Enjoy walking along the Atlantic Coast of North Cornwall as the rugged and dramatic landscape continues: high sheer cliffs and rocky contorted headlands, twisted folds of rocks and secret sandy coves. The lush green landscape of North Devon is a distant memory. Any trees to be found are likely to be in the sheltered valleys, between cliff top headlands that are protected from the strong westerly winds. The beaches at Bude and Widemouth Bay offer a welcome break from this relentless roller-coaster of a walk. Take time to explore the few fishing villages along the way: Boscastle with its tiny harbour and narrow inlet, the rocky inlets at Crackington Haven and Trebarwith Strand, Port Issac of Doc Martin TV fame and Padstow, attracting tourists by the dozen to Rick Stein's many eateries. Prepare to be enchanted by the medieval ruins of Tintagel Castle, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur and marvel at coves with evocative names like 'Hell's Mouth', 'Porth Joke' and 'Deadmans Cove'.
The dramatic coastline continues from Hartland Quay and this is probably the most arduous of all the sections, crossing ten steep and deep river valleys, including the dramatic twin-spouted waterfall at Speke's Mill Mouth, one of many waterfalls on the route. Explore the earthen rampart remains at Embury Beacon and take a short rest in Ronald Duncan's Hut before crossing into Cornwall at Marsland Mouth. The relentless roller coaster only eases at Sandy Mouth; Crooklets Beach soon comes to view and from there, round the corner, into Bude.
The beautifully restored harbour and canal remind us that Bude was a popular resort with the Victorians. Today, as well as families, surfers flock to the long stretch of sandy beach around around this small seaside resort. The Path crosses the canal and heads straight back out towards the sea. It is then a low cliff edge path all the way to Wanson Mouth, passing firstly the Storm Tower, an old coastguard refuge, then the Phillip's Point Nature Reserve and the sandy beach at Widemouth Bay. From Wanson Mouth, a series of relentless ascents and descents follow, ending with a couple of steep ones before dropping down to Crackington Haven.
Crackington Haven is a quiet hamlet with a couple of tea shops and a hotel. Its little beach is sheltered by cliffs on both sides. It is difficult to imagine that it was once a little port busy with boats bringing in coal and limestone and carrying out slate. The cliff walk between Crackington Haven and Boscastle is quite imposing. The Path rides up and down valleys, with the higher parts of High Cliff reaching 223m (732 ft). It twists and turns around headlands and coves with rocky stacks out to the sea and crosses over a number of waterfalls and footbridges. Boscastle Harbour is only visible after the final climb, over Penally Point. It is worth the detour inland, along the river to Boscastle village.
Boscastle is a picturesque harbour village, which has successfully rebuilt itself after the flooding in 2004. There are shops, a small museum to browse around or you can enjoy a cake from the bakery or a cup of tea in one of its tea rooms. Little coves and headlands litters the Path from here, with the prerequisite ascends and descends. There are the white washed building of Willapark (a former Customs lookout), the Ladies Window rock arch past Firebeacon Hill and the prehistotic carvings in the cliff wall in Rocky Valley.
Tintagel is famous as the legendary birthplace of King Arthur. The ruins of Tintagel Castle are open for visitors. The fairly easy walk out of Tintagel allows you to enjoy some of the spectacular views from this section of the North Cornwall coast before a particularly challenging walk to Port Isaac. The path between Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac is especially long and difficult, with some steep descents into valleys and tough climbs up to the cliff tops again, especially beyond Bounds Cliff.
Port Isaac is a real reward at the end of this strenuous walk, with its beautiful alleyways, the many listed buildings and harbourside cafes and pubs. You may well recognise Port Isaac from the TV series Doc Martin, as it was set in the village (renamed as Portwenn in the series). Climb out of Port Isaac, to dip in and out of a number of coves and headlands, along a rugged coast line. The Path is more forgiving after Port Quin; there is even a stretch of sandy beach at New Polzeath! The story of Port Quin is quite sad: the women of Port Quin had abandoned it for Port Isaac in 1698, after losing all their men to a fierce storm at sea. Today the land is managed by the National Trust and the cottages have been renovated and are available for holiday lets. The Path winds around Pentire Point and the beaches of Hayle Bay and Daymer Bay before reaching Rock, where there is both a ferry and a water-taxi service connecting it to Padstow, on the other side of the River Camel. The ferry runs at 20 minute intervals and will dock at one of two places at Padstow, depending on the tide. The water taxi runs a seasonal evening service. The bus is a good alternative on Sundays in the winter months when there is no ferry service; this avoids a lengthy detour inland to Wadebridge.
Padstow is a charming harbour village, which has prospered in recent years due to the presence of the restaurateur and TV chef, Rick Stein. People travel from far afield to eat at one of his many cafes and restaurants. The Path continues from Padstow, curving around the estuary, over wetland areas before heading out to Stepper Point. The view from here opens out on all directions, inland to Bodmin Moor on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, and skirts a number of small coves and sandy beaches: Harlyn, Polventon, Booby's, Constantine and Treyarnon. At Trevose Head, Bude and beyond is visible to the north, and to the south, way past St Ives.
A cliff top walk, narrow, steep and even crumbling in places, the Path is lined with little headlands, pretty coves and wide stretches of sandy beaches. Admire the amazing rock stacks on Bedruthan beach from above or descend for a closer exploration at low tide. There are beaches at Trenance/Mawgan Porth, Beacon Cove and Watergate Bay. Explore the remains of an Iron Age fort on Trevelgue Head, an island accessible by a footbridge, before arriving at the seaside resort of Newquay.
Newquay is a busy seaside town, its sandy beaches and fantastic waves is a draw for top-class surfers. Leave the town for a walk over cliff tops, pass the headlands at Towan Head and Pentire Point East, with Fistral Beach in between. A ferry operates at high tide in the summer months across the River Gannel to Crantock. There is a connecting footbridge when the tide is out, otherwise, it is an extra 3 miles (4.8 km) in total to use the Trenance Footbridge further inland, in which case, catching a bus to Crantock may be the quicker and less taxing option! The Path weaves in and out of four large headlands at Pentire Point West, Kelsey Head (with its hill fort ditches and ramparts), Penhale Point and Ligger Point. Watch out for red flags in the army training area around Penhale. From here on, the coastline is dominated by sand dunes and Perran Beach, which stretches to Perranporth.
The section between Perranporth and Portreath is a circuit of bleak and rugged cliffs. Former mining activity is also much in evidence from spoil heaps, old mine shafts, engine houses to chimneys... It is tempting to explore but do so with care! The Blue Hills Tin Streams, a former mining site off the Path, offers a safer way of exploring the area's mining history. The sandy beaches at Porth Chapel and Porth Towan, pass St Agnes' Head, provides a temporary break in the unrelenting terrain, which continues to Portreath.
From Portreath, the Path weaves in and out of small headlands, with a couple of steep climbs and descents. Note coves with evocative names like Ralph's Cupboard, Deadman's Cove and Hell's Mouth. Round and pass the lighthouse at Godrevy Point and as you follow the sheer cliffs, look down to the contrastingly raw, jagged reefs below and see if you can spot seals - a common sight around the waters of Godrevy and Gwithian.
After leaving Gwithians, the Path crosses a long stretch of sand dune before reaching the narrow mouth of the River Hayle. The estuary here is a birdwatchers' delight, being a popular destination for migrating birds in Spring and Autumn. The Path swings inwards and takes on a suburban air as it follows a road round the inlet before emerging on the other side of the estuary. It passes the beautiful beaches of Porthkidney Sands and Carbis Bay before reaching the outskirt of St Ives.
St Ives is a busy town that is a magnetic hub for artists, who attribute the attraction to the quality of its light. It is also home to the Tate St Ives and is well worth a stop-over for an additional night.
The nearest railway stations to the route are listed below.
Barnstaple: Hartland Quay 24.9miles/40.1km
All the following stations are on route: Newquay, Hayle, Lelant Saltings, Lelant, Carbis Bay, St Ives
The National Rail Map provides a map of the rail network for you to plan your journey.
National Express Coaches stop at the following locations along this stretch of the SWCP: Westward Ho!(for Hartland Quay), Bude, Wadebridge (for Port Isaac & Padstow), Newquay, Hayle, Lelant & St Ives
National Express has a route network with over 1,000 UK destinations. The best value tickets will be secured with advance booking.
There is generally a good bus network in Cornwall, which means that most coastal villages have at least one bus service per day in the summer. Services in the winter months are less regular. We will be pleased to help you to plan your way round using the local bus services.
Newquay and St Ives are readily accessible by car, both being served by the main A30 road. The towns and villages north of Newquay (Padstow, Port Isaac, Boscastle, Bude etc.) are all served by the main A39 road. Hartland Quay is more remote, being around 40km west of Barnstaple and 25km north of Bude off the main A39 road.
We may be able to arrange car parking at your first nights accommodation for the duration of your walking holiday. This will be subject to availability and may incur a small extra charge.
It is possible to return to the start of the walk using public transport, although it may your journey may involve a number of changes. We will be happy to advise on the public transport options and also to get quotes and book a return journey by taxi for you if you prefer.
The South West Coast Path offers a wide range of options. We have grouped some of our favourite itineraries into the three categories below. Click on each one for details.
We are not offering South West Coast Path walking holidays in 2020.
The path is waymarked with the coast path sign and acorn logo. Basic navigational and map reading skills are recommended.
March to October.
We specialise in providing walking holidays in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Pembrokeshire and Somerset. We are enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits and have experienced climbing, canoeing, skiing, caving and potholing and windsurfing as well as walking throughout the UK, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
We use our experience to provide self-guided, pack-free walking holidays, tailored to the requirements and abilities of our clients.