The South West Coast Path
A walk through history

Originally the South West Coast Path was the route used by the Coastguards on the watch for smugglers. Right up until 1913 the whole length of the path was regularly patrolled by the coastguards in the constant struggle to apprehend lawbreakers.

Nowadays part of the route is used as a leisure path although a legacy of its initial use still stands in the form of small cottages dotted along the route. Follow the path and walk through history.

Because the men needed to see into every cove and on to every beach the South West Coast Path follows almost the exact contours of the coastline. As a working path the men patrolled, their wives went back and forth to the villages and to visit their neighbours and the children went to school along the path.

As the path fell into disuse by the coastguards bits of it became privately owned. In the past this has meant that sections of it were not accessible to walkers. However, thanks to the efforts of the South West Coast Path Association most of these can now be used freely.

Walking the walk

The SWCPA have been tireless in their representations to the local authorities and landowners to allow anyone to enjoy the path. Where landowners are still reluctant to grant access the Association continues to work towards this end.

The path is the longest of the many Long Distance Paths in the United Kingdom, a total length of 630 miles [1014km]. If you wished to walk the whole path in one go it would take about eight weeks to do so.

In places the cliffs are dangerous, particularly after heavy rain. In some areas it’s necessary for the path to go inland to avoid the danger spots. However, the path is well marked so it’s not difficult to follow. The SWCP Association have volunteers who keep the path safe for us to walk on and thanks to them everyone can enjoy the magnificence of the World Heritage Jurrassic coast.

Parts of the path are very strenuous so if you are walking with young children it’s wise to consider which section you will do. The SWCP Association recently measured the ascents and descents along the whole of the length of the path. From its start at Minehead in Somerset to its finish at Poole in Dorset they found that you go up and down over 91,000 feet. In their fact sheet it says that this is more than three times as high as Mount Everest!

There are three sections of the path in East Devon. The first starts at Lyme Regis and runs to Sidmouth. This is the more difficult of the two because the hills between Seaton and Sidmouth are extremely large. A gentler section is between Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton, although there are still plenty of hills to go up and down. The final section runs around the coast, through Exmouth and up part of the Exe estuary before crossing over to South Devon.

Flora and Fauna

In May you will be able to enjoy the beauty of the flowers growing on the cliffs and shores of East Devon. Later in the season, when the weather has warmed up you can swim. The beach at Ladram Bay is sheltered and good for sunbathing and there’s a pub just up the road where you can eat lunch.

There is an abundance of bird life along the coast. Many sea birds nest in the cliffs all along the route. We’ve spent many happy hours watching them coming and going to their chicks. There’s sometimes an occasional Peregrine falcon to be seen, although I haven’t managed to see one as yet.


The South West Coast Path Association produce an excellent guide book to the path which they revise and update each year. In it you can find information about the path, maps, lists of campsites and other places to stay, buses, trains and ferries. This book is free to members, who also receive a twice-yearly newsletter. If you wish to join the Association full details can be found on their website. Click here to open a new window to the South West Coast Path Association The Guide and membership information are available from the website or by writing to the Administrator: Liz Wallis, Windlestraw, Penquit, Ermington, Devon, PL21 0LU Telephone/Fax: 01752 896237.

For all practical advice, information, suggestions and ideas in respect of your actual walk, please contact Eric Wallis at the same address.

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