The South West Coast Path is an official National Trail and the longest waymarked long-distance footpath in England and Wales. It stretches for 1,014 km (630 miles), from Minehead in Somerset, along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, to Poole Harbour in Dorset.
The Path was originally created by coastguards, patrolling the south west peninsula, looking out for smugglers. On their walk from lighthouse to lighthouse the coastguards needed to be able to look down into every little bay and cove. For that reason the path closely hugs the coast and provides excellent views and opportunities to observe the landscape and wildlife.
Today the South West Coast Path has been transformed into a recreational trail that has twice been voted 'Britain's Best Walking route' and regularly features in lists of the world's best walks. The route takes in tiny fishing villages, rocky headlands, bustling seaside resorts, wooded estuaries and golden beaches washed over by Atlantic surf. The area is rich in wildlife such as seabirds, wild flowers, dolphins, seals and even whales.
Our walking tours focus on the 173km (107.5 miles) long central section of the South West Coast Path in south west Cornwall, between Padstow and Penzance. This part of the trail is also known as the ‘Cornwall Coast Path’ and offers some of the best coastal walking in Europe.
Walking the path is one of the best ways to explore what makes Cornwall, a land of myth and legend, so unique and special. In addition hikers are often reminded of the industrial past in the form of quarrying, mining, lime burning, fishing and boat building. In acknowledgement of centuries of tin and copper mining, six areas adjacent to the South West Coast Path are now part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.
Starting in Padstow, a charming fishing port surrounded by glorious sandy beaches, at the head of the Camel River, the route follows the shores of the Camel Estuary. Winding through little coves the trail then descends to Porthcothan Bay, passes the large Iron Age fort remains at Trevelgue Head and continues to bustling Newquay, surfing capital of the UK.
Coves and headlands lead to Perranporth Beach. From there onwards the remains of tin mines often dot the landscape. Clifftop paths lead past Porthtowan to the harbour at Portreath. The trail now slowly climbs for a few kilometres before descending to a ‘Hell's Mouth’, a spectacular breach in the cliffs.
Look out for seals and other wildlife as the trail passes near the lighthouse at Godrevy Point. A long beach walk leads to the busy port of Hayle. Sand dunes and more beaches link this with the delightful seaside resort of St Ives, once the most important fishing port in Cornwall.
Further on, the route passes the ‘Carracks’, notorious ship-wrecking rocks, before continuing west along the coast past coves and old tin mines. After Pendeen Watch lighthouse the path visits Cape Cornwall and skirts a little inland past St. Just village. It then, once more, hugs the coast on its way to the pretty fishing village of Sennan Cove.
Nearby is famous Land’s End, where the Atlantic pounds landmarks such as 'Wolf Rock' and the 'Long Ships'. Continuing to Porthcurno the trail passes a famous open-air theatre at Minack Point. A little further a sheltered, seemingly sub-tropical valley at Lamorna invites for a break in an old smuggler’s pub.
Not far from there, the impressive St. Michael’s Mount can often be seen on the far side of Mount’s Bay. Passing through the pretty fishing village of Mousehole the route enters the busy resort of Newlyn and finally Penzance, the end of our longest tours.
The walking on the South West Coast Path is generally easy with well maintained footpaths and pleasant beaches and, for most sections, the route never strays far from villages and towns. The terrain between St Ives and Pendeen is more rugged and challenging, but is not beyond anybody with a reasonable level of fitness
The highest point of of this section of the trail is only 110m above sea level and in general the route stays well below 100m. However there are many ups and downs throughout the route where the trail climbs from cliff height down to sea level and then back up again. The total aggregate ascent adds up to approximately 5,300m over the route from Padstow to Penzance.
Elevation Profile (Click image to enlarge)
Terrain by Stages
Padstow to Porthcothan Bay: Mostly grassy trails along exposed cliff-top paths with occasional pleasant beach walking. Like most of the Coast Path there is a bit of ‘up and down’ throughout the day.
Porthcothan Bay to Newquay: For most of the day the trail follows coastal paths with several short ascents and descents. There is some walking on paved footpaths and roads into Newquay.
Newquay to Perranporth: The first part of the walk is mainly in an urban or suburban setting. You then have a choice of four different options to cross the River Gannel by ferry or tidal bridges. After that the trail becomes more rural along quiet paths, tracks, beaches, sand dunes and grassy clifftop paths. The day’s walk also contains some steep but short climbs.
Perranporth to Portreath: The route first passes through some heathland and then follows grassy cliff top paths and tracks. These can be rugged and stony in places. Frequent climbs in and out of coves and bays.
Portreath to Hayle: After a few short, but rather steep climbs at the beginning of the walk, the trail settles down and continues at a gentler gradient. A mixture of cliff-top paths, trails through sand dunes and a little bit of road walking.
Hayle to St Ives: Roads and paved footpaths out of Hayle are taking the trail inland at first. From Lelant, the walk passes through some dunes on sandy paths. It then follows wooded paths through green areas all the way into St Ives.
St Ives to Pendeen: This beautiful and wild section is particularly remote and exposed with regular steep ascents and descents. The trail is often rocky and sometimes very rugged and wet.
Pendeen to Porthcurno: A long and moderately challenging walk with regular ascents & descents but generally along relatively even surfaces.
Porthcurno to Penzance: Regular ascents and descents in and out of remote coves with some rugged terrain and sometimes wet ground on the way to Mousehole. After that the hike finishes with level and more urban asphalt walking.