This long distance path round the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, starts in Minehead in Somerset, goes along part of the Somerset Bristol Channel coast, across North Devon, right round Cornwall, then along the South Devon and Dorset coasts to Poole Harbour. It stretches a distance of 613 miles which is over twice the distance of the Pennine Way and makes it by far the longest Long Distance Footpath in the Great Britain. If you walked it in one go, it would take 6 or 7 weeks, but most people tend to dip in and out and return the following year to do another stretch
May is perhaps an ideal time to walk because the coastal flowers in Cornwall are at their best. If you want to enjoy swimming as well as walking, you will need to walk in the traditional summer holiday period, but obviously places will be more crowded then
Most long-distance footpaths were either put together in modern times to link areas of great scenic beauty (e.g. Pennine Way and Cleveland Way) or have followed ancient trackways (e.g. The Ridgeway and North Downs Way). The South West Way is different as it is based in fact on a working footpath which was in use as such until comparatively modern times. It evolved from Coastguards and Customs men using it to patrol the whole of the Devon and Cornwall coast on foot, every day, to guard against smuggling. This lasted until 1856 and the work was then carried on by the Admiralty until 1913. A network of coastguard cottages were constructed at convenient intervals, and most of these still stand in rows along the path today. They are now converted to other use, but if you look for them, they are there to remind you of how the path originally started. Because the coastguards had to see into every cove and inlet on the coast, their well-beaten path, usually with stone stiles, had to hug the cliff top. Hence you get the scenic coastal views today from the path. .
Consider the richness of what you will see along the path. Geologists will find a wealth of varied rock, some of it not occurring elsewhere in England. Several coastal views, for instance those at Hartland in North Devon and Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove in Dorset,are textbook illustrations of cliff formations. Botanists have a wide range of flowers particularly in Cornwall, many of which do not occur anywhere else in Britain. Ornithologists will expect the richness of sea-bird life, but less expected may be rare species such as the peregrine falcon. History and especially rural history is commonplace
Archaeologists will find interest in many Iron Age Camps. Industrial archaeologists will find old mining regions, old pilchard cellars, and numerous lime kilns.
The Romans established signal stations to watch for Saxon raiders. The Vikings ravaged the coast, the Spanish Armada and to D-Day invasion all passed the coast. Sailors went to America. You will see every mood of the sea, and when you have seen it at its most savage, you will understand why there is a recorded wreck for every furlong of the Cornish coast.
The coast from Hartland Point in Devon down to Bude in Cornwall has been called the "Iron Coast". It is a mix of strata and jagged rocks; there is no land between you and America. It is best seen in Spring with the violets and delicate primroses contrasted with the severity of the coast. It has spectacular for coastal waterfalls.
The coastline round Land's End in Cornwall is the Granite Coast, and is somewhere to climb and photograph. The granite forms itself into angular castellated blocks which are unique on the English coastline. See it in early summer with the sea pinks, a vivid carpet of pink and the sea beyond, a shade of azure blue.
The coast of South Devon has an area of metamorphic rock. This gives rise to sharp-topped ridges running down to the sea like the backs of enormous extinct dinosaurs. You can see these near Bolt Head, Prawle and Start Points. The best time here is late summer when the heather is purple and the early blackberries provide welcome refreshment.
The coast of Eastern Dorset is a mixture of rock which gives rise to a surprising variety of scenery in a comparatively short stretch of walking. There is the chalk of Lulworth and the Arish Mell Gap, the shales of Kimmeridge and the limestones of Purbeck. Wild cabbage grows here, and at all times of the year, the gorse will be in flower, because as the old country saying goes "when gorse is out of flowers, kissing is out of season". Appropriately enough, this mixture of coast coming towards the end of the path is a useful reminder that the South West Way's greatest feature is its enormous variety, a walk indeed as has been said "through some of the finest coastal scenery in Europe".
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