The South West Coast Path covers 630 miles of stunning coastline from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, making it the UK’s longest National Trail.
Having spent some time exploring the wonders of the path between Penzance and Falmouth (click here to read my blog about that section), I was excited to continue my journey and discover the delights of the next 77 miles of coast between Falmouth and Plymouth.
This section of the trail combines what has made the South West Coast Path so well known: diverse walking, magnificent views, fantastic food, and friendly locals.
I’ve summed up my favourite parts of this section below, but you can’t beat experiencing it for yourself …
Your first steps on this section of the South West Coast Path are not quite what you might expect. Rather than embarking on day one with your boots striking against the beaten track, your journey starts on the water with two ferry trips, taking you first from Falmouth to St Mawes, and then on to Place.
These ferry rides provide the perfect opportunity to sit back and enjoy the fantastic views across the River Fal, and to let yourself slow down and slip into the Cornish pace of life.
When you do start walking, you’ll find there’s no shortage of stunning vistas to pause at for breath, or sheltered spots for a sandwich break. As a solo walker during my time on the South West Coast Path, I absolutely loved how friendly everyone I met on the path was.
I relish an excuse to stop for a chat on the trail, and the people I met during my walk were incredibly interesting, all with different motivations for being out on the path and stories behind their walk. The gentleman completing the entire path in one go will always stick out in my mind, as will the cracking pace he set!
Perhaps the best antidote to any residual stress, however, is the sheer sense of space and perspective that spending hours walking beside the sea provides. Setting off for a day of walking with a stunning view extending in front of you, the coast to your right, and the only task for the day being to put one foot in front of the other until dinner is so reassuringly simple, and the constant companion of the sea is a reminder to let go.
Having studied History, I’m always fascinated to learn about the past of the places I visit, and Cornwall’s long maritime history is celebrated along the South West Coast Path.
Falmouth is the epicentre of this celebration, being home to the award-winning National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The striking building where the exhibitions now reside was built on land once covered by boat-builders’ sheds and opened in 2003. The architects drew inspiration from Falmouth’s seafaring past and used building materials sympathetic to this history, such as green oak boarding, all of which will endure the elements for years to come just as the ships would have done.
With 15 galleries of exhibitions to discover, including the main hall filled with boats suspended from the ceiling, it’s a challenge to know where to start!
All along the coast, harbours of all shapes and sizes tell the story of the connection the Cornish people have with the sea. Tiny harbours are tucked in-between steep-sided coves, sheltering their resident fishing vessels from the turbulent waves just beyond.
Along the coast in Charlestown, the grade II listed Georgian harbour will be instantly recognisable to fans of the historical TV series Poldark. Set in 18th century Cornwall, the series uses Charlestown’s harbour as Poldark’s Truro, and its collection of tall ships and original granite quays provide the perfect filming location to transport viewers back in time. The mining and maritime trades at the heart of Cornwall’s 18th-century industry combined to bring about the construction of Charlestown, as it was the need for a port to export copper from the local mines which led to the harbour being built.
In picturesque Portloe, life really does revolve around its harbour, and although the descent into the sheltered cove in which the village nestles is slightly hair-raising, you are rewarded with picture-perfect views towards the rows of cottages lining the harbour.
Perhaps one of the most untouched places you will pass through during your time on the South West Coast Path – Portloe once had more than fifty boats based in its harbour. Although a much smaller number now fish from the village, the harbour remains a key focal point for locals and visitors alike. I had to tear myself away from my perch above the village to continue my journey along the path, but can highly recommend taking the time to visit.
From B&B breakfasts to the beer selection at local pubs, Cornwall does a fantastic job of championing its incredible local produce.
I made it an informal goal of my trip to sample as many pasties as possible (well, I was in Cornwall!) and can testify that they make the perfect packed lunch for the trail. Each morning I made a stop at the village bakery or pasty shop, and selected my pasty of choice, still piping hot from the oven. After being wrapped in layers of brown paper it was lovingly secreted away in my bag, from where the scent of fresh buttery pastry and hot gravy would waft for the remainder of the morning, spurring me on to my lunch stop. I can see why pasties were the miner’s lunch of choice all those years ago!
With a focus on making high-quality local produce easily available, delis such as the Courtyard Deli & Kitchen in Falmouth have increased in popularity in recent years. Local meats and cheese make the perfect starting point for an interesting packed lunch, and paired with fresh bread and some seasonal fruit and veg, a delicious picnic is born.
I was regrettably about a week too early to be able to explore the Falmouth Beer Festival, and so wasn’t able to sample the concentration of over 240 real ales, ciders, craft beers and gins. Plan your walk to begin in early October and the festival would make an unbeatable way to kick start your walking holiday!
I needn’t have worried, however, as Cornish local pubs are wonderful at stocking local beers including the classics from the St Austell Brewery – a Cornish staple since 1851. I think you might be able to try a different local beer every night along the path! But then again, you may find your firm favourite.
With the beauty of this section of the South West Coast Path comes an inevitable challenge. Steep, rocky ascents and descents into hidden coves are numerous, and I was glad I’d decided this trip was the time to test out my walking poles. I certainly needed them and I’d recommend taking a set, even as a “just in case” item.
As the name suggests, the path follows the coast religiously, whether that’s leading you in and out of the stunning coves via rather knee-buckling descents, or delightfully traversing a promontory with the rest of your day’s walking stretched out tantalisingly before you.
Cornwall is well known for its temperate climate, but I also learnt that when you’re out on a headland with the wide-open sea on one side, the weather can change in an instant just like it does in Scotland. The bright side of this is that the rain never hangs around for long, and you’ll almost always see it coming before it hits so you’ve got plenty of time to fling on a waterproof.
I like to think that where there’s a challenge, there’s a reward, and the South West Coast Path is up there with one of the most rewarding walks I’ve experienced. Despite the continuity of coastal walking, every day brings different sights, sounds, smells, and people to meet, not to mention a fantastic sense of accomplishment.
I absolutely loved every minute of my time exploring this section of the South West Coast Path, and seriously contemplated changing my flights and staying on a couple more days to take advantage of the perfect conditions and walk more of the path. Instead, I headed back north with a face full of freckles, a giant smile, and a resolve to return in the very near future.
P.S. If you’d like to walk the wonderful section of the South West Coast Path between Falmouth and Plymouth then look no further: Absolute Escapes offers self-guided walks along the entire South West Coast Path, and our packages include excellent accommodation, daily baggage transfers, guidebook/map, and a full information pack.