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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Distance -16 miles Grade - Strenuous Walking on open moorland for 8 miles with two severe climbs - thereafter moderate and mainly downhill to the coast - what these grades mean
Five dramatic tors stand between you and the northern end of the moor this morning. Starting with a brisk climb over Tolborough Tor the route gets more and more remote as all signs of habitation disappear and Brown Willy, Cornwall’s highest point looms above you. Caves in this area were once used by smugglers to hide their contraband in amongst the bronze age settlements and dramatic rocky outcrops.
You pass to the left of the source of River Fowey before a final climb for the rocky Tor above.
The ascent is on The Smugglers Way is steep through heather and boulders but fairly short, the reward fantastic views from the summit over Cornwall. Closer to you spot the deep valley you need to cross before a second ascent this time to Rough Tor.
Pronounced Row, like Cow, to reach this slightly lower Tor you pick your way through an amazing array of stone pillars and rock sculptures a surreal and unearthly landscape that feels as old as the planet itself. Unbelievably this was the site of a medieval chapel to St Michael, what remains of it now holds a memorial to the 43rd Wessex Division of the British Army though one wonders how many people make it here to read the inscription.
From the top you drop through more holed and twisted rock piles crossing Little Rough Tor and then to the impressive stack at Showery Tor sight of an ancient chieftains burial mound. Views right over the enitre North Cornwall Coastline to the South West Coast Path route are superb and if you love Cornwall this is the place to be to feel at the very point that this ancient land, stretching out below you in its full glory, meets the heavens !
An open moorland section skirting forestry on the lower slopes leads to the bizarre Lanlavery Rock formation a sudden escarpment which is only revealed as you are about to tumble over it. This lonely spot was at one time a popular outing for local church groups and schools.
For those looking for real adventure keep your eyes open here as its in this area that many of the 60 odd reported sightings of a big cat on Bodmin Moor have been made. Mutilated bodies of sheep are regularly found on the moor here and we have to add that there were a least 4 when we last walked through.
The moor is suddenly interrupted by the huge expanse of Davidstow Airport.
Built by the Americans as a WW2 bomber airbase after the war it was used to hold 3 formula one races in the 1950’s. Cross the bunkers and underground bomb dump bays before arriving at the ever extending potholed runway. It’s a strange bit of walking as you stroll alone along over 1 mile of weed covered tarmac in the middle of nowhere. At the northern end old buildings remain desolate and abandoned, we had lunch in the second floor of the Control Tower with 20 sheep for company who have gratefully taken up residence here. Ultimately its desolate location and sweeping fog finished both flying and racing but if the mists do lift you may well still see take offs from the Glider club which still uses the site. Exiting this unusual site beside some of the hangers now used by the farmer for hay you meet the road and pass the Davidstow Airport Museum, on the route and well worth a visit for those who want to know more about this unusual spot
The Coast to Coast route now starts its rapid descent to the North Cornwall Coast firstly on road before crossing rough pasture and patches of ancient woodland that held plenty of wild and surprised deer on our last walk here. A tranquil river section follows before you climb to pass right through the hidden Norman churchyard at Lesneweth with its ancient celtic cross one of those true remote Cornish Villages that only the residents and those walking this route will ever discover.
The final stage of The Smugglers Way joins the beautiful wooded Valency Valley leading you through a heavenly run of waterfalls and deep pools framed by ancient woods on route to the sea. This powerful watercourse was responsible for the dramatic flash flooding that decimated lower Boscastle in 2004. For literary fans just off the route is St Juliot's Church where Thomas Hardy spent many months overseeing the Church restoration in 1872 and met his wife Emma Gifford, the rectors sister in law. His novel a Pair of Blue Eyes covers much of this area and as you follow his “leaf covered aisle” down to Boscastle ..., look out for a flat slab of rock in the centre of the river just after the Minster Footbridge, This is where Thomas and Emma were picnicking as they courted and dropped a tumbler in the water recounted in the poem "Under The Waterfall.
Emerging in Boscastle its a short amble through the town to the stunning natural harbour here, a fjord like cleft in the cliffs. The village is a fantastic place to explore and also has excellent facilities. Make the most of them for this is the crossroads for those heading off onto the rugged South West Coast Path further West towards Tintagel, Padstow or North East towards Bude and the border with Devon near Morwenstow.
Overnight stops in Boscastle at the end of The Smugglers Way
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