An Introduction to England’s South West Coast Path

South West Coast Path Map

The South West Coast Path National Trail is 1013kms (630 miles) long and is England’s longest waymarked footpath. Originally used in the 19th century as a coastguard patrol route to control smuggling, it begins in Minehead Somerset on the edge of Exmoor, and ends at Poole Harbour in Dorset. It takes in a number of National Nature Reserves and Heritage Coasts, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve and a Geopark, and one National Park.

The Path covers some of the finest coastal landscapes anywhere in the world and was described by the Lonely Planet as “walking at its most diverse, most spectacular and most delicious”. It is regularly described as one of the world’s greatest walks and offers fascinating landscapes, heritage, geology and wildlife.

Millions of people walk the path each year. Many will section hike, or day walk it, and others like me attempt the entire path in one go.

I start my hike on Sunday 10th June and am looking to finish in 46 days, on Wednesday 27th July. Whilst my mileage may not appear too strenuous – averaging 21kms (13 miles) per day, I will hike up and down 35,000 metres (115,000 feet) of ascent and descent. In addition the SWCP website tells me I will cross 230 bridges, catch 13 ferries, open and close 880 gates, climb over 436 stiles, and go up or down over 30,000 steps.

As before, I will be carrying all my camping gear, but I’ve got a lighter setup than Te Araroa trail. One main difference is that I will pass through villages every day, so I won’t need to carry much food. I will try to wild camp as much as possible – following the usual “leave no trace” rules. I suspect it will be more difficult to wild camp in the UK, so I’m expecting a bit of everything – campsites, backpackers hostels, the odd trail angel and no doubt the odd B&B for a little bit of luxury now and again :-).

As I’m now a fully paid up ‘member’ of the South West Coast Path I have a wonderful guidebook for my journey. In addition I have downloaded the gpx file of the trail into my Backcountry Navigator phone app, so I have a topo map in case I miss one of the 4,000 official signs along the way.

The resources available to trampers are amazing, and I’ve been flicking through the guidebook, and marvelling at some incredible photos. The South West Coast Path Association are a charity and rely on fundraising and donations to help with upkeep of the trail. It costs roughly a thousands pounds a year per mile to maintain the trail, keep it safe and work on projects to protect it for future generations.

The South West Coast Path is officially 40 years old this year. I can’t help but compare it to New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail, which is of course in it’s infancy. In my dreams, I really hope that one day Te Araroa might be as supported, loved and well maintained as this 🙂

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