For most people, the end of their long-distance trail is a thing of pure unadulterated joy. The feeling of accomplishment at having pushed yourself over such a long distance is wonderful, but there is often that little nagging feeling inside, 'what am I going to do tomorrow?' The rhythm of walking every day becomes something comfortable and soothing, the pace of discovery is perfect, and you always get to experience amazing landscapes and meet lovely people. What if the path just went on and on? Well, how about starting something epic, something that can go on and on if you want it to.
Welcome to the first section of the South West Coast Path: Minehead to Westward Ho!
Dramatic coast gives way to delightful little towns.
In a Nutshell:
Where? The South West Peninsula (the finger that sticks out on the bottom-right of the UK) has a path that goes around the whole coastline and this section is the first step on that major trip. The trip begins in the town of Minehead in Somerset, looking out over the Bristol Channel to Wales. It then snakes down the coast, through Ilfracombe, Winchcombe and Barnstaple to reach the wonderfully named town of Westward Ho! (complete with an exclamation mark!)
Distance: This section is 89 miles long, walked over seven days, which averages out at about 12 and a half miles per day.
Grade: This trip is graded Moderate, so it is not a walk in the park, but neither is it anything to be particularly concerned with. Initially, the South West Coast Path was used by the coastguard to combat smugglers off the south-west peninsula during the 18th Century. The coastguard would regularly check every inlet and cranny, therefore their cliff-top walk became well established, so you have no worries about the paths being well established and the navigation is relatively simple, just follow the coast! You can also get the route in our Free Macs App, so there is never a concern when you reach a crossroads.
High Cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel
Why Walk Here?
As I mentioned, this is the start of one of the greatest walking paths in Europe. The full path takes around 7-8 weeks to complete, so this is something that you can do over a number of years, ticking of sections as it pleases you. By 2020 it will form part of the much larger English Coast Path, which will mean that you can walk the entire length of the English Coast. But in more simple terms, this trip is worth doing because it is beautiful. The Coastline starts in Somerset, with its mix of woodland, steep cliff tops and wooded cloughs. (steep valleys) You then enter Exmoor, home to the highest coastline in all of England, with a whopping 250m drop into the wild seas and you will be walking right along the edge of them! Not too close though, nothing to worry about. On many of the days there are choices of which path to take and on the day with the high cliffs you can choose the 'rugged path' or choose a more inland route.
Great Signposts on the Path
This stretch of the coast has been the inspiration for many famous literary figures. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote both Kubla Khan and Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner while staying on this coastline. Henry Williamson wrote the famous Tarka the Otter here and indeed there is a stretch of this path that follows the Tarka Trail, a path dedicated to retracing the scenes from the famous book. Richard Doddridge Blackmore's Lorna Doune was also based in Exmoor, set in and around some pretty intimidating landscapes. The Valley of the Rocks is one of the highlights of this section of the SWCP. You can see where Doddridge Blackmore got his inspiration from with these twisted, unearthly rock formations jutting to the sky. Local legends say that the devil himself created the Valley of the Rocks. Just along the coast in the Morte SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), there are more devilish rock formations where according to local tales 'heaven made last and the devil will take first.' Eerie though it all sounds, it is spectacular to walk through and heaps drama onto a beautiful stretch of walking.
Castle Rock in the Valley of the Rocks
Planning and Preparation
We offer a comprehensive service on the SWCP, including arranging selected daily accommodation, guidebooks, emergency support, and baggage transfer, see our website for further details. Minehead to Westward Ho! is available from March to October, however, we recommend doing the SWCP between March to June or September to October. The holiday season between July and August, although warm, can be quite crowded which really takes away from the experience. Getting to Minehead is pretty straightforward. Taunton is accessible by rail and then it is just a one-hour bus journey down to Minehead. Getting back is a little more involved, but a lovely journey. Tiverton is a 2 hour trip from Westward Ho! and you can catch a train there to connect to anywhere in the UK. I hope this has your mind racing over the possibility of kickstarting your South West Coast Path adventure and if you have any questions about the route, dont hesitate to contact one of our Destination Specialists, who will be more than happy to help.