Walking the Somerset and North Devon section of the South West Coast Path is a great way to explore this beautiful coastline and the many harbour and fishing villages scattered along this route. Each village has its own unique characteristics, from Porlock with its thatched cottages to Instow with views stretching across the sandy estuaries of The Taw and The Torridge. Your adventure takes you from the pebbly beaches of Minehead, over high cliffs to deep valleys, tiny coves and jagged headlands. On the first part of your journey, you will be spoilt with spectacular views across the Bristol Channel to the Welsh coast and inland over Exmoor National Park. Entering North Devon the terrain is gentler, but by no means easy, as it weaves in and out of tiny coves and headlands. There are long stretches of sandy beaches between Woolacombe and Westward Ho!, Your route then starts to climb and drop, with the valleys becoming deeper and steeper, the cliffs rocky and rugged and the views no less delightful.
The Coast Path starts from the westerly edge of Minehead. With a long, sandy beach, it is popular with holidaying families. If you have time on your hand, it is worth taking a day out trip on the West Somerset Railway. From the town, the SWCP climbs through woodlands onto high cliffs to traverse the rugged purple terrain of Exmoor, with splendid views out to sea, to Wales. Pass over Selworthy Beacon at 290m (950ft), your steep descent to Hurlstone Point is rewarded with wonderful views across Porlock Bay. From Bossington, you can walk along the shingle embankment to Porlock, when the tide is out.
A charming harbour village, Porlock has plenty to offer curious walkers, from the stumps of a petrified forest to the bones of an extinct species of cattle, the aurochs. The route climbs from Porlock Weir through woodlands, hidden amongst which is Culbone Church, reputed the smallest church in the UK. The route emerges to farmland and moorland before gently descending to Lynmouth, with spectacular views of the sea for much of the way.
On the mouth of The East Lyn River, Lynmouth is a pretty harbour village, sitting below its sister village, Lynton, which lies at the top of the cliff. It is the perfect location for exploring Exmoor National Park as the Devon Coast to Coast/ Two Moors Way and, since 2015, the Coleridge Way, all end here. Our Tarka Trail itinerary, which starts from Barnstaple, also come here to link up with the SWCP. The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway is the perfect method for travelling up the steep hillside to Lynton, offering great views of the high cliffs around the bay without breaking out in sweat or setting the heart pumping. The rocky crags and pinnacles of Castle Rock and the Valley of Rocks are a wonderful, surprising contrast to the wooded, cliff side walk from Lynton, as are the nimble, feral goats which roam the valley. The path continues through Woody Bay, famous for its "hanging" oakwood and red deer, before crossing the deep valleys of Heddon's Mouth and Sherrycombe. The route reaches Great Hangman, which, at 1,043 feet (318 m), is the highest point on the Coast Path before dropping down to Little Hangman and onto Combe Martin.
Sitting in the mouth of a sheltered valley, Combe Martin is a small pretty resort. A succession of coves and headlands follows until Ilfracombe, where there is the opportunity to take a day off to explore the nearby Lundy Island & Marine Nature Reserve. The Path straightens out after Ilfracombe before again hugging a number of headlands and coves to Woolacombe.
The wide, sandy beach and wild sea make Woolacombe a popular destination with surfers and paragliders alike. From here, the coastline is gentler. The route passes the quaint thatched village of Croyde, another popular surfing destination, and through Braunton National Nature Reserve with one of the largest sand dune systems in the UK, before reaching Braunton.
The Coast Path now follows an old railway track from Braunton to Barnstaple and out again to Instow, along the River Taw, with views across both sides of the estuary. (There is a regular bus service between Braunton and Instow and some walkers decide to use this to miss the section around the river between Braunton and Instow).
Barnstaple has a rich historical past, much of its wealth having come from the wool trade in the Middle Ages. Amongst this heritage is the Pannier Market, an impressive, Victorian structure of glass and iron columns. The path continues over the Isley Marsh Nature Reserve before arriving at Instow.
Instow is a pretty little village with stunning views out to Braunton National Nature Reserve on one side and to Appledore on the other. When the tide is out, there is no better way to end the day's walk then to stroll along its fine golden beach, after a fine day of walk. The Coast Path runs along the Torridge estuary, not quite reaching Bideford, before crossing the river and continuing back out to sea to the old ship building town of Appledore, with its narrow streets and splendid views across to Instow. The path skirts the edge of Northam Burrows Country Park before venturing back to the coast and continuing along two miles of sandy beach before reaching Westward Ho!
This seaside village only came about because of the popularity of the Charles Kingsley novel of the same name, which was set locally in Bideford. Late 19th century developers saw its potential as a tourist destination and built a hotel, which they named Westward Ho! on what was then just a stretch of sandy beach and the rest, as they say, is history! From Westward Ho!, the Path undulates along the coast line, before climbs up and along a considerable stretch of woodland and passes high above the pretty village of Clovelly.
Clovelly is delightful and has remained unchanged through the years. It is essentially a single steep cobbled street, which can be uncomfortably slippery when wet, with one or two short alleyways off to the side. Cars are banned, and villagers can be seen using wooden pallets as sledges to haul their shopping to and from their parked cars above the village. The harbour at the bottom of the village offers great views, up the coast, of the wooded cliffs that you would have passed through on the way. There is the option here to take a fishing trip, swim with seals or take a day trip to Lundy Island. Above Clovelly, the Path enters woodlands and passes a beautifully carved wooden shelter in the form of Angel's Wings. It drops down to a stream at Mill Mouth before climbing back up the valley and along the cliff top to Hartland Point, where the lighthouse stands. From here, the coast line becomes rugged and undulating.
A rest at Hartland Quay will help to charge your batteries, before attacking the walk to Bude, one of the more challenging sections of the SWCP.
The nearest railway stations to the route are listed below.
Bridgwater: Minehead 26.2miles/42.2km, Porlock 31miles/49.9km
Taunton: Minehead 24.2miles/38.9km, Porlock 29miles/46.7km,
Barnstaple: Lynmouth 19.6miles/31.5km, Woolacombe 14.9miles24km, Braunton 5.8miles/9.3, Instow 5.9miles/9.5km, Westward Ho! 10.4miles/16.7km, Clovelly 20.3miles/32.7km, Hartland Quay 24.9miles/40.1km
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: Minehead, Ilfracombe, Braunton, Barnstaple, Instow, Appledore, Westward Ho!
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 both Somerset and Devon, however, Sunday and Public Holiday services are near non-existant in Somerset.
Minehead is readily accessible by car, being just off the A39 and around 35km from Bridgwater and the M5 motorway. Barnstaple is also easily acessible from the M5 Motorway, being around 40km from Tiverton. 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. 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.