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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Around 5 miles - moderate grade with a strenuous climb up Crook Peak
Crook Peak (Cruc is the ancient British name for a Pointed hill) is the first major Mendip summit. You ascend steeply on a strenuous climb up from the M5 corridor, through deep woodland that gives way to gorse clad slopes and finally a welcoming grassy col below the summit. Make sure you divert to the scarred rocky peak where you can scramble up the limestone for superb views off the edge of the escarpment. Around here this really is the top of the world and over history this has been a vital spot for the old signal system of beacon fires used for keeping watch and giving warnings since pre-historic times.
Now you are on the high backbone ridge and this is classic Mendip - walking on springy, sheep-grazed high grasslands, punctured by rocky outcrops that drop dramatically away into steep wooded combes which run down to the little villages laid out far below you.
Look out for skylarks, meadow pipits and stonechats as you take the broad trail over Barton Hill to climb to the Trig Point at the summit of Wavering Down (211m)– one of those famed 360 degree views - outstanding in every direction from this narrow ridge, across to Wales, south to brooding Exmoor and over Bristol to the Cotswold hills.
A quick descent follows into the ancient oaks of Kings Wood, part of the original 11th Century royal hunting forest, protected by a medieval ditch and bank and bordered by part of an older Saxon manorial boundary. A place of long held importance and atmosphere it’s an open and extensive woodland that holds a good variety of trees including yew, beech and chestnut and is alive with the singing of nuthatches and willow warblers and the tap-taps of green woodpeckers.
Back in relative civilisation, the Mendip Way now passes over the tunnel of the Strawberry Line Railway now a recreational cycle path and the route off the escarpment for those staying in Axbridge.
Click here for information on overnight stops in the historic town of Axbridge, home to the ancient King Johns Hunting Lodge.
Back on the Mendip Way, you reach the main road at Shute Shelve, a high gouged out rock face on a pass through the ridge. This spot was notorious after the Assizes (or trials) presided over by the infamous Judge Jeffreys in nearby Axbridge. His summary trials followed the failed uprising against King James 2nd in 1685 at nearby Sedgemoor - the last great battle on English soil. You will come across references throughout the West Country to the hated Jeffreys, and so many rebels were brought here it became known simply as The Hanging Field. Jeffreys demanded the gruesome remains were left swinging on display to discourage travellers over the pass from any similar disloyalty.
Leaving the Hanging Field behind you, the Mendip Way heads into happier territory along a sunken drove road, one of the many ancient sheep herding trackways known as Winscombe Drove which was part of the route back to what was then the port at Uphill. This really is rich, ancient and fertile Somerset at its best, with glimpses over the hedgerows to rolling fields, grasslands and dry valleys. There are no cars and no tourists here to disturb you. Experience a wonderful feeling of peace and tranquillity as you wind through the rolling hillsides to finish the day.
Shipham appears but the Mendip Way has one final trick up its sleeve as between you and its church - which seems tantalisingly close - there suddenly appears from nowhere a deep dense wooded valley and for the tired walker this is a final challenge as you descend on steep steps through tall conifers to cross a little wooden footbridge over the Shipham Brook, before a stiff climb back out the other side to reach the old toll road into the village
Click here for information on overnights in Shipham on the West Mendip Way.
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