Find out about the 15 National Trails providing over 4000km of well-managed paths which offer walking, riding and cycling experiences through some of the finest countryside in England and Wales, officially designated by Natural England (formerly the Countryside Agency).
Location: South West England (Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Dorset)
Length:: 1014 km (630 miles)
Average number of days to complete:: 56 days but most people choose to walk the Trail in sections.
Users:: 100% for walkers, 8% also available to either cyclists or horse riders; however only the Tarka Trail cycleway section (North Devon) offers a continuous length for cycling (21 km/13miles).
Highest point:: Great Hangman, Exmoor 318 metres (1043 feet)
Start and Finish points: Quay Street Green at Minehead in Somerset and South Haven Point, Poole Harbour in Dorset. Both marked by innovative sculptures.
Landscape:: Extremely varied from rugged and remote cliff tops to sheltered estuaries and busy harbours and resorts. Moorlands, plateaux incised by steep coastal valleys, intimate coves and long pebble or sand beaches, spectacular ‘drowned’ estuaries, landslips with undercliffs in East Devon and Dorset. 65% of length is within AONBs, 56% Heritage Coast, 5% National Park. England’s first natural World Heritage Site between Orcombe Point, Exmouth, East Devon and Old Harry Rocks, Swanage, Dorset (153 km / 95 miles).
Highlights: Exmoor, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve centred around the internationally important sand dunes at Braunton Burrows, Clovelly village, Hartland Point, Boscastle harbour, Tintagel Castle, beach at Bedruthan Steps, Camel Estuary, coastal areas of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining World Heritage Site, prehistoric field patterns of West Penwith, the outdoor Minack Theatre, the Tate Gallery at St Ives, Logan Rock (a rocking tor), Land’s End, the Lizard, Helford River, harbour town of Fowey, Thurlestone, South Devon estuaries (Yealm, Erme, Avon, Dart) the Axmouth Undercliff (a landslip), Berry Head, fossils at Lyme Regis and Charmouth, Golden Cap cliff, Chesil Bank shingle ridge, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, Old Harry Rock stacks. Coastal flowers and birds. Occasional seals, dolphins and basking sharks. Coastal historic and archaeological features including Iron Age Hill Forts and World War II defences.
Famous Associations: Poet John Betjeman at Trebetherick, writer Derek Tangye, Thomas Hardy (restored St Juliot Church near Boscastle), nature writer W.S.Hudson (stayed at Zennor, Land’s End peninsula and wrote The Land’s End: A Naturalist’s Impressions of West Cornwall), Jane Austen, writer John Fowles (French Lieutenant's Woman), Daniel Defoe (wrote Robinson Crusoe), Virginia Woolf (spent family holidays at St Ives where Godrevy lighthouse was the inspiration for ‘To the Lighthouse"). Henry Williamson (North Devon coast and rivers provide the setting for many of his books). Rudyard Kipling (at school in Westward Ho!), Daphne Du Maurier (lived at Menabilly near Gribbin Head), Agatha Christie (lived in Torquay as a child; also spent writing holidays on Burgh Island, South Devon), Sir Francis Drake (completed the first circumnavigation of the world at Plymouth in 1580), Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, John Piper, Alfred Wallis and Stanhope Forbes (all St Ives or Newlyn based artists or sculptors in a variety of styles), Beryl Cook (artist from Plymouth), Rick Stein (chef and restaurateur in Padstow), Marconi (sent first transatlantic radio signals from the cliffs at Poldhu, the Lizard in 1901), King Arthur (many North Cornwall associations including the castle at Tintagel), Lawrence of Arabia (stationed at Mountbatten RAF station, Plymouth).
Trail Officer's favourite part: “Hard to choose one! - The wildness of Hartland on a windy autumn day, the sights and sounds of summer on Plymouth’s Waterfront, a dog walk with a pub lunch in West Dorset or the spring flowers on the cliff tops on the Lizard”
Nearest Towns: Bristol is 97 km (60 miles) to the north and Taunton 36 km (22 miles) to the south-east of the Minehead Start point. Bournemouth is 10km (6 miles) Southampton 55km (34 miles) from the Dorset Start point. Ilfracombe, Barnstaple, Bideford, Bude, Padstow, Newquay, St Ives, Penzance, Falmouth, Plymouth, Torquay, Exmouth, Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, Weymouth and Swanage are some of the towns along the Trail.
Access: London is 2 hours by train from Taunton, with a further 1¼ hours by bus or bus and train to Minehead. London is1¾ hours by train from Bournemouth, with a further 1 hour by two buses to South Haven Point via Sandbanks ferry. Stations also along the Trail at Barnstaple, Newquay, Hayle, St Ives, Penzance, Falmouth, Par, Looe, Plymouth, Paignton, Dawlish, Exmouth, Weymouth and Swanage. Continental Ferries – Poole, Weymouth and Plymouth.
Information available: National Trail Guides published by Aurum Press: · Minehead to Padstow by Roland Tarr - ISBN 978 1 84513 269 9; · Padstow to Falmouth by John Macadam - ISBN 978 1 84513 270 5; · Falmouth to Exmouth by Brian Le Messurier - ISBN 978 1 84513 194 4; · Exmouth to Poole by Roland Tarr - ISBN 978 1 84513 271 2. A guide covering the entire South West Coast Path in one volume: The South West Coast Path by Paddy Dillon - ISBN 1 85284 379 9. An annual guide with route and accommodation information published by the South West Coast Path Association -The South West Coast Path Guide 2007 ISBN 978 0 907055 13 6. Many, many local leaflets/booklets also available. Current examples include The South West Coast Path through Torbay, Plymouth’s Waterfront Walkway, Beneath the Skin of the Lizard.
Contact for all information and advice: The South West Coast Path Team, c/o Devon County Council, Matford Lane Offices, County Hall, Exeter, EX2 4QW.Telephone: +44 (0)1392 383560.Email: email@example.com