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The South West Coast Path is an official National Trail and the longest waymarked long-distance footpath in England and Wales. It stretches for a total of  630 miles / 1,014 km, from Minehead in Somerset, along the dramatic coastlines of Devon and Cornwall, to the picturesque Poole Harbour in Dorset.

I grew up in Dorset and my family still live there so the South West Coast Path was always on my radar and one of the thru-hikes on my hit list!

I’d originally planned on doing this thru-hike the year Covid happened so it got pushed back a few years but I’m thrilled to say that I finally managed to do it last summer and I’m excited to be able to share my experiences with you so that you either start planning your own solo hiking adventure or get all the info you need to join me on a group hike in England later this year.

 

1: WHY HIKE THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH?

Sweeping coastal views that stretch ahead for hundreds of miles, rugged and wild terrain contrasted by postcard-pretty Cornish villages and vegan scones, what’s not to love! 

Everyone I met hiking the South West Coast Path had their own reason for being there, I found most people from the U.K. were section hiking it at the weekends or 5 days at a time throughout the year but I met people from all over the world on the path; a handful of friendly, keen hikers from Holland thrilled to be able to hike the hilly sections (Holland is flat as a pancake by the way), quite a few Australians who had spent years meticulously planning their hike, Canadians inspired by the book The Salt Path by Ranor Winn and delighted Americans in love with everything British!

Regardless of where everyone was from or their reasons for being there, when you’re out on the South West Coast Path, or maybe any long-distance trail, the sense of community and camaraderie is just beautiful, that feeling of being part of something will never get old and it’s the reason I will always seek out painful-but-rewarding long-distance hikes.

My personal reason for hiking the whole path was mainly to try and re-connect with my home country, having not lived there for nearly twenty years the U.K. feels like home to me when I do go back but strangely, I also feel like a foreigner when I’m there! Most of my hiking adventures have been abroad and I wanted to hike somewhere I knew was safe for a solo female traveller that summer, so England it was.

A HUGE advantage of hiking the South West Coast Path is that it’s VERY easy to navigate, just keep the sea on your right or your left depending on which way around you’re doing it and keep hiking!

 

 

2: SOUTH WEST COAST PATH STATS & INFO

I had so many questions about this hike last year and I appreciate that it can be overwhelming to know where to start when it comes to planning your own solo hike so here are a few answers to some common questions I had that I hope will help:

Q: How long is the South West Coast Path in total? It’s 630 miles / 1,014 km but my finished milage worked out at 666 miles, you always have to allow for what I call ‘faff mileage’ which involves going the wrong way occasionally, taking detours for vegan ice cream and the promise of a good soy milk cappuccino!

Q: Where are the official start and finish points? You can hike clockwise or anticlockwise it’s really up to you, I would say a majority of hikers are travelling anticlockwise so starting in Minehead and finishing in Poole, one advantage of this is that most of the guidebooks and trail info seem to set up for hiking in this direction but there’s no reason you can’t start in Pooole and finish in Minehaead, you do you.

Q: What is the elevation gain on the southwest coast path? This question gives me flashbacks of the rollercoaster of hills that make up this trail! Obviously, you’re hiking at sea level for the whole path but walking the entire South West Coast Path is equivalent to scaling the world’s tallest mountain four times! That’s right, with 115,000 feet of ascent and descent the Coast Path rivals the likes of Mount Everest, 650 miles of hills demand some serious respect and pre-trip training!

Q: How long does it take to hike the southwest coast path? Most people will take between 7 and 8 weeks at a leisurely pace, it took me just under 8 weeks with eight zero hike days in total.

Q: How difficult is hiking the southwest coast path? It is a challenging route, with in total over 115,000 feet (35,000 metres) of up and down, and it is far better to be ahead of schedule and have time to explore, than having to rush to reach your planned overnight stop. Walking the South West Coast Path is also very addictive!

If you’re section hiking without a heavy rucksack or getting luggage transfers then it’s an enjoyable hike that still requires a good level of fitness and hands up, I massively underestimated how challenging this thru-hike would be, hiking five hilly, undulating headlands every day carrying a 10kg rucksack doesn’t make for fast hiking so just bear in mind that a 5/6 mile section on the path might take 8 hours to hike.

Q: Do you need permits to hike the southwest coast path? No, you can just rock up and start hiking, it’s great!

Q: Is drinking water easily available on the path? Yes! I usually filled up around 1.5 L in the morning and then topped up when I passed through villages and towns, everyone was super friendly and happy to top up water bottles for hikers.

Q: Is the southwest coast path a busy trail? It’s funny, although it’s a popular trail, I never felt like it was particularly busy, the sections along the Cornish coast felt beautifully remote and wild, I loved it out there! As you approach the seaside villages and towns it definitely get’s busier but you can just stop for an ice-cream and keep on hiking!

 

3: SECTION HIKING OR THRU-HIKING, THE PRO’S AND CONS

Section hiking allows you to tackle the trail in smaller, more manageable chunks, fitting it around your schedule and other commitments and is less of a time commitment, I can’t really see any cons here, it’s still a great hike!

One of the biggest pros of any long-distance hike is the sense of accomplishment. Thru hiking the entire South West Coast Path offers a significant personal achievement and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the trail experience. One of the most obvious cons of course is the time commitment two, months of hiking may not be feasible for everyone but with a little planning it’s possible!

 

 

4: WHEN TO HIKE THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

While spring and late summer are considered the best times to walk the path, Autumn can be great too, I hike from June through to early August, June was beautiful and August rained the whole way through! I would suggest hiking in early or late summer going into early autumn, this means the crowds have gone home, but the weather and sea temperature often remain warm enough for swimming and at this time of year, headlands are great spots to see migrating birds making their way back south.

 

5: IS IT EASY TO NAVIGATE THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

The UK has some of the best-waymarked trails in the world and I can say this because I’ve spent the last twenty years hiking all over the world! The path is very well-signed and well-maintained (but expect large sections of the trail to be overgrown with bracken in the summer), which generally makes it easy to follow, that said, I definitely went off the trail a few times but used my OS Maps app to make get back on again quickly and easily.

 

6: TRANSPORTATION FOR  THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

Both ends of the Path,  can be reached from London by a combination of train and bus and many of the towns along the Trail are served by coach services. Local buses run a fairly regular service along most of the coast in the summer. Trains in the U.K. can be outrageously expensive so do make sure you book any long train journeys well in advance, you can check prices on the National Rail website here.

 

7: WHERE TO STAY ON THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

I was staying at campsites and wild camping the whole hike, the Cornish section going into Devon was quite abundant with campsites and most of them were accommodating to solo hikers, I usually called the same day as I arrived to check availability and always managed to get a spot. The latter stages of Devon and going into Dorset were much harder, there were fewer campsites and they were expensive, £50 a night for a tent, really?!!!

If you’re section hiking it’s much more likely you’ll be using small hotels and bed and breakfasts, there are some lovely places to stay along the path but the prices are very seasonal and it’s the UK so don’t expect to pay under £150 per person per night from April through to October, if you plan ahead and budget accordingly you can still have an amazing experience.

8: WHERE CAN YOU RESUPPLY AND FIND VEGAN FOOD ON THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH?

This hike is vegan Cornish pasty heaven! Easy-to-eat hiking foods for lunch like Cornish pasties or a quick sandwich were relatively easy to find on the hike but I was surprised at how expensive they were, a pasty and coffee was almost always over £10+ in Cornwall! For the long distance hikers, resupply is easy, every couple of days you’ll pass a supermarket to stock up on super noodles for your camp stove, curry flavour might just be the best!

9: IMPORTANT SOUTH WEST COAST PATH SAFETY TIPS

1: Checking the weather every morning before you start hiking is probably the number one safety tip I would give for this specific hike, almost all of the path is up on high clifftops which are very exposed and potentially dangerous in high winds and storms, if in doubt, don’t hike.

2: It’s important to make sure you’re dressed (and have spare clothing) for a variety of different weather patterns even during the summer months, bring layers of clothing and be prepared for potential rain with waterproof trousers and a decent rain jacket.

3: Have a safety plan in place, if you’re solo hiking make sure somebody knows your daily itinerary and what time you’re expected to get into your B&B or campsite every day.

 

10: PACKING FOR THE SOUTH WEST COAST PATH

General packing: Given the unpredictability of the British weather and the accuracy of the forecasts, it’s best to take a selection of clothing so you can decide what to wear on a day to day basis. To give you the flexibility to easily adjust your temperature, you are best off wearing several thin layers of clothing, with a wicking t-shirt or similar next to the skin and having more layers available if necessary.

Waterproofs: While getting caught out in an unexpected shower or even heavy rain, will only rarely put you at any risk of exposure, having a set of waterproofs with you, will make the rest of your walk much more comfortable. They are also a good lightweight way of having something windproof to put on if it gets too cold.

Footwear: In dry weather, most of the Coast Path can be walked in just about any comfortable footwear with a good grip on the sole.

Hiking poles: These are a must for the path and will help with the steep up and down hills, your knees will thank you!

Navigation system: I used the paid version of the OS Explorer app alongside this Cicerone guide book.

 

 

10: SOUTH WEST COAST PATH INFORMATION & RESOURCES

The official south west coast path website is the best source of information if you’re considering doing the hike, it’s full of up-to-date trail, accommodation and route information that will help you plan properly and have an amazing experience.

 

10: SHOULD YOU SOLO HIKE THE SOUTH WEST COAT PATH OR JOIN A GROUP TRIP?

If you’re looking to do your first long-distance solo hike, the south west coast path is a great place to start, it’s remote enough in some sections that you’ll feel like you’re part of the landscape but still regularly passes through small villages and towns where you can enjoy everything the path has to offer. If you love the idea of this hike but would prefer to do it in a group then check out this U.K. hiking trip.

 

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Has the wanderlust kicked in yet? I hope so! If you’re ready to plan a trip that really appeals to your adventurous side, make sure you’re signed up to the Vegan Adventure Holidays newsletters for vegan travel updates, workshops and more!

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XO

Emma – Vegan Adventure Holidays

 

 

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HI, I’M EMMA!

Lady behind the scenes at Vegan Adventure Holidays, full-time adventurer, vegan entrepreneur & outdoor educator dedicated to helping you have the best vegan-friendly travel experience possible. Let’s be vegan traveller friends!

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