Tons of stunning views, that’s the main theme of the South West Coast Path in England, a long-distance National Trail along the country’s Southern coastline. The trail stretches over a little more than 1,000 kilometers and guides hikers to the most spectacular points along Great Britain‘s Southern coast, many of which are included in two World Heritage Sites there. In a number of sections, it follows the path originally used by coast guard staff to detect smugglers coming ashore.
One trailhead is located in Minehead, a historic coastal town in England’s Somerset region. Somerset is famous for its quaint little towns and the Exmoor National Park. From there, it immediately proceeds to the water’s edge, then crosses through woodlands and a village, before it reaches a first lookout point above a cliff. The Exmoor Coastal Heaths come next, an area with a rich diversity of species, followed by the Valley of the Rocks, where a herd of feral goats attracts the attention of hikers. Continuing on, the next major sights include the picturesque harbor town of Ilfracombe and the North Devon Coast, which has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a term hikers will easily find confirmed upon seeing the stunning views from atop the dramatic cliffs here. The Saunton Sands section is particularly interesting, as it contains England’s largest sand dune field.
This is followed by an inland section aong the Taw river. A number of historic harbour villages lie in the path of the trail, before it reaches Cornwall and the cliffs again. At Tintagel, the medieval castle fortification reminds visitors of King Arthur’s times. This is an overall easier section for hikers with less climbs to master. In West Cornwall, sandy beaches mark the scenery, before Land’s End looms as the next must-see point. This is England’s westernmost point, offering great views of the cliffs and the ocean.
Hiking in a northerly direction from there, the town of Falmouth comes up soon, a popular seaside vacation town, followed by smaller and quieter fishing villages and even more cliffs with good viewpoints. Coastal headlands dotted by nature preserves and river estuaries mark the landscape here. The trail then enters the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site so named because of millions of years of geological history discernible here. The rock here not only contains a great number of fossils, but also notable landforms including the natural arch at Durdle Door and the Old Harry Rocks chalk pinnacles. This is arguably the most scenic section of the entire trail and if you’re not looking to hike along the entire South West Coast Path, this is probably the part you should do.
Lyme Regis is the name of the first town the path encounters in the Dorset region. From there, it winds up to Golden Cap. The hill stands almost 200 meters tall and can already be seen from far away. Another stretch of sand dunes awaits visitors then near South Haven Point, which in turn marks the other end of the South West Coast Path.
Altogether, the entire trail is of such a stunning scenic beauty that it makes hikers stop every few hundred meters to take a photo. When calculating the time it takes to travel along the the trail, these vista stops have to be taken into account. But even more so, hikers mustn’t underestimate the many climbs, ascents and descents one has to master. But as the trail not only winds up and down the many cliffs, but also passes through numerous towns, there are plenty of opportunities for hikers to find overnight accommodation along the way.