Walking the South West Coast path

Well Cornish lads are fishermen / And Cornish lads are miners too / But when the fish and tin are gone / What are the Cornish boys to do?
The folk song Cornish Lads by the singer Roger Bryant is about the decline of two of the Cornwall’s traditional industries: tin mining and fishing. Our self guided walking holidays on the South West Coast Path are about grass-roots experiences where you’re interacting with local people in small fishing villages that wouldn’t otherwise see a lot of passing trade.
Paul Day is the managing director of our hiking specialists Let’s Go Walking, and has been organising walking holidays in the UK for more than two decades. He believes these types of holidays are good news for local people.

He says: “There are lots of little fishing villages on the South West Coast Path that really benefit from long-distance walkers. These are lesser-known locations with family-run B&Bs, independent bakeries and village pubs that employ local people. Over the years, we’ve got to know the publicans and guest house owners like friends. Places like Porthgwarra near Porthcurno in south-west Cornwall, Lee Bay in North Devon, Wembury and Burgh Island in South Devon, Swanage and Studland Bay in Dorset – these coastal communities really benefit from people staying overnight and are absolutely beautiful but still not that well known.”
Another issue in South West England that has hit the local people hard is the ownership of second homes. Popular coastal locations in Cornwall and Devon, for example, have seen house prices rocket. It’s very difficult for young people, especially, to earn enough to get a foothold on the property ladder in the area where they grew up. Couple that with a resident population that comes and goes with the seasons and the job opportunities can be pretty limited.

Walking holidays along the South West Coast Path provide employment for people living in areas that are becoming more and more dominated by the seasonal tourism trade. From locally owned hotels and guest houses to proper pubs, not only will walkers get to experience an authentic side of South West England, but they’ll also be providing opportunities for year-round employment.

Paul describes one of his favourite haunts that he recommends to walkers undertaking the eastern leg of the South West Coast Path in Dorset: “Family-run pubs like the Bankes Arms Inn on Studland Bay in Dorset provide employment for local youngsters working behind the bar or in the restaurant. The Bankes has got its own award-winning brewery just behind the pub. We recommend that our walkers pop in for a pint if they’re passing by or staying overnight in the local area. The surrounding area is just gorgeous and never gets that crowded, even in summer.”

Avoiding crowds on the
South West Coast Path

Lots of places on the South West Coast Path can get very busy in summer. However, the joy of self guided walking means that you can choose where you stop and choose when to move on. Your overnight accommodation will be ready and waiting for you, and there will be plenty of places to pop into along the way that won’t be as crowded as the better-known ‘honey pots’.
“There are plenty of popular honey pot destinations on the South West Coast Path – especially in Cornwall – that can get very busy at weekends and in the summer holidays. But don’t be put off,” explains Paul. “People tend to park their car close to a beach but don’t wander much further before settling down for the day. The great thing about being on a walking holiday, covering distances of 16-20km a day, is that you’re not tied to car parks and can keep going until you find a less busy area that’s just for yourself.”
Walking experts like Paul can recommend areas that you might not have considered before. You’ll get to make the most of the wild and woolly south-west coast away from the serious crowds on other parts of the coast.

“If you’re taking a walking holiday on the South West Coast Path, don’t think of Cornwall as the main highlight,” advises Paul. “Places around Penzance and St Ives, for example, can get really, really busy. North Devon and Dorset, on the other hand, are absolutely beautiful but get a fraction of the visitor numbers. Locations like Bideford, Barnstaple, Croyde and Saunton Sands are fantastic.”
Travel Team
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How difficult is the
South West Coast Path?

It’s up to you to decide how long you want to walk each day. That’s the beauty of a tailor made walking holiday: you don’t have to march to the beat of a group drum. You can take your time and enjoy the experience. Perhaps take the morning to walk a difficult stretch and the afternoon to enjoy a leisurely stroll around a market town or village before booking a table at the local tavern in the evening. I’m sure a nap can also be squeezed in somewhere along the line.
“One thing you need to know if you’re walking on the South West Coast Path is not to underestimate the distances,” explains Paul. “You might look at a map and see it’s just 16-20km to get from A to B, however there are a lot of ups and downs along the way. It’s going to be hard work. Another piece of advice: if you’re taking a packed lunch, make sure you enjoy it on higher ground. It’s really tempting to eat at a beach beside the sea, but the climb back up the cliff face to the path is not something to look forward to after a big lunch!”

When is the best time to go walking on the South West Coast Path?

Although you can go on a walking holiday in South West England all year round, there are going to be times when the weather puts quite a dampener on proceedings. The holidays that Paul runs don’t take place during the winter months, and with good reason.

“Our self guided walking holidays run from March to mid-October,” says Paul. “The weather, basically, is far too unpredictable outside of these months. Offshore winds when you’re walking along a cliff face, or permanently wet rocks close to the shore, can be very dangerous. Also, after October, the days are so short. It’s dark at about 4pm and so you have a very small time span for a walk. You’re far better off walking when it’s naturally lighter and not constantly raining.”
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Graeme Churchard] [Cape Cornwall: Annie Spratt] [Lee Bay: Ben Crouch] [High Peak - Devon: Red Zeppelin] [Porthgwarra: Jim Champion]