By far Britain's longest and physically toughest National Trail, the South West Coast Path takes in 630 miles of the southwestern peninsula of England. From Minehead and Exmoor in the north, the trail hugs the coast through Devon and Cornwall and round the points of Land's End and the Lizard to the more sheltered southern coast with hidden coves and fishing villages giving way to the limestone landscape of Dorset and a finish at Purbeck. Three quarters of the route lies within areas designated as nationally protected, part of the limestone coast in the south being a World Heritage Site.
The north Devon coast between Minehead and Ilfracombe is beautifully wooded but frequent valleys are a sign of things to come, making the walking a serious challenge for those intending to cover long distances each day. This stretch is broken by the unexpected flatness of the salt marshes at Porlock, the picturesque town of Lynton with its Victorian cliff railway and the eerie Valley of the Rocks. West of Ilfracombe, sandy beaches and wide estuaries are the order of the day and these cause detours inland along the Taw and Torridge rivers to Barnstaple and Bideford.
Entering Cornwall brings a change in geology and a corresponding change in the landscape. Steep and rugged cliffs with caves and arches hide small sandy bays and isolated fishing villages such as Crackington Haven and Boscastle. There is a definite sense of wildness to this stretch of the trail. Do not miss Tintagel Head for a spectacular setting for Arthurian legends. After crossing the ferry from Rock to Padstow, granite sets the tone for the far reaches of Cornwall as the trail turns west and evidence of mining both ancient and relatively modern is everywhere. The trail soon reaches the most southerly point at The Lizard. Here picturesque fishing villages are protected from the sea with their tiny harbours hidden behind solid walls. More ferry crossings dot the route past Falmouth as river valleys cut deep into the softer rock and we enter an undulating plateau offering fine sandy beaches and dramatic headlands.