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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A small village stretching up from a fine beach overlooked by an atmospheric church with its huge tower built as a guide mark for seafarers entering the nearby Yealm estuary. It’s a pleasant spot to wander in the evening and the church with its medieval Wagon Roof is well worth a visit. The National Trust run Beach is a clean and safe option for an end of walk swim or you can just sit back at The Old Mill Cafe which provides a good selection of food and refreshments and watch the surfers offshore. Just off the beach don’t miss Devon Wildlife Trusts Wembury Marine Centre. Free to enter, this place celebrates the huge variety of wildlife around the immediate area which is attracted by the rocky platforms and offshore reefs. This area is now a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area and one of the South Coasts best places to spot marine animals and plants – if you packed a mask and snorkel make sure you use them here! The centre has interactive displays and is an ideal place to pick up more information about the scenery and wildlife you will encounter further along the trail. The village itself whilst small stretches up the hill away from the beach.
Wembury beach is also the end of the Two Moors Way Coast to Coast Trail which heads inland here via Ivybridge to the heights of Dartmoor. For those who want to mix their walking experience it’s at this point that you will turn inland and head for the interior at Dartmoor – Contact Us to discuss building a walk that mixes the seascapes of the South West Coast Path with the inland walking on the Two Moors Way.
These two villages sit in a tranquil creek side paradise opposite each other on the east side of the River Yealm (or Yam). Shortened by the residents to plain Newton and Noss a small ferry links the villages with each other and the West bank of the Yealm to complete the Noss Triangle. The Yealm itself is a fine example of a “drowned river estuary” by virtue of its small river source but huge estuary, essentially the inland creek waters are the sea. The estuary is stunning, set in gentle wooded glades and inlets, a perfect harbour from the storms of the sea, this is an area beloved by the landscape artists who have come throughout the years to capture the sleepy creek side villages and pubs of this remote and unspoilt spot. The heyday of the boatbuilding past here was as far back as the 14th Century when the villages produced many ships used to lift the siege in Calais. Today it’s a popular spot with modern leisure boats and an evening watching them gliding in and out of the waters is a pleasant foreground to the sunset.
Those staying here will be able to join the locals at the waterside Ship Inn and munch on local mussels in wine as they watch the latest arrivals from sea sail right up the quay for a drink. There are also a number of local shops, including a baker, butcher, post office and chemist. For those that fall in love with the place or are inspired to take to the waves there is a sailing school and boat hire available.
For those on more relaxed itineraries, the best way to deal with crossing the Erme Estuary where there is no ferry, is to take a nights break at the nearby village of Holbeton. We use the excellent Ivy Barn B&B which is right in the centre of the village and run by Linda and Chris who are very happy to help walkers with pick ups and transfers round the estuary. Chris is a Michelin listed Chef so this is likely to be the best breakfast of the week !
Set just inland of the estuary this is a classic Devon village, off the main tourist route with two pubs to choose from for your evening meals including the excellent real ale Inn at the Dartmoor Union
Those staying here will walk the 9 miles on the coast path from Noss Mayo before turning inland at Mothecombe where you can stop for refreshments at the old school cafe before the final 1.5 miles inland to Holberton. Next morning we arrange to take you after breakfast around the estuary to drop you on the East side so you can continue on the coast path.
Bigbury on Sea is the more modern of the two villages but it’s obvious attractions are the stunning level sands and sheltered waters which lead to the enchanting Burgh Island (see the days route description for details of this stunning spot). If the tides work or you can catch a “sea tractor” this is a perfect evening adventure ending at The Pilchard, the islands ancient inn. The Burgh Island Hotel is also possible for upmarket dining in style but you’ll need a black tie and a fair bit of money to eat there – the experience however has got to be unrivalled! Even if you don’t make it to the island you can gaze over its silhouette in the setting sun by heading inland on the short amble to Ringmore another picture postcard Devon village, all thatched cottages with a central locals pub serving good fresh local food. On the opposite side of the Avon River a ferry takes you to Banthan a much older fishing settlement, one of the many that made its income from the Pilchard Shoals. The beach is one of South Devon’s best, rolling dunes on an undeveloped expanse of sand, free from mass tourism but livened up by the windsurfers, kite buggies and off shore surfing for which this is the South Devon Coasts surfing Mecca. For those wanting to hire a board or grab a lesson an excellent surf school operates here. For the more usual end of walk activities you have a gem to relax in at The Sloop Inn close to the ferry and at the start of a row of thatched and cobbled cottages. For many staying in Bantham you will be lodging at the Sloop anyway having already crossed the estuary in preparation for tomorrows walk to Salcombe.
Devon’s southernmost harbour, Salcombe has it all for the weary walker, tranquil scenery, cosmopolitan facilities that earn it the Kensington on Sea tag and a rich maritime history. As such is a great choice along with Dartmouth for a rest day on this section of coastline. The immediate scenery is superb from a town clinging to the steep wooded hillside and looking across shimmering waters edged by jagged rocky coves and golden sands
The climate here is amongst the best in the UK evidenced in the Lemon trees which grow here, a link to the town’s fruit importing past which specialised in building and harbouring fast sailing schooners.
In their heyday over 100 made lightning runs to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, returning laden with fruit to be landed quickly whilst still fresh.
Today’s modern seafaring visitors arrive in luxury yachts with rather less adventure and speed than the sailors of old but they have brought with them an impressive level of smart cafes, delis, sailing shops and quality restaurants. If you can book early enough the annual August regatta is a lively spectacle where the whole town comes to life, the event over 150 years old. If you miss this you can catch some of the flavour in the towns superb Maritime Museum which has models of the old Schooners along with various treasures brought in from the wrecks off nearby Bolt Head. In between the impressive waterfront houses the historical past remains with The Old Watch House and the Custom House still standing guard.
For those on a rest day consider renting a boat to explore the coves and inlets or if you want to be tutored in the art of sailing this is the place to try it. On the other hand if you prefer to let others take the wheel you can just amble around the natural harbour on the ferries that run to the beaches at East Portlemouth.
Above the coastpath and just before arriving in the town if you have the time check out Overbecks, a large Edwardian villa and gardens open to public and former home of Otto Overbeck and his bizarre collection of stuffed animals, gadgets and other oddities which include a 19C juke box. Otto himself was an eccentric inventor who believed that everyone could live to the age of 350. His gardens are still alive and well at least and if you wander round them you will find fantastic subtropical vegetation planted high above the pretty steep sided town.
Arriving at Torcross from the cliffs you enter a new walking dimension at a peaceful village hemmed in on a spit of shingle between Devon’s largest freshwater lake at Slapton Ley and the open sea . A rather unique spot then where a beautiful nature reserve and first class beach are separated by a narrow but seemingly endless mound of stones! - but more about this on tomorrows walk. The village itself is a restful overnight with a few rows of pretty cottages lining the shore, a store and post office, butchers, craft and art shop as well as a small pottery. In fact the village has quite an artist colony and a choice of restaurants, cafes and pubs offering food and drink for the arriving coast path wanderer. Like Hallsands the lost village further west, Torcross has had its battles with the sea most recently in 1979 after which the current sea wall was hastily put in place to try and keep this village out of the sea.
Its most unusual feature is one you won’t find anywhere else on the 630 miles of coast path..... a Sherman Tank. Now standing as a solemn memorial it was raised from the depths by a local man 40 years after it was sank by German E boats and sited as a monument to the American GI soldiers who were stationed here to train for D-Day. Its tale is a tragic one. An incredible 749 US Serviceman were killed off shore here in the early hours of 28 April 1944. A convoy of eight American landing craft were carrying out a D-Day dress rehearsal when they were ambushed by German E-boats. Sitting ducks, two were sunk immediately in the attack off Slapton Sands, confusion then reigned with some landing ships being hit by friendly fire from other allied boats – the loss of life was horrendous and it remains the worst training operation tragedy of World War 2 with a higher death toll than at the initial D-Day landings themselves which were to take place on Utah Beach, Normandy, two months later.
Elsewhere in Torcross you can wander to The Duckery where the braver wildfowl from nearby Slapton Ley congregate or just wander out onto the shingle to the popular swimming and water sports beach to watch the waves crash against the pebble bar that stretches away into the distance from the town.
Dartmouth is well worth a second night and day off the main coast path to fully explore this fascinating natural harbour and town which seems to trickle down the wooded slopes into the glistening waters of the tranquil River Dart.
From your arrival Dartmouth enchants and descending the woods from the harsh coastline you pass the breathtaking views over the water from the Castle before entering a maze of tiny narrow streets and alleys that reveal a network of Elizabethan half timber shops.
18th Century waterfront houses surround old cobbled quays and medieval stairwells. It’s unspoilt and has not surprisingly been used for a host of films and dramas, from the Onedin Line to the French Lieutenants Women
Wander through the cobbled quay at the Cove and the timber framed shops, boutiques and galleries at the Butterwalk furnished by ornate woodcarvings and granite columns that hang over the street.
Or visit St Saviour’s church rebuilt in 1630 and still furnished with medieval ironwork and trophy timbers rescued from the flagship of the doomed Armada.
One of the largest towns in the South Hams the historical importance of this harbour cannot be understated, this was the assembly and departure point for the second and third crusades. Sixteenth Century Bayards Cove is another timeless quay and significantly the spot the Pilgrim Fathers set sail from to “discover” America (they only put into Plymouth en route when the Mayflower suffered an early leak!).
Dartmouth provided the inspiration for Chaucer’s Shipman of Dartmouth in his Canterbury Tales and the town’s principle trade in medieval times was in fact in wine from Bordeaux – the modern yacht owners arriving today still continue the tradition all be it on a smaller scale !
All this and much more is covered in the Dartmouth Museum which is an Aladdin’s Cave of seafaring history and curios including a model man of war fashioned here from bone by French Prisoners .
High above the town the Britannia Royal Navy College sits proud, the officer training centre with an impressive array of buildings and the spot that the current Queen met Prince Phillip.
For facilities with a population of 6,000 swelled by summer visitors you are well catered for and it’s a time to indulge.
If you have had your fill of pub meals test the Michelin star at celebrity Chef John Burton Race’s restaurant and Cookery School or choose from a plethora of upmarket restaurants for those who feel they have earned the right to luxury feeding having made it here from Plymouth.
If you have time (and energy) to head out on a rest day there are excellent options heading inland to the interior along the genteel and leafy River Dart to Totnes one of the oldest towns in this area of Devon and a great contrast to the coastal harbours. You can walk part way and take a ferry boat for the remainder.
For those wanting a faster mode of transport you can catch the Heritage Steam Railway from Kingswear on a track that affords excellent views of the coastline on a run towards Torbay and again this can be combined with a river trip leaving from Dartmouth Station – a unique place as its never actually seen a train.......all the passengers having had to arrive there by ferry from the other side of the river at Kingswear !
A day on the battlements at Dartmouth Castle affords the classic views of the River and in the summer you can catch medieval re-enactment battles or open air theatre in a location to beat all others where you can wander at will. If you prefer, just stick to the river and a range of options from guided boat trips or sailing tuition to self hire motor boats and canoes and head away from the coast and into the leafy and tranquil waters of the Dart. For a swim then head for Castle Cove below the castle and just paddle your way around the breathtaking views over the River Dart to Kingswear which has its own opposing castle.
Two final options both well worth considering if you have a day out here are the historic houses at Greenway and Coleton Fishacre. Greenway was the holiday retreat of Agatha Christie, the house nestled in the woods enclosing fabulous hidden gardens both now open to the public. Visit the boathouse, invariably scene of a murder in the book Dead Mans Folly. You can reach this by boat or on a gentle wander along The Dart Valley Trail.
Coleton Fishacre also National Trust, can be accessed from the coast path on the walk to Brixham but if time allows go for a proper exploration on a day off - A luxuriant garden by the sea, with an Arts & Crafts-style house, featuring Art Deco-influenced interiors where sloping subtropical gardens and jungles lead from the coast path into a bizarre world of the most kitsch decor throughout.
Whatever else, Dartmouth will delight providing a welcome rest and change of pace from the twisted rock towers, cliffs and coves along the South West Coast Path.
Simply put Fishing is Brixham, over 10,000 tonnes of the stuff is landed here every year so if you want to see a proper working fishing port on the South Coast – then after many miles you found it. In the harbour you can take in the fisherman unloading the fresh catches of plaice, sole, lobster and crab, part of the load goes straight to the string of seafood shacks on the quay where you can get freshly grilled fish straight from the charcoal grills.
Brixham has not been swamped by tourism in the same manner as the urban areas further into Torbay and is unique in still housing a large fleet of colourful trawlers that still supply fish to Billingsgate Market.
Brixham is overlooked by the statue of William of Orange who landed here in 1688 on his way to lay claim to the English Crown, the story goes as he landed he fell off his boat and began his quest for the throne with a broken nose.
We feel it’s pretty appropriate the trail ends here for you too, looking out on the outskirts of the urban Torbay mass, Brixham marks the end of this section of wild coastline and the beginning of the rather entertainingly named English Riviera !
Built up around a fishing port Brixham still retains a lot of charm however with its pastel shaded cottages that gaze around and above the long half moon harbour, the centre of which is fronted by the larger stately buildings that give a hint to the ports historical importance.
With time to look around before you depart you won’t miss boarding the full size reconstruction of Sir Francis Drakes Golden Hind which sits in the harbour and any gaps that remain in your knowledge of this coasts history can be addressed at the Brixham Heritage Museum, well worth the effort, the history of the regattas, trawler races and inevitable smuggling of this harbour are all covered here. Then there is a clutch of Brixham Artists as well, with work at the Arts and Craft Market and the Breakwater Bistro and Art Gallery.
In the end however fish reigns supreme and this is the place for the freshest catch of the day so when you head for a restaurant after packing away those walking boots don’t even think of asking for anything on a plate that did not swim. Whatever you get it will be well earned after your endeavours around the South Hams Peninsular.
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