The South West Coast Path is the UK’s longest National Trail, stretching over a staggering 630 miles of coastline from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset.
With the terrain presenting quite the challenge in places, few attempt the whole trail in one go, with most walkers preferring to return to this beautiful region time and time again to gradually work their way through sections of the path.
I did however meet a (very speedy) gentleman on the path between Polperro and Looe who was in his fifth week of walking having started at Minehead, and was being joined by different friends for each section of his route until he finished at Poole. What a lovely way to walk!
You might be wondering how I came to meet this intrepid walker. In September I was lucky enough to spend a week in Cornwall, exploring the popular section of the South West Coast Path between Penzance and Falmouth. It’s made up of some of the most picturesque parts of the whole path, so I was certainly in for a treat.
Widely regarded as having some of the most varied and extensive views of the coastline, the section of the path from Porthleven to Lizard was one I had been looking forward to since the planning stages.
Travelling around the coast of the Lizard Peninsula – one of Cornwall’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – I could see that its reputation was well-deserved. My most enduring memory is of the delight of uncovering seemingly hidden coves all along the route.
Whether they were revealed gradually as I navigated the descent of their steep sides, or appeared suddenly in front of me as I rounded another bend in the path, they were always unique and certainly kept me on my toes. The threatening rain meant I had these almost to myself, and I got a real sense of the isolated beauty of the Lizard Peninsula.
The vast diversity of the coastline really makes an impression on the journey from Penzance to Falmouth. No two days are the same, and whilst the path almost always hugs the coast, this includes walking along sandy beaches, climbing into and out of my favourite hidden coves, navigating cliff-top paths, and wandering through the lush woodland beside the Helford River.
You’ll look back at your photos and marvel at the variety of landscapes you walked through.
Fantastic variety makes this section of the path a delight for geographers and geologists alike. The remote Lizard Peninsula is a point of geographical extremes, from expansive sandy beaches to imposing, angular cliffs, and the most southerly point on mainland Britain is near Lizard Point.
The unique geology of the area is perhaps most obvious when looking at the colour of the rocks underfoot. Serpentine, a dark green rock with veins of red and white is still commonly found along this stretch of coast, although the mining industry has not been active since the 20th century. Usually moulded into pieces of jewellery or small ornaments, traces of the once vibrant serpentine industry can still be found in the town of Lizard itself, with the local pub, The Top House, still using serpentine beer-pump handles!
Kynance Cove – directly on the South West Coast Path – is stunning in its own right, but is also carpeted with serpentine in its vibrant natural state.
Whilst exploring this stretch of coast I uncovered some of the most picturesque villages I have ever seen (and I spent my childhood exploring the Highlands of Scotland!).
Penzance, the bustling hub of the Land’s End Peninsula, is home to gorgeous gardens filled with sub-tropical plants, ever-changing art exhibitions, and an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. Although not strictly a fishing village, just along the coast at Marazion is the rocky tidal island of St Michael’s Mount with its medieval church and castle – a constant companion as you look out to sea on this first section of the path. St Michael’s Mount is a fantastic place for a short detour off the path if you have time, and the tidal times allow.
As I wandered into Mullion Cove, perched on the coast between Porthleven and Lizard, it was only when I made my way down to the harbour that I realised I’d been there before, on my first ever trip to Cornwall 2 years prior. It was just as beautiful in September as it had been in June, and I allowed myself a moment to drink in the stunning coastline from its sheltered harbour.
Further along the coast tiny Cadgwith with its thatched cottages and still operational fishing fleet sticks in my mind. Here you’ll find some of the freshest and best local crab in Cornwall, and benches looking down into the harbour provide the perfect rest spot to watch the boats bring in their catch.
Coverack is tucked in beside a sandy cove and perched above its small harbour, sheltering its colourful fishing fleet from the force of the seas. Here, the narrow main street winds its way along the coast past whitewashed buildings and shops selling fresh local baking and pasties, and arts and crafts.
And of course, I couldn’t fail to mention Porthallow, which marks the official 315 mile halfway point of the South West Coast Path!
Walking the South West Coast Path from Penzance to Falmouth covers a distance of around 63 miles, or just over 100km. That’s 10% of the whole path! Completing this stunning section is therefore a great way to start off on your South West Coast Path journey.
Whether you go on to complete the whole path, or discover places to re-visit time and time again, you’ll always know you have 10% under your boots.
I’m a self-confessed foodie, and I’d recommend this section of the path for its culinary delights alone!
With many local fishing fleets still in operation, fresh seafood is at the top of plenty of menus along the path. Simply and expertly cooked by chefs who know their produce, and are most likely friends with the supplier, some of the most succulent scallops and mouth-watering fish and chips can be found in establishments of all sizes dotted along the Cornish coast.
Cornish crab is another speciality, and while crab sandwiches are becoming harder to find after the recent harsh winter’s impact on crab populations, they’re worth the effort. Cadgwith is a stand-out with the sandwiches being made just a few steps from where the crabs are loaded off the boats.
Falmouth is a real foodie’s hub, with a fantastic range of eateries serving everything from simple, traditional fare to more experimental cuisine. A wander along the winding main street with its beautifully painted house and shop fronts is enough to ignite the senses and leave you with a long list of restaurants and cafes to try.
Ann’s Pasties, originating in Lizard, is where the locals go to get their daily pasty fix, and after a few days on the South West Coast Path, I’d be very surprised if you hadn’t been converted to the wonders of the pasty.
Traditionally, pasties were filled with beef, potato, swede and onion, but are now available with innovative fillings and even vegan pasties are making their way into bakeries. The first bite through that flaky pastry uncovers the delicious savoury filling inside, which will leave your mouth watering.
After a week on the South West Coast Path I was not only incredibly full of pasties, but also had a head full of wonderful memories of the interesting people I’d met whilst walking and exploring, and images of the stunning coastline which had been my daily companion.
Whilst walking the South West Coast Path is undoubtedly a challenge, it’s one that’s ignited a spark for me, and I’m already looking forward to my next adventure in this beautiful part of the world.
P.S. If you’d like to explore the South West Coast Path for yourself, Absolute Escapes offers self-guided walks along the whole path including the section from Penzance to Falmouth. Our packages include accommodation, daily baggage transfers, guidebook/map, and a full information pack. Why not send us an enquiry – we’d love to help you plan an unforgettable trip.