South West Coast Path
The South West Coast Path is the longest National Trail in Britain. At 630 miles long, it goes from Minehead in Somerset, around Land’s End and along the south coast to Poole Harbour.
It usually takes about 7-8 weeks to complete, many doing it in weekly holidays. You might be surprised to know that when you have walked the whole distance you will have climbed Mt. Everest 4 times from sea-level. But nobody climbs Mt. Everest from the coast! From Base Camp you will have climbed the mountain 10 times. But you will not have had to endure a lack of oxygen and snow.
A walk-through of the Exmoor and North Devon section
Minehead to Porlock Weir
The National Trail starts at Minehead and immediately takes on the Exmoor National Park’s rugged coastline. A baptism of fire! The first stop-over is at Porlock Weir some 9.8 miles along the coast, having lost and gained 1814 feet.
Porlock Weir to Lynmouth
The next section is from Porlock Weir to Lynmouth. This section gets tougher and is 12.1 miles long, with 4050 feet ascent and descent. This is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Snowdon in North Wales from sea-level (not Llanberis).
Lynmouth to Combe Martin
The next section ends at Combe Martin. Starting from Lynton, by taking the cliff railway up from Lynmouth, saving you a 500-foot climb at the start, you have 13.7 miles ahead of you with 4500 feet ascent and 4848 descent. This section is tough because you have the Heddon Valley losing you 500 feet to gain it quickly the other side. This is soon followed by Sherrycombe going from 815 feet down to 140 feet and then up to the highest point on the whole coast path at Great Hangman at 1040 feet. The path then loses height passing by Little Hangman and down to Combe Martin Bay. If that sounds all too much then you can stop-over at Hunters Inn, about halfway along.
Combe Martin to Lee
Leaving Combe Martin, one leaves behind Exmoor and walks into the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The walking gets a little easier, with a maximum elevation of 550 feet. The walk takes in the attractive Watermouth Cove and on to Ilfracombe with its pretty harbour. The walk then continues over the Torrs Walk to Lee Bay. As the previous day was tough, I recommend stopping over at Lee, being 8.6 miles further along the coast from Combe Martin. Some people do press on to Woolacombe.
Lee to Croyde
From Lee the next natural stop-over is Croyde, 11.1 miles. This walk is quite hilly for the first half, rounding Bull Point and on to Morte Point before reaching Woolacombe. The walk now becomes easier either along Woolacombe’s 2-mile beach or through the dunes to reach Baggy Point. From here one drops down to reach Croyde.
Croyde to Braunton
From Croyde the coast path suddenly becomes much easier, going around Saunton Down, climbing a mere 250 feet before dropping down to sea level. The walk continues through Braunton Burrows to reach Crow Point and then inland to Velator Quay and Braunton for the next stop-over. This section is 10.3 miles long with only 600 feet ascent and descent.
From Braunton the walk becomes almost boring as it follows the Tarka Trail cycleway through Barnstaple and around the Taw and Torridge estuaries to reach Instow, some 12.2 miles further on. This is the section one gets blisters because one tends to step it out, so be warned.
The path now moves on through Bideford, Westward Ho! and on down to Cornwall, where there is less height to the cliffs but lots and frequent small valleys, keeping the challenge going!
If you take on the challenge of the South West Coast Path, I hope you enjoy it, as so many people every year do just that. If you are planning to walk the whole coast path, then I would recommend you join the South West Coast Path Association. They have a wealth of up-to-date information and of course, you will be supporting the upkeep of this amazing walk.
Local Circular Walks
If you want to experience a section of this wonderful path from Combe Martin, you can create a circular walk. This takes in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Walk along the coast path towards Ilfracombe and then cut inland on rights of way passing the haunted Chambercombe Manor, perfect for a lunch stop. Continue through Trayne Farm and on towards Berrynarbor. Follow the road through the Sterridge Valley to reach Berrynarbor. The church is worth visiting as well as tea rooms and a pub for refreshments. Follow the road to the right of the church back to Combe Martin.
If you want to be really energetic you could walk in the other direction into Exmoor National Park. The coast path takes you quickly up Little Hangman overlooking Combe Martin Bay. It continues climbing to Great Hangman, the highest point on the whole of the South West Coast Path at 318m. From there walk over the brow passing the large cairn and soon you come to a path on the right. Follow this to pass through a field to reach a farm road. Keep on this to pass Girt Farm and soon take the footpath on the right which loses height to reach a small lane. Follow the lane downhill and when the lane turns sharp left, continue on the footpath ahead to bring you back down into the village.
The above footpaths are shown clearly on OS Map OL9 which I would recommend you take with you. You can also find other coast path related walks on www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/day-walks/ and then click ‘Walks’ at the top of the page to find walks around Combe Martin.