hardest part of south west coastal path

The Hardest Part of the South West Coastal Path United Kingdom

The hardest part of the South West Coastal Path is between the very first section from Minehead to Westward Ho! Surpassing The Valley of Rocks, The Hangmen Hills is a steep 4.7 miles climb and the highest point of the entire coast path, the most challenging but also most rewarding stretch with overarching views of the coast. 

Is tackling the hardest part of the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) on your bucket list? If a leisurely walk doesn’t cut it for you, we’ve shortlisted the most difficult walks in the enigmatic coastal area. 

Starting in the coastal town of Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, the South West Coastal Path, the UK’s longest National Trail, is a vast 630 miles and has some of the most breathtaking views. 

It takes 6 to 8 weeks on average to walk the whole trail. If you don’t have time like that, fret not. We’re sharing the best bits across the SWCP with you in this read. 

At a glance, we will be looking at:

  1. The Best Time to Walk the SWCP
  2. Where SWCP Starts and Ends 
  3. How to follow the SWCP
  4. The SWCP by Sections 
  5. The Hardest Part of SWCP
  6. The Easiest Part of SWCP
  7. The Best Part of SWCP 
  8. Day Walks on SWCP 
  9. Camping on the SWCP 
  10. Cycling on the SWCP
  11. Walking solo on the SWCP 

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The Hardest Part of SWCP

It comes as no surprise that there are some severely strenuous parts on the South West Coastal part as completing the whole path has been compared to climbing Mount Everest four times

With that being said, what is notably the hardest part of the South West Coastal Path is between the very first section from Minehead to Westward Ho! 

Surpassing The Valley of Rocks, The Hangmen Hills is a steep 4.7 miles climb and the highest point of the entire coast path, the most challenging but also most rewarding stretch with overarching views of the coast. 

However, some say that the hardest part of the South West Coastal Path is on the second section (from Westward Ho! to Padstow), the walk from Hartland Quay to Bude

This is a long walk that ascends the rough shoreline, over graceful waterfalls, beyond intimate combes, crossing numerous river valleys, and ends with a blissful walk by the sandy beaches at Bude. 

You can opt to break this walk into a two-leg journey, stopping in Morwenstow for the night and continuing on to Bude the next day. 

Another particularly tough part is on the first half of the journey from St Ives.  

Mostly due to its remoteness from civilization, the rocky and swampy landscape, and zigzaggy hikes. Nevertheless, the views from Zennor Head immensely compensate for it, and if you’re lucky, you might see dolphins! 

Each section of the path has its fair share of tough terrain to embrace but fret not. You will be able to walk the whole path with a decent level of fitness and at your own pace. 

hardest part of south west coastal path best time to walk

The Best Time to Walk the SWCP

To be honest, the best time to walk the South West Coast Path all year round. From summery beaches to dreamy clifftop views, the coastal landscape is breathtaking and worth the adventure throughout the seasons. 

The best time of the year to walk South West Coastal Path is from March to September, during the spring and summer seasons when the weather is at its best. 

However, a PSA (public service announcement) – the weather in the UK can be a little iffy, and it’s always better to have an umbrella on you. 

In the spring, the trees come to life. Wildflowers bloom, wildlife appears, and the path is lively and vibrant, teeming with a plethora of unique wildlife.

The weather is pleasant for walking, it may rain on occasion, but it’s nothing a decent pair of boots can’t handle. It is also an excellent time to walk if you want to avoid a crowd. 

If you want to walk with minimal layers of clothing and a lighter backpack, you should do so in the summer. 

The weather is warmer, flowers are in full bloom, the days are sunny and long, and there will be infrequent showers. You can get away with just shorts and a t-shirt and quickly slip away for a dip in the ocean. 

As the path and the towns that it passes by are popular summer tourists destinations, it will likely be busy and crowded this time of the year. Make sure to book your accommodations, and any transportation needs ahead of time.

If you wish to avoid the holiday crowds, plan your trip anytime of the year except for mid-July till late August. 

As Autumn approaches, trees become golden and magical, and it is officially ‘sweater weather. As the temperature drops and the air becomes chill, the bustle of summer simmers down, and there are fewer tourists along the route.

The beaches, however, are usually still warm enough for a quick swim though. 

Although walking in the winter is entirely possible, you’ll need to diligently plan your walks as the weather can be unpredictable and the days are shorter. 

Do note that when walking South West Coastal Path, it is required to take ferry rides to cross rivers and estuaries, and most stop operating as winter approaches in October. 

If you’re walking in the winter, check with the ferry operators before planning your itinerary. 

Where SWCP Starts and Ends 

The UK’s longest waymarked walking trail, the South West Coastal Path, is a considerable 630 miles long route through the coastlines of Somerset, Exmoor, Devon, and Cornwall. 

The start of South West Coast Path is at the coastal town of Minehead in Somerset. It then runs along the jagged coastlines of Exmoor, progressing into the coast of North Devon and into Cornwall. The route then ends at Poole Harbor in Dorset. 

The South West Coastal Path crosses part of The UK’s National Trail and bypasses the Jurassic Coast and the Cornwall & West Devon Mining Landscape, both World Heritage sites. 

The path is preserved by the South West Coast Path Association and is protected by the UK’s right-of-ways law, which gives the public access to the footpaths, although some parts are privately owned. 

The route is demanding, with over 115,000 feet of peaks and dips. Our advice is to take your time and plan a few breaks along the way. There is no point in rushing through the walk and missing out on all the best parts. 

Throughout the walk, there are many quaint villages, towns, and stunning beaches that have plenty of options for accommodations and amenities. Take a break from walking and spend a day or two immersing in tourists sites, local cuisine, and activities like surfing and kayaking. 

The route is typically completed in this order. However, it is not a necessity to do so. It can also be walked in the opposite direction as it is waymarked in both directions. 

hardest part of south west coastal path uk how to follow the path

How To Follow The SWCP

Known to be the UK’s longest waymarked footpath, The South West Coastal Path is very well marked throughout, with thousands of signs carrying the National Trail’s acorn logo to help hikers on their way. 

Whilst there are options for guided walking holidays, The South West Coastal Path can be easily conquered without a guide. This gives you the flexibility to plan your itinerary however you like. 

At key points like the beginning, halfway mark, and the end of the trail, you will come across large celebratory signposts which are encouraging and great for pictures. Along the trail, you will also pass by several signposts that indicate the distance to the next key point. 

When you get to a junction, you may encounter multiple arrows. The arrow closest to the acorn is a definite indicator of the south west coastal paths direction. The other arrows indicate side routes to “Way Markers” and attractions along the way. 

“Way Markers” are businesses like Bed & Breakfasts, campsites, restaurants, pubs, and shops that you can stop at along the way to cater to everything you could possibly need on the path. 

Check out this complete guide to the South West Coast Path. It lists all the Way Makers situated along or close by the path. This is also a great way to find budget-friendly places to stay and have meals. 

By visiting any of the listed businesses, you will be supporting local businesses and giving back to the South West Coastal Path Association

Although the path is well marked, it is essential for you to have a guidebook and map of the South West Coast Path on you throughout the hike. You never know when you may need it.

A noteworthy guidebook is The South West Coast Path (UK long-distance trail series), written by author Paddy Dillon South West Coastal Path expert and outdoor enthusiast who has written over 70 guidebooks. 

The SWCP By Sections 

To walk the great length of South West Coastal Path at one go is quite impossible unless you have time on your hands.

In any case, if you’re planning to walk it all at once or tackle the trail across several holidays, it may benefit you to see through the trail section by section. 

The South West Coastal Path can be broken down into eight sections. Each of the sections takes a week on average to complete. Targeting the trail by section allows you to pick up where you’ve left off and makes it easier for you to plan your itinerary.

Minehead to Westward Ho! 

This section will take the average hiker 7 days to complete and will cover 87 miles. 

This hike passes through Exmoor and North Devon. It is graded as moderate, but don’t be fooled. Parts of this hike are known to be intensely challenging. 

As you set foot onto the first leg of your 630-mile journey, you can anticipate sightings of rare and magnificent wildlife and plants.  

The trail takes you across steep cliff tops, moorland, and forests of the Exmoor National Park. Exmoor possesses the highest coastline in the UK. Therefore you can expect some steep hikes in this part. 

There are two different pathways, the infamous “rugged coast path” is the route that runs closer to the coast, or you can hike through the moors. Either way, the views will be mind-blowing. 

Westward Ho! To Padstow 

This section will take the average hiker 7 days to complete and will cover 78 miles. This hike passes through Hartland and North of Cornwall. 

It is graded as moderate to strenuous and known to be one of the hardest stretches to get through but also one of the best. 

The trail is thrilling and will keep you on the edge of your seat! It starts reasonably easy. However, once you hit the coastal path, be prepared for some arduous walking. 

This section is full of excitement from high cliff tops to sheltered bays, zigzagging between breezy beaches, secluded waterfalls, and quaint fishing villages. 

The path passes by Clovelly, a remarkable little village to spend the night. You can also explore the historical Tintagel Castle on your way, the residing place of the legendary King Arthur. 

hardest part of south west coastal path padstow to st ives

Padstow To St Ives 

This section will take the average hiker 6 days to complete and will cover 66 miles. This hike passes through Cornwall’s Atlantic Coast. It is graded as an easy to moderate hike. 

Leaving the fishing port of Padstow behind, the first 20 miles of walking is fairly easy, with some steep steps in between. The second half of the hike can be pretty exhausting, but there is plenty of flora and fauna to pique your interest. 

You will pass by some of Britain’s best beaches on your way. You will have something to look forward to at each stop and end this part of the coast path at Cornwall’s most popular holiday town, St Ives.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d want to revisit this section again or spend more time at the stops. It has so much to offer! 

St Ives To The Lizard 

This section will take the average hiker 6 days to complete, and will cover 69 miles. This hike passes through the far west of Cornwall and the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. It is graded as a strenuous walk. 

The first half of this section is demanding as the trail meanders from high cliffs to secluded coves, and this cycle repeats itself. 

The ground is also marshy and bumpy, which may slow you down, so you may want to have an allowance of time on hand here.

However, as always, the breathtaking views will make up for the treacherous terrain. As some parts of this section can be remote, it is best to stock up on supplies before heading out. 

There are also many amazing spots along the way for a picnic lunch, seal watching, and just experiencing Land’s End

Lizard To Par 

This section will take the average hiker 6 days to complete, and will cover 72 miles. This hike passes through the South of Cornwall. This is likely the easiest section throughout the entire path with a few moderately hard parts to keep things exciting. 

What’s exhilarating about this section is you’ll come across notable geological formations such as granite, serpentine, and schist. 

This stretch also offers hikers a variety of landscapes, from woodlands and green pastures to intimate coves, sandy beaches, fishing villages, and creeks. If you’re planning to complete this section, take some time to explore the sites along the way. 

Some of the highlights along the way include Falmouth harbor, one of the largest natural harbors in the world, Charlestown, a Georgian port, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, the renowned Eden Project, and more!

Par To Torcross

This section will take the average hiker 7 days to complete, and will cover 94 miles. This hike passes through South East Cornwall, Plymouth, and the South Hams. This section is moderate and has some difficult parts to concur. 

Known to be one of the quieter parts of the path, it has spectacular views and is probably one of the best walks South West Coastal Path has to offer. 

Most of this section is owned by The National Trust and there are many hidden treasures along the way, like the beautiful estuary on Fowey, and of course, includes the historic port of Plymouth and its Waterfront Walkway.  

hardest part of south west coastal path Torcross to Seaton

Torcross To Seaton 

This section will take the average hiker 6 days to complete, and will cover 72 miles. This hike passes through South and East Devon, this section is rated as moderate, but it is actually pretty unchallenging.  

Enjoy the softer landscapes overlooking agricultural lands and beachside resorts. The path brings you through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Along the first stretch of walking, the sea will be your constant companion, followed by rough headland as you get closer to the boating town of Dartmouth. 

This section has many mystical sites, pass through the Berry Head National Nature Reserve and the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark, where you can feast your eyes on unique, obscured geological discoveries. 

You also cover the beginning of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site on this walk. 

One thing to be wary of, you may face challenges surrounding ferry times and tide times on this walk. Our advice is to plan ahead and stick to your schedule. 

Seaton To South Haven Point 

This section will take the average hiker 7 days to complete, and will cover 92 miles. This hike passes through the Jurassic Coast. This section is graded as a moderate to strenuous hike. 

There’s no surprise the last section of the South West Coast Path is just as stunning as all the other sections. 

As you walk through the remarkable Jurassic Coast, you will yet again pass An Area of Outstanding Beauty along the clear watered Fleet Lagoon and the Chesil Beach. This beach is one of the few shingle beaches in the UK. The views are truly one-of-a-kind. 

There is an option to follow the South Dorset Ridgeway instead of the coastal path, where you’ll be in between hills and have views of river valleys, farms, and villages and stunning views of the Jurrasic Coast from a distance. 

It also passes through ancient ceremonial landscapes dating back to some 6,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. How cool? 

Whichever route you go with, both are splendid ways to commemorate the end of the hike. 

hardest part of south west coastal path The Easiest Part of SWCP

The Easiest Part Of SWCP

The easiest section of the South West Coast Path is the section between Padstow and St Ives, with its lower cliffs and miles of serene beaches which make for easier walking. 

Most of the South West Coast Path is a rollercoaster of steep climbs, and for the most part, the trail has a moderate difficulty level, with a few effortless areas in between. 

This is also a great section to be on a relaxed schedule of walking as public transport and accommodations are very accessible. 

A fairly easy part of the trail recommended is the stretch starting from Plymouth to Exmouth as the trail is more leveled, which makes for an easy walk. This section is also easy on the eyes, passing through seaside towns vibrant seafronts, and the woods. 

The Best Part Of SWCP

 The best part of South West Coast Path is the last bit of the trail that takes you through the Jurassic Coast Heritage Walk. The walk is packed with adventure, variety, and thrilling view

It’s almost impossible to choose a section on this coastal path that outshines others, as the whole South West Coast Path is remarkably breathtaking. 

From the iconic Durdle Door to prehistoric artifacts, ghost villages, Lulworth Cove, and the picturesque Chesil Beach, there is so much beauty in this section alone. 

Day Walks on south west coastal path

Day Walks On SWCP 

As much as The South West Coast Path is for long-distance walking, it is also great for short-distance day walks. 

There are plenty of curated walks under 5 miles throughout the path that is ideal for an afternoon stroll with the family or a challenging half-day hike to get your heart pumping. 

The best way to find a suitable walk near you is to use the Walkfinder tool (the magnifying glass, the first icon at the top of the South West Coast Association page).  It allows you to find the best walks for you based on distance, difficulties and various themes.  

You can also go for circular and linear walks that can be done within a day. The perfect walk for the family is the Noss Mayo circular walk. 

It is a 7km long walk that can be easily followed, featuring the rugged coast and open sea, rustic riverbanks, and the waterfront village of Noss Mayo. 

There are also easy access walks that cover routes that are flatter and mostly obstacle-free, these routes are accessible to those on wheelchairs, pushchairs, and mobility scooters. 

If you’re not up for long-distance walking but would still like to enjoy scenic views and short strolls along the path, couple up fun scenic train rides with short walks. 

There are plenty of options from various mainline and branch line stations, including Newquay to North Cornwall and Exmouth to East Devon and Dorset. 

camping on the south west coastal path uk

Camping On The SWCP

The best way to fully experience the coast path is to thru-hike the entire trail all at once, which on average takes about 52 days

However, it can be costly to stay at a B&B every night. If you want to keep costs down, backpacking South West Coastal Path is the way to go. 

For accommodation, staying at hostels or camping on the South West Coastal Path are great, budget-friendly options for backpackers. 

Unfortunately, wild camping is not allowed along the trail. 

However, there is an abundance of campsites South West Coastal Path has along the trail. 

From basic field camping to full-service holiday parks and luxurious glamping sites, there are many ways to relish the path as a backpacker.

Campsites are easily accessible throughout, only a short walk or at best a few miles away from the path. 

In our opinion, one of the best campsites on the route is the Treen Farm Campsite, it is family-friendly, and the facilities are top-notch. 

To plan your next pitch there are a few research sites available, like

The accommodation finder is a quick and convenient way to locate places to stay near you as you’re walking. 

If you’re not interested in lugging around camping gear, there are plenty of hostels along the way, with dorm beds at really affordable rates. 

To find hostels on the trail, you can search the Independent Hostel Guide, a map that lists down all the hostels throughout the coast path. 

If you are backpacking the trail,  you’ll need a few essential items, especially if you are planning to camp for most of your journey. 

As with any long-distance walk, it’s best to pack light. You’ll need a pair of sturdy boots, a hiking backpack, a day pack, and a solid waterproof jacket. As for outdoor gear, a lightweight sleeping bag and an ultralight tent should get you through. 

To find out more about what you need to pack for a long hike, give The Essential Female Backpacking List a read. 

Become a member of the South West Coast Path Association and enjoy the benefits, including exclusive discounts on backpacking equipment at well-known outdoor gear retailers. 

Cycling On The SWCP

Would you want to cycle South West Coastal Path? Think twice. The coastal path is primarily a footpath with 30,000 steps, so there is a high chance you’ll be dragging it around for the most part. 

However, there are a few distinct sections that have cycle routes on the path such as from Braunton to Bideford and Mousehole to Marazion. You can also check out this scenic route from Dawlish to Brockenhurst

You may also explore the many amazing off-road cycle routes in the South West Coast area. There is a cycle route in the area for everyone. If you are an adventure seeker, we recommend  Tamar Trails, cycle past historic mines or partake in trail activities.  

There are quite a number of spectacular biking roads amidst nature on the South West coast. 

If you’re looking for an easy route where you can just bask in the outstanding beauty of the coast without worrying about steep climbs, give Goss Moor Trail a go. It is a short and rather flat cycle trail with an abundance of wildlife and greenery. 

The Clay Trails is another fantastic bike route that is peaceful and secluded. You can even enjoy horse riding here. 

Are you wanting to explore coastal roads by bike? Follow this off-road route passing quaint villages, secluded bays, and limestone cliffs in Dorset, starting and circling back to Wareham covering a distance of 45 miles. 

walking solo on the south west coastal path united kingdom

Walking Solo On The SWCP 

If you are wondering if walking solo on the South West Coast Path is possible, yes, it is absolutely possible.

As the route is easy to follow with clear signposts, facilities, and amenities available throughout the route, the likelihood of getting lost or having to spend a night in the wild is close to zero. 

You will realize that you’re not going to be spending all that time on your own.

 You will often meet other hikers along the way, some will be walking in the same direction, and most of them are friendly enough to stop for a conversation. 

Staying at campsites and youth hostels gives you the opportunity to meet and mingle with others walking the path as well.  

If you intend on walking solo, browse through 17 Solo Female Travel Safety Tips to learn how to keep yourself safe throughout the journey.

FAQs

Is the South West Coast Path easy to follow?

The South West Coast Path is easy to follow as it is very well signposted, it has a great balance of easy strolls and challenging climbs. This makes it ideal for a first-time long-distance hiker without any particular fitness training. 

How long does it take to complete the South West Coast Path?

Wondering how long it takes to complete The South West Coast Path? Well, it will take roughly 7-8 weeks to complete, on average. However, it has been completed in just over 10 days, and there are people who like to take a leisurely pace and thus will take longer. 

south west coastal path beach cove

Conclusion

So are you prepared to conquer the hardest part of the South West Coastal Path? Don’t give it a second thought and go for it! 

However, if it is your dream to complete the whole trail and you don’t have the time to do it all in one go, you can cover it section by section. 

And if the thought of hiking through the hardest part of the South West Coastal Path is daunting, you can start by taking on the easier section or simply enjoy the best bits it has to offer. 

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