Stretching for an exhilarating 630 miles between Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, the South West Coast Path (SWCP) is the longest National Trail in the UK and I was fortunate enough to explore the section from Plymouth to Exmouth.
Starting in the historic maritime city of Plymouth in Devon, this section of the SWCP ventures over incredible cliff tops, down into deep coves, and passes through tranquil villages on the way to Exmouth – one of the oldest seaside towns in Devon and the gateway to the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When I set off from Plymouth, the journey that lay ahead was one of variety, contrast, challenge, reward and, most importantly, wonderful memories.
SEA for yourself the incredible coastal wonders of the section from Plymouth and Exmouth …
There is no shortage of fascinating historic sites to discover between Plymouth and Exmouth.
Plymouth itself is famous for its maritime past and the charming cobbled streets of the Barbican district. Here you will find the Mayflower Steps, the spot where the Pilgrims set sail for America in 1620 – eventually landing in ‘New Plymouth’. It is believed that over 20 million modern-day Americans descend from these travellers!
2020 is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s pioneering voyage, and events will be taking place throughout the year to commemorate the anniversary.
The picturesque town of Dartmouth is home to the magnificent Dartmouth Castle, which has stood guard to the narrow entrance of the Dart Estuary for over 600 years. Active during the Civil War until World War II, the castle has a remarkable history which is told through displays around the fortress.
Dartmouth itself is one of South Devon’s most lovely towns, with a colourful harbour and quaint streets full of craft shops and cosy pubs.
In the historic old town of Brixham, you will find a replica of the Golden Hind standing tall in the harbour. The Golden Hind was Sir Francis Drake’s most famous ship, in which he became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe on an epic expedition of discovery and adventure.
As you can see below, this iconic ship commands your attention as you walk along the harbour. You can step on board to explore, and even walk the plank!
Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of incredible seafood available along the coast. Mussels, lobster, cod, sea bass, crab – South Devon has it all.
Many of the restaurants along the coast change their menu daily depending on what was freshly caught that morning. Everywhere you go, there will undoubtedly be fresh fish and chips on the menu and I definitely enjoyed a few portions of this!
In Hope Cove, you’ll find the Lobster Pod Bistro overlooking the harbour and beach. This is a great place to stop to enjoy some incredibly fresh seafood while occupying a glass pod looking out to the sea!
An unwavering feature of this section is the stunning seascape and the pockets of welcomed shelter amongst the woodland.
As you traverse the path, the coast is a constant companion by your side, sometimes hidden beyond trees, but its presence is always felt. The coastline is incredibly captivating, stretching for as far as the eye can see.
It’s both rewarding and daunting, as you look back proudly to see how far you have walked, but as you look ahead, you are aware of the distance still to be covered.
The scenery is a continual contrast, from high cliffs and sheltered woodland to bustling promenades and tiny harbours. The variety and contrast of this section kept me excited, enthusiastic and interested in the path, as no two days walking were the same and each section had a different feel to it.
Some sections of the path traverse along roads and promenades in towns, which of course, is not typical coastal walking, but it cannot be avoided. However, it does give you the chance to stop to enjoy some of the delicious seafood mentioned above!
Alongside spectacular views and the sense of achievement, one of the greatest things about long-distance walking is the anticipation of what your next overnight stop will be like. Small coastal village, large bustling city, or seaside resort? Well, between Plymouth and Exmouth, you’ll experience all of the above.
From the busy streets of Plymouth to the quiet and quaint village of Noss Mayo, the variety in the locations is wonderful.
In Brixham, the harbour is the centre of attention, busy with boats and seagulls alike. Rows of colourful houses line the harbour and, even on grey days, the town looks bright and welcoming.
Fore Street in Salcombe is lined with independent boutique shops with enticing window displays that will have you stopping every couple of steps.
Sprinkled between the shops you will find cosy inns, wonderful restaurants, and bakeries with even better window displays – these will have you go straight into the shop!
Paignton is a stark contrast. Here, the bright lights of the iconic pier will be sure to catch your eye.
One of just a handful of traditional seaside piers still in full swing – you can’t miss a wander along the pier to take in the sights and sounds, and view back across Paignton Promenade.
As you walk the South West Coast Path, you are most definitely going to have to take a ferry or two when the path meets rivers and estuaries.
Before I set off, I was aware that I had a ferry crossing almost every day so a feeling of trepidation was definitely present, hoping they would all work out as some only sailed at certain times and days. However, they quickly became one of my favourite parts of the day.
From tiny little boats that could barely fit more than 3 people (the picture below is the crossing from Salcombe to East Portlemouth) to larger passenger ferries, it was always a great feeling being on the water.
This section of the wonderful SWCP is full of variety in every sense of the word. From terrain to location, there is a constant feeling of change and contrast. It is exciting, challenging and rewarding.
If you’re looking for a walking holiday that offers an incredible variety, the Plymouth to Exmouth section of the South West Coast Path is not to be missed.
P.S. Absolute Escapes are specialists in self-guided walking holidays in the UK & Ireland. Our packages include carefully-selected accommodation, baggage transfers, guidebook/map, and personalised itinerary.