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.
12 miles - Strenuous climb and descent to the Escarpment with the rest of the day Easy/Moderate grade walking
Beyond the bustle of Gorge Town you are quickly returned to peace on the Mendip Way climbing on more old drove ways back above the town then traversing around the escarpment to the hamlet of Bradley Cross. One section here is a complete tunnel of trees that passes eerie abandoned limekiln ruins now smothered in Ivy and reclaimed once again by the woodland.
The ascent of the ridge then begins from Bradley Cross on a lovely grassy track to regain the top of the Plateau, rolling grassland valleys drop off to your right to the villages that sit far below you. As you climb and as you get higher the views now stretch out over the dark blue reservoir at Cheddar, past Crook Peak and the long line of the Mendip Ridge, to the distant hump of Brean Down on the Somerset Coast – having got above the tree line it’s now a 180 degree uninterrupted vista as you toil upwards.
At Draycott Sleights on a sunny south-facing scarp you pass through a 50 hectare SSSI (site of specific scientific interest) at the Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserve with impressive rocky cliffs that particularly attract hunting birds of prey. Sparrow hawk, Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcons cruise the exposed limestone scars that loom above you. In spring look for the unusual boxing brown hares as well as roe deer and the diminutive muntjac.
Over 200 species of flowering plants are recorded here including wild majoram, kidney vetch and bee orchids. That wealth of flowers attracts numerous butterflies and dragonflies supported by the Dew Ponds – ancient cattle drinking hollows built to hold water for livestock before it drains through the limestone. Those with time can take a way marked trail of around 1 mile thorough the reserve as you pass by on the Mendip Way.
One final stiff climb to return to the table like ridge top brings you back to the uplands and a welcome return to flat, level walking past remote scattered farms linked by the infamous Priddy Stiles. These ancient stone stiles are fairly unique to ancient Somerset so get used to them and they require a bit of acrobatic manoeuvring for those with shorter legs! This is a wild and rarely visited part of the Mendips where big skies and bigger views accompany you along the walk, on the horizon to the north are the old Roman Lead Mines at Priddy Ponds.
Priddy is pure and quintessential Somerset – if you want to see a real sleepy rural village off the tourist track this is it.
On its historic village green sits a unique thatched Sheep Hurdle shelter – the Sheep Fair has been held here for over 600 years – it’s about as far removed from the Fudge Shops of Cheddar Gorge as you can get.
Click Here for more info on overnight stops at the village of Priddy.
From Priddy, the Mendip Way winds through rich arable pastures on the south side of the village - the trail zig zagging through crop fields lined with wildflowers and broken up with sections of ancient wooded tracks. Before too long the lip of the Escarpment is reached again and this time the views are directly over the ornate cathedral at Wells far below you and onto Glastonbury Tor, the iconic mound and tower now starting to dominate the landscape and draw you in.
To drop off the upland table, the Mendip Way takes a superb route through another beauty spot at Ebor Gorge Reserve – here steep twisting woodland paths wind down the side of yet another dramatic gorge. Ebbor Gorge was formed 200,000 years ago when a huge cavern collapsed forming the dramatic cliffs and limestone scree slopes that the walkers passes today.
Make sure you take the short diversion to the head-spinning cliff top viewing point where the sheer cliffs suddenly open out in front of you and the true depth of the Gorge becomes clear as you gaze down at oak, ash and elm trees the size of matchsticks far far below you. The canopy structure of woodland encourages a high diversity of butterflies, nationally scarce species including the White letter hairstreak and High Brown Fritillary.
This feels like an ancient land that time forgot, a forgotten valley that could harbour a clan of cavemen ….and indeed it did. The caves in cliffs having given up remains of cave bear, reindeer and wolf as well as evidence of Stone Age human habitation…. These days rather than mammoths it’s badgers, foxes, stoats and deer that occupy, protected by the sheer cliffs and dense undergrowth..
Coleridge the Poet was very taken with the place and whilst it was famously up at Exmoor (see the Coleridge Way Walk) that he penned his great work - Kubla Khan - it is said his Zanadu was inspired by what he saw walking through his ‘Romantic Chasm’ “Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea”.
Wookey Hole is the next habitation, now firmly back on the cusp of the levels below the ridge. Like Cheddar it’s a mini maelstrom of chaos as you walk in and out - centred around its popular caves – however away from the tourist trappings these are without question superb caverns. If you can fit in a tour then do go - new sections are being opened up all the time here and the history of the pioneers of cave exploration and cave diving at this site is both inspiring and dramatic.
Click Here for information on overnight stays at Wookey Hole.
The Mendip Way route into Wells from Wookey now takes a gentle circular approach into England’s smallest “City”, arriving from the north to avoid as much of the modern suburbs as possible. The Mendip Way climbs steeply up a wooded knoll to Arthur’s Point, said to be a lookout used by King Arthur himself over the Vale of Avalon. Descending again through the trees, pass yet more ruined limekilns to finally enter the city along a run of narrow footpaths that bring you straight into centre via “lovers lane”and through an ornate archway onto Cathedral Green where the huge western walls of the mighty cathedral loom over both you and the rest of the “city” – it’s quite a sight.
Click Here to read about staying in historic Wells and the key attractions and things to see
Click Here to read about the side walk from Wells to visit mystical Glastonbury and its Abbey arriving on foot via the iconic Tor.
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