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South West Coast Path

The English South West Coast Path is a colossal 630 miles long - that's over 1000 km! If you take it in the conventional anticlockwise direction, it stretches from Minehead in Somerset along the north coasts of Devon and Cornwall before rounding Land's End and turning back along the south coast, through Cornwall, Devon and ending at South Haven Point on Poole Harbour (Dorset). The beginning and end of the path are marked by large sculptures, the one in Minehead showing a pair of hands holding a map.

You might think that walking a coastal path of this length would be boring, but our experience was quite the opposite, with a huge variety of terrain including moorland, woodland, salt marshes and sandy beaches as well as the more expected cliffs and rocky outcrops. Although sections of the path are relatively flat, most of it is not, with repeated ascents and descents. Apparently, in walking the length of the path you climb the equivalent of three to four times the height of Everest. Hmmm - I wouldn't consider climbing Everest!

The signposting is generally very good, which is useful because finding your way isn't always quite as simple as always keeping the sea on your right hand side! We use the Cicerone and Aurum Press National Trail Guides and carry Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps too. After being booked into B&Bs too far apart in the Hartland Quay to Bude section we now also use the South West Coast Path Association's own guide. Using all these guidebooks and maps is perhaps overkill, but it adds interest to be able to put the coastline into context.

We've met people walking the South West Coast Path in one go and we've heard of people who do the whole thing in about a month (I understand the record is just 14 days). That's pretty impressive but not our style - we didn't want to rush it (even assuming I was physically able to) and we could only spare a week or two at once. So we just did sections as and when we could.
And although Richard and I started at the Minehead end of the path in April 2008, our first serious encounter with the path (in May 2007) was to walk a section that was neither at the beginning nor the end, but rather at the extreme western end of the peninsula - from St Ives to Penzance via Land's End. In May and June 2009 we 'filled the gap', spending two holidays walking between Westward Ho! and St Ives, and we managed to fit in St Michael's Way (from the south coast to the north coast of Cornwall) too. In April 2010 we walked from Penzance to Falmouth round the Lizard Peninsula, passing the halfway point at Porthallow, and in May 2011 we completed our circumnavigation of Cornwall (a total of 290 miles in its own right) - I had enjoyed the walk around the Cornish coast so much that I found myself in tears on the ferry that took us away from Cornwall to Plymouth.
In May 2012 we continued along the south coast of Devon to Teignmouth and a long weekend in December 2012 brought us to Sidmouth. In April 2013 we walked from Sidmouth to Ferry Bridge (on the outskirts of Weymouth) and round the Isle of Portland and finally, we walked from Ferry Bridge to South Haven Point (The End) in late May 2013. Our first leg was on 16th May 2007and our final leg was on 28th May 2013, just over seven years later. We spent 60 days on the South West Coast Path (some of them only half days) spread over ten holidays; all most leisurely - most of the time! Because we sometimes had to walk inland in order to find accommodation, we actually walked about 725 miles in our ramblings along the path, and in the later stages we came to enjoy these diversions - the path is lovely, but it also bypasses some delightful locations slightly inland.
We've had forays onto the South West Coast Path before. In 1974 I walked the section from Bigbury on Sea to Dartmouth (South Devon) with my schoolfriend Janet on an organised youth hostelling trip. I remember the hills, the fields of corn bordering the sea, the beauty of Salcombe - and discovering that I liked cider! A year later, and shortly before we met each other (when we rolled up on the same physics course at Durham University), Richard walked around Exmoor. In doing so he walked part of the North Devon stretch of the path, passing through the Valley of the Rocks - where his black and white photographs prove that he saw the famous feral goats. When we walked the same section of path in 2008, the goats were visible, but in goat-like fashion they were feeding well below us on a steep slope just above the sea; too far away to be photographed.

When Michael and Helen were younger we spent several family holidays on or within reach of the South West Coast Path. We explored parts of the coast of Dorset from a cottage in Piddletrenthide, parts of the south coast of Devon from a cottage in North Huish (on the edge of Dartmoor) and when we were staying near St Neot (on the edge of Bodmin Moor) in 2004 (whilst my thyroid gland was in the process of self-destructing) we visited both the north and south coasts of Cornwall, particularly enjoying the area around Kingsand. But the most memorable of the lot was 1995's warm October half-term spent in the delightful village of Port Quin, staying right on the Coast Path in a converted fish cellar, originally used for processing the pilchards for which Port Quin was famous.We explored the natural harbour of Port Quin and walked along the coast in both directions - towards Port Isaac to the east and The Rumps and Pentire Point to the west. We also ventured further afield, driving to Padstow, Tintagel and Bedruthen Steps. The photograph shows a determined Helen, aged 7, on the first leg of a five mile walk that took us along the Coast Path from Port Quin to Port Isaac for a picnic, then back to Port Quin along an inland path.

First leg of South West Coast Path

For more photographs of our walk along the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Falmouth click here, For more photographs of the walk from Falmouth to Teignmouth click here. For more photographs of the walk from Teignmouth to the end of the path (South Haven Point) click here. These are large albums so may take some time to download; please be patient.