South West Coast Path National Trail
Our year started with the tremendous news that readers of Country Walking magazine had voted the South West Coast Path their favourite walk. Of course we’ve always thought that it was rather special, but it was great to know that keen walkers think so too. The Coast Path came out head and shoulders above the rest, receiving 50% more votes than the second placed route in the Cairngorms.
Tracing the spectacular south west coastline for 630 miles, the South West Coast Path takes in two World Heritage Sites, a National Park, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a World Biosphere Reserve. But never mind the jargon - to you and me that means fantastic scenery and loads of interesting things to enjoy along the way. If I had to sum up the Trail in one word it would probably be variety; there really is something for everyone.
***The Coast Path has even been celebrated in music by Westcountry duo Show of Hands – their CD The Path is the prize in this quarter’s competition. All you need to do is review one of the walks from our online Coast Path walks library. It includes over sixty Coast Path walks suitable for all abilities and interests. To find them, click on the flashing acorn on the signpost on the home page and search for a walk by area, length, difficulty or even type of interest. Each one has been described by someone who knows it really well – usually the person who manages that particular stretch – and can be printed out complete with a map. And when you’ve done the walk you can tell us what you thought about it using the ‘Review this Walk’ button at the foot of the page. We will put the names of the people who review walks between now and the end of January into a hat and the first one drawn out will receive the prize.***
The other members of my team are Mark who deals with the practical management of the path, and Elaine who looks after our publicity. We all enjoy a Coast Path walk in our spare time, and thought we’d share some recent highlights with you. Here goes!
The Waterfront Walkway in Plymouth is just unique. Created by the City Council in 1999 it filled in the biggest gap on the Coast Path, stretching ten miles from the ferry landing stage at Admiral’s Hard to Jennycliff on the eastern side of Plymouth Sound.
As you’d expect, the waterfront is packed with history and heritage, from well-known stories of national and even international significance to quirky incidents that even the locals had forgotten. But they’ve all been remembered and celebrated by features along the Walkway created by artist Gordon Young and Why Not Associates. Near the start for example, you may wonder why you’ve come across quotations from Sherlock Holmes set into the pavement. The reason is that the young Arthur Conan Doyle lived in a nearby house when he was still a doctor. Further on, gold-painted blocks on the pavement remind us that ingots of gold were once stacked here awaiting shipment to the strongroom at Fort Knox through Plymouth’s Millbay Docks. And back then - the 1930s - they were guarded by a solitary unarmed policeman!
I found many more features along the route with many a surprising tale to tell, and of course there’s no shortage of pubs and cafes when your feet need a rest. Towns and cities may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of National Trails, but they certainly have a lot add. And the Coast Path makes it so easy for residents and visitors to explore the coastline from all the settlements along its 630 mile length.
I live in east Devon and one of my favourites is the walk between Beer and Branscombe. It’s not far from home, but a million miles away from the daily routine of commuting and computers. On a clear day the views are amazing. To the east you see the beach huts nestling at the back of the beach at Beer and the coastline stretching around to the Isle of Portland. And as you walk westwards, you cross the white chalk cliffs which are such a contrast with the red sandstone around Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton.
In spring there’s the added attraction of the wildflowers – always more spectacular on chalk and limestone. And at any time of the year the haunting call of the peregrine may suddenly grab your attention, allowing you a glimpse of the fastest bird in the world.
I like to follow a circular route going along the clifftops to Branscombe Mouth and into the village for a pub lunch or cream tea. Then it’s back to the beach before returning through Under Hooken – a spectacular landslip with striking chalk pinnacles. The shrubby vegetation on either side of the path somehow gives a jungly feel before you emerge from it half-way up the cliff.
This is the walk I usually choose for visiting family and friends, and I haven’t had any complaints yet!
As my job involves surveying the condition of the Coast Path and its furniture, I’m lucky enough to be paid to walk it. In fact I’ve already walked the entire route twice and have just started on my third circuit!
But there’s always something new to see, and a while back I was given a fresh insight into the Path by the people I was out with. A group from the Disabled Ramblers’ Association rounded off a visit to Cornwall with an invigorating day exploring a section of the Coast Path in West Penwith – part of the recently designated ‘Cornish Mining’ World Heritage Site. This area was chosen as because it is one of the most spectacular sections of the Coast Path, and is free from steps and stiles as it runs along old mining tracks.
We started the day with a tour of the National Trust’s restored engine house at Levant. After squeezing in to see the steam powered beam engine fired up, we heard tales of what the mine was like in its heyday and the dangers and hardship faced by the miners working in shafts stretching far out under the sea.
I was able to see for myself how well an all-terrain mobility scooter can cope with steep slopes and rough tracks. It certainly reinforced our plans to replace stiles with gates wherever possible, and made me realise that easy-access walks don’t necessarily need to be flat & smooth.
We’ve added more than 20 easy access walks to our website in the last year. Each one has detailed maps and photos which we hope will let people decide for themselves whether the walk is suitable for them.
If you’re coming to the Coast Path this winter, choose a walk from our online library and don’t forget to review it for a chance to win a CD of music inspired by some of the special places on Britain’s Greatest Walk.