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South West Coast Path sculpture

Point 8: South West Coast Path

Continue walking back along Quay West and Quay Street until you see a large metal sculpture on the left. It marks the start of the South West Coast Path.

The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest National Trail.

Starting at Minehead, it runs along part of the Somerset section of the Bristol Channel coast, around North Devon, right round Cornwall, then along the South Devon and Dorset coasts to Poole Harbour.

A distance of 630 miles, the path is over twice the distance of the Pennine Way.

A short history

The South West Coast Path is unique because it is based on a working footpath unlike most long-distance footpaths, which were either ideas linking scenic areas or ancient track-ways.

Looking across to Butlins

Coastguards used to patrol the whole coast of the South West Peninsula on foot, every day, in pursuit of revenue protection against smuggling.

A whole series of coastguard cottages were erected at convenient intervals, and most of these still stand in rows along the path today, serving as a reminder of how the path originally came about.

The coastguards had to be able to see into every cove and inlet on the coast, which meant the path had to hug the cliff top, providing the scenic coastal views we get today.

The coastguard's children used these paths to go to school, while their wives used them to get from one fishing hamlet to the next - all of them contributed to a considerable history of usage.

What to look out for

Scenery-wise, the Coast Path journeys through one National Park and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

One third of it is owned and cared for by the National Trust, and the coastline between Exmouth in East Devon and Studland in Dorset (the Jurassic Coast) has been designated a natural World Heritage Site.

As the Path passes through woodland, scrub, heath or grassland and beside sand dunes, shingle ridges, estuaries, salt marsh and rocky shores, there's lots of wildlife to enjoy.

The geology of the South West Coast Path is very varied - from granite to limestone and chalk, with colourful and unusual patterns, fossils, and fantastic shapes.

Map of the South West Coast Path

The South West coastline has also inspired many artists, craftspeople, writers and musicians.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived and worked in Nether Stowey and often walked the Exmoor coastline, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote his famous poem Morte d'Arthur after visiting Tintagel in Cornwall, and Rudyard Kipling set some of his work Stalky and Co along the South West Coast.

Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, John Fowles, Malcolm Arnold and Barbara Hepworth are just a few others who have been attracted to the area.

Places along the Path have also provided the backdrop for many films and TV features - Hercule Poirot, Dracula, Moll Flanders and The Three Musketeers all walked along the route.

The BBC period drama The House of Eliott features Minehead station and seafront, Clovelly in Devon features in the 1990 version of the classic Treasure Island, ITV's Wycliffe was filmed all over Cornwall, and the 1954 film of The Dam Busters was filmed in Weymouth and The Fleet in Dorset.

To walk the entire coast path, you'll need to allow yourself six to eight weeks! However, there are shorter walks for all abilities to enjoy.

To return to the start point of the Minehead Meander, continue walking along the Esplanade.

If hearing about the South West Coast Path has whetted your appetite to don your hiking boots and explore the South West, BBC Cornwall, BBC Devon and BBC Dorset have further Coast walks for you to enjoy.

last updated: 21/07/05
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