs on the Babbacombe Downs. B&B's and guest houses are the main options here - although at a price you can opt to stay on the beach at the Carey Arms itself.
There is a good selection of eating options however, bistros, pubs and seafood within Babbacombe and the village makes a very capaable "half way house" between Torquay and the rather wilder Exmouth stop tomorrow.
The South West Coast Path from Babbacombe to Exmouth can be a long haul for some and with there being pressure to make the last ferry over the Exe Estuary at Starcross you may prefer to take a night half way at Shaldon or Teignmouth to break this leg into two relaxed days.
Shaldon is the epitome of a pretty riverside village with colourfully painted fishermen’s cottages huddled close to the rocky red sandstone spit of land known as The Ness. Passing the village green and the huddles of boats dragged up on the shingle, you make a crossing of the River Teign on the oldest passenger ferry in England to arrive at its larger neighbour Teignmouth.
The whole town has a rather time-warp feel about it with its promenade, Victorian pier, lido, shops and crescent of regal Georgian buildings - but then that is its charm.
It's a place to rest up and watch the world go by for an hour or so with its two quite different beaches. The English Seaside Town atmosphere is best enjoyed whilst sitting outside one of the pubs or bistros facing the estuary - one such notable hostelry is Ye Olde Jolly Sailor, a rare 12th century survivor of the French raids.
Here in the oldest part of the town is a network of alleyways and tiny lanes which has quite a different feel to it than the faded Victorian resort of the seafront.
The main industry in the late 18th century was the export of granite, quarried and transported down canals and the River Teign from Haytor on Dartmoor via an incredible feet of engineering known as The Granite Tramway (which can be walked as an option on our Dartmoor Way Walking Route).
The harbour is no longer the busy port of yesteryear but is still active with fishing boats and the river beach (or Back Beach) is a great place to take a pre dinner stroll with its brightly coloured beach huts, one of which (now in the town's museum) was actually a Georgian bathing machine.
Teignmouth was the site of the last foreign invasion on English soil when it was virtually razed to the ground by a band of 1000 marauding French troops in 1690 who arrived by sea and burnt down over 120 houses. The town emerged from this fate to develop as an elegant Georgian resort and with the arrival of Brunel’s railway line the Victorians started a program of constructing lavish villas.
These sit overlooking the Den, an area of green lawns, flower beds and tennis courts which front on to the main beach, divided by the ornate Victorian pier, complete with penny slot machines and other old-fashioned amusements, and which at one time segregated male and female bathers. Behind the Esplanade and Den Crescent is a modern town centre catering for all the everyday needs of today’s walker.
There is a good range of overnight accommodation here, from B&B's to Hotels with plenty of pubs and restaurants to eat out in. If there’s time the Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum is well worth visiting and is just off The South West Coast Path. It has displays and tales of local shipwrecks, treasure and the building of the railway and footage of the Beatles’ visit here.
Having arrived on the Starcross Ferry Exmouth is a welcoming overnight rest stop.
This location holds the honour of being the oldest seaside town in Devon and sits proudly at the western entrance to The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, in a rather isolated spot at the end of the mighty Exe river estuary.
Its got a feeling of openness and freedom to it enhanced by two miles of sandy beach as well as a feeling of something new having crossed the Exe River - ahead you can see the huge cliffs and the coastal drama returning with a sense of Exmouth marking the end of the holiday coast from Torquay.
There has been a harbour here for centuries, Sir Walter Raleigh, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and the explorer credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco back to our shores, sailed out of Exmouth many times, but human habitation was quite scarce due to the exposed position on the River Exe estuary.
Unfortunately, even as the town started to grow in the mid 17th century it suffered a setback when Turkish pirates raided the Devon coastline, attacking shipping and attempting to capture sailors and local villagers for sale as slaves in North Africa.
However, within the next hundred years it had become established as an elegant resort by those seaside addicts the Victorians and from the 19th century, the railways brought tourism and prosperity and a true Victorian seaside destination was assured.
For the hungry, there’s a wealth of restaurants and cafes and local food providers are justly proud of the produce from the sea, river and the countryside surrounding the town. Accommodation in Exmouth tends to be either B&B's or mid range Hotels but all sit within easy reach of the coast path and the beaches.
For those with a day off the trail watersports are everywhere and easy to arrange including kite surfing, kayaking, sailing and diving. If you prefer to keep dry then try one of the three hour boat trips to view the huge variety of birdlife, attracted by the mudflats and grazing marshes of the wide expanses of the river mouth.
There’s a quiet, historical feel as you walk into Sidmouth. a very English run of villas and mansions built in the Georgian period of the 18th century, when the old fishing village gave in to the fashionable resort loved by the then Prince of Wales (before he became George III).
The wide and wonderfully Regal Esplanade dates from this time and it is easy to imagine the horse drawn carriages conveying the finely attired well-to-do visitors to take the sea air, some brave souls even venturing into the water via the new-fangled bathing machines.
Today the town still appeals to the same generally genteel visitors - principally a retirement town they often never leave but remain wandering the gardens or on the promenade or listening to the music from the bandstand.
The architecture here is fascinating (there are nearly 500 listed buildings) and the accommodation for arriving walkers equally impressive with some fine but well priced Regency Hotel options as well as well-heeled guest houses and B&B's.
The pebbly beach here is great for a swim and once you emerge you will find any number of ornate tea rooms to recover in including one in a clock tower.
There is a museum for those who want to know but then in some ways the appeal of the place is that just walking around it feels like you are at an exhibition and Sidmouth whilst hardly cosmopolitan retains its own air of quality in both location and facilities and provides a very welcoming and restful overnight stop.
Eating out offers choices of bistro, brasserie, fine dining and fish and seafood options to name a few. Sometimes it feels like the whole town takes its pre dinner stroll along the Esplanade to take in the coastline to the east where the red cliffs rise dramatically.
For you there is good reason to look as this offers a taste of tomorrow’s changing landscape as you enter some of the oldest rock formations in the Jurassic Coast.
The village of Beer is a complete contrast to regal and ordered Sidmouth and arriving on foot very much feels like you have gone back in time to the rustic old fishing village of yesteryear.
Nestled into a deep rock ravine between gleaming white cliffs the place manages to be both thoroughly picturesque and a proper working fishing village at the same time. The small fishing fleet or multicoloured boats is quite iconic here dragged up and moored every night high on the pebble beach whilst the day’s catch is sold from the Fishmonger’s Shack, alongside which lobster and crab pots are stacked high.
You will notice the cliffs have changed as well as the architecture – suddenly you are surrounded by white chalk, a mere 70 million years old and discovered to be perfect for masonry. In fact Beer Stone has been quarried for 2000 years and was used in a number of famous buildings including the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.
These cliffs are a honeycombe of tunnels and caves, one vast underground cathedral, which made them very useful for hoarding smugglers bounty for which this village was notorious. If you get the time don't miss the superb trips into the Beer Quarry Caves where you can explore these workings which were originally started by the Romans and then taken over by the smugglers. More info in the Heritage Centre in the village.
The main street runs directly inland from the beach with rough flint cottages and rushing streams running down the sides of the road. These days gift and craft shops and cafes may be the main occupants of the buildings, but previously the village was very famous for its lace makers; Queen Victoria’s wedding dress was woven here.
All this industry, legitimate or otherwise, was obviously thirsty work as there are still a larger than normal number of pubs all within a short walk serving local delicacies like Devon oysters, crab and flounders fished from the beach.
Another two miles east you arrive at the neighbouring town of Seaton with its mile-long pebbly beach backed by painted beach huts leading on to its surprisingly tranquil harbour at the end at the mouth of the River Axe.
Seaton developed as a spa and holiday destination after the railway arrived in the mid 19th century though its long been a place of habitation, the Roman pavement unearthed here in 1921 has been moved to Exeter museum!
There are cafes on the beach and in the harbour area, an aquarium and the famous Seaton Tramway line runs up the beautiful Axe Valley in 100 year old trams to Colyford for those that want to give the feet a rest.
Walkers overnight accommodation in both places is of a good standard, B&B's, small Hotels and plenty of Inns a legacy of the smuggling past perhaps and whilst the food on offer is mainly provided by the latter, with all the fresh fish arriving on the shoreline right below you they do a very good job with what they provide.
You would do well to eat a good meal as the next section to Lyme Regis takes you through the jungle of the Undercliff path, its undisturbed wilderness providing no options for eating now until you reach Dorset!
Map of all
for this walk
Go to top
Company Registered in England No: 8227323
VAT Registration No: 138 8656 68