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How our walks are graded

Coastal Walking Grades Described     |    Inland and Moorland Walking Grades Described

All of our walks into four categories: EasyModerate, Strenuous and Severe

Strenuous Grade Walking near LulworthThese are the 'official' categories set by organisations such as the South West Coast Path Association who maintain the main walking trails and they are described below in detail with some examples to help you understand them.

Of course any grading system will depend on the individual's fitness and experience, so what one experienced walker feels is 'moderate' grade may well feel more like 'strenuous' for someone new to walking holidays.

So all grades should be taken as a guide only and are intended to give you a reasonably good idea of how easy or difficult a walk is likely to be and how much effort is required. Once you have walked a section you will then have a fairly good idea how other parts of your route will compare.

Dorset Coast PathAny reasonably fit walker should be able to manage any grade without a problem, but where a section of the route is graded as strenuous or severe then this is an indication that this section requires harder work and is likely to mean slower progress. Those who are less fit or regular walkers need to plan shorter walking days and distances if heading into strenuous and severe walking grades.

Bear in mind that these gradings are relative to the rest of the trail - So none of our walks are dangerous or technically difficult and none of them need specialist equipment. There is no climbing or mountaineering and 'severe' does not mean your life is in danger but it does mean you can expect a lot of ups and downs and effort!

Coastal Walking

Generally, the coast paths are well-maintained and well-walked but, as the paths follow the coastline in most areas, the path repeatedly ascends to cliff tops and then descends back down to the little coves and beaches in between. Think of a long roller-coaster of climbs and descents and you are on the right lines.

In general the difference in the grades reflects the number and the steepness of these climbs and descents - this is the main factor in how difficult your walk will be.

Easy Grade Path near PolzeathEasy Grade – Coast Path Walking

This is flat and gentle walking with few or no gradients. Occasionally this may be along quiet roads or tarmacked paths, generally it will be along tracks and trails, or across fields, grassland etc. Easy grade walking is suitable for all levels of walkers. Relatively fit walkers will be able to cover these sections quickly and no-one should find these sections difficult.

The example picture here is near Polzeath close to Padstow. This area of coast path has low or no cliffs so very little significant ascent or descent. The path is mostly flat, is well walked and in good condition and easy to follow,with refreshment options. It's an 'easy' grade bit of walking

Moderate Grade - Coast Path Walking

Moderate Grade Coast Path Cornwall

On a section of coastal path which is moderately graded then you will find perhaps two or three climbs and descents during the day but with relatively flat walking in-between. So these sections require walking up some steep hills and sometimes some steep descents too, often on stony and uneven terrain but there will be easy walking in between.

Moderate grade is fine for all levels of walker. Pictured here is a section of moderate coast path in Cornwall near St Agnes. Here you have moderate grade walking, the path is climbing but along the side of hill so its not too strenuous but the path is narrower and rocky, there are steep drops to the side and its quite remote. There will be climbs and descents and more effort needed along this section.


Strenuous Grade Coast Path CornwallStrenuous Grade -Coast Path Walking

On a strenuous grade section the climbs and descents increase so will experience perhaps 4 or 5 a day and sometimes one after the other, which can be very tiring. Underfoot the path be more uneven, rocky or steep.

Less experienced walkers should make sure they allow plenty of time if walking a section of strenuous grade path. 

In this image, farther along the path from the picture above in Cornwall, we have the typical steep climb/descent of a strenuous section. Note the drop from the cliff-top heading steeply down to the beach. You can't see the return climb, but its just out of the picture, heading up the hill on the other side, so you descend, ascend, then repeat again on a strenuous section.

Severe Grade - Coast Path Walking

Trebarwith StrandNote that even on the South West Coast Path these are fairly unusual. However sections which are graded 'severe' will take significant effort. On these sections you will have, multiple repetitive climbs and descents for most or all of the walking day; generally 6 or more. Each one will tend to be steep, often of several hundred metres and so a walk graded severe will test your legs and your level of fitness!

The image here shows how steep the climbs and descents can be - this is a section starting from Trebarwith Strand in North Cornwall and the path climbs and descends 7 valleys like this during the next section to Port Isaac which is classified as severe grade. The habitation below is also the last for 7 miles which contibutes to be it being a 'severe' grade section - no handy tea shops to break those climbs and descents

Zennor to St IvesThere will be steep hill to climbs and occasionally difficult terrain underfoot such as easy scrambles over boulders. This picture shows part of a 'severe' grade section on the St Ives to Penzance Coast Path trail on the route to Zennor. Whilst its not inherently dangerous, there are scrambles up over these bolders as demonstrated by Ellie from Encounter Walking!

Novice and less experienced walkers should consider whether the route is the most suitable – if you go for it then allow plenty of time to complete the walk or consider splitting the section where possible – you can always ask us for options. 


Inland Walking Grades

Generally inland routes are not such a roller-coaster as the coastal ones, there are still climbs and descents but these tend to be less repetitive but longer and less steep than those on the coast. This does not, however that inland routes are always easier than coastal ones! Grading for inland routes takes more account of the general level of difficulty, how exposed a moorland route may be for instance and the likely trail conditions underfoot.

The Saints Way Easy GradeEasy Grade – Inland Walking Routes

This is low level walking with few or no gradients. Occasionally this may be along quiet roads or tarmacked paths, on woodland tracks or across fields and pastures. Easy grade walking is suitable for all levels of walkers.

Relatively fit walkers will be able to cover these sections quickly and no-one should find these sections difficult in usual weather conditions.

The picture here is from the Saints Way route in Mid Cornwall - there are sections on these back lanes with small hills but easy walking underfoot on lanes or footpaths - so graded easy.


Saints Way ModerateModerate Grade – Inland Walking Routes

On an inland section which is graded moderate the walking is generally not difficult but you may have some more hilly terrain and the route may be less obviously marked than on easy sections.

So, staying with the Saints Way, we have a moderate graded section of inland walking here through farmland. The route as you can see is muddy in places and the terrain has larger hills - the route heads left from here to drop into the river valley below BUT there is nothing too steep. 

Moderate grade is fine for all levels of walker but you will notice the difference to the easy grade.


Strenuous Grade – Inland Walking Routes

Wales Coast Path nr BarmouthOn an inland strenuous grade section you may have some steep climbs on the route and/or you may be walking in higher moorland sections, less well marked than lowland sections of the route.

There may also be long sections without refreshments en route. A strenuous grade walk is suitable for more experienced walkers – less experienced walkers need to allow much more time. So this image is from an inland option through low mountains on the Meirionydd Coast Path in Wales near Barmouth.  It's strenuous grade walking, the path is there, where the sign is pointing, but it's not that clear and the ground is rough grass and moorland, remote and unfenced. You can see there is a long descent into the valley as well with no flat ground. 

This sort of walking is therefore strenuous inland grade - we often note in your itinerary however that in poor weather such as mist or driving wind and rain this would quickly become a severe grade walk.

Severe Grade – Inland Walking Routes

Showrey Tor Bodmin MoorA severe grade inland route is likely to include either some strenuous climbs and/or cross remote and open moorland with unmarked paths. These inland sections should only be walked by experienced walkers who are confident in using map and compass for navigation and can cope with difficult weather conditions.

We don’t recommend that novice or inexperienced walkers attempt an inland walk graded 'severe'.

So the example here is one of the Ten Tors on the challenging route across Bodmin Moor. Classed as 'severe' as it's very exposed, high ground (for this area) and there are no trails or signposts to follow.

Fog on the MoorThe moorland is rough, hard walking and boggy in places. There is nothing, not even a house, for stretches of 6 to 10 miles on the moor - good stamina and navigation skills are required in case the mists come down, as these are open unwalled areas where you can wander in circles for some time if lost!

In very poor weather we would not advise waking a severe grade section.

The image on the right will give you an idea why you need a compass and are able to use it on severe routes in bad weather!


Still unsure about what you can manage ? Three tips to help

1     Read the walk reviews – go to the web pages on our site for the walk you want to do. You will see lots of reviews and comments from other walkers who have been there before you. Read their comments on the efforts required and whether or not they felt it was much harder (or easier) than imagined.

Bodmin Moor Brown Willy

2     Look at Pictures of the trail - run a search on google for the South West Coast Path and the area you are walking. Now Click on 'images' at the top of the search results and you will see pages of photos, from individuals, companies and organisations involved with that walking route. Sure some won't be helpful BUT keep scrolling down as a lot will be. This is a great way to scan lots of images of the trail quickly to get a feel for the terrain and path in that location and see examples of what its going to be like. You are then better informed to decide if you are going to find it hard or not compared to your usual walking.

For example click here to see a search for the South West Coast Path - St Ives to Zennor a section in West Cornwall which often catches people out and is graded Severe.

3    Talk to a walking advisor - If you are still unsure about grades or what level you can manage then feel free to contact us to discuss it with a walking advisor who has walked the routes. We will ask you about your previous experience and can then talk to you about the routes you are considering to help you make the right decision.

Marazion Godolphin ArmsFinal Words …...... Be Cautious!

If there is one golden rule it's be cautious about what you can manage.

With years of experience in booking walking holidays on these routes for people from all over the world, we can be very clear here and say that as a general rule most people tend to over-estimate what they can do – particularly on the coast paths. Things like bad weather, welcoming pubs, interesting views and diversions to attractions or beaches all tend to slow you down on a walking holiday, making increasing the time and effort required.

If you arrive earlier than planned at your destination – well done - there is usually something to explore at at your overnight stop or just enjoy an early drink. Far better that than finding that every day you are being challenged far more than you wanted and are having to miss things by rushing or you feel exhausted every day.

Remember its a walking "holiday"!



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