This is a coastline that is largely unspoilt by recent development. Headlands and coves dominate the coastline. Long stretches of beach are exceptions, rather than the rule. The villages tend to be small and quaint, with the exception of St Ives and Penzance, both are popular holiday destinations. Along the unspoilt heather covered moors and rugged granite cliffs between St Ives and Land's End, are engine houses, chimneys and winding gears - important reminders of Cornwall's tin mining heritage. Be enthralled by the magnificent Minack Open Air Theatre, which perches dramatically on the cliff edge of Porthcurno, and explore St Michaels Mount, rising off the shores of Marazion, towards the skies. Stunning views are to be enjoyed from headlands at Zennor, Pendeen, Cape Cornwall, Land's End, Gwennap, Tater-Due Carn-Du... Stroll along the long sandy beaches of Praa and Porthleven Sands before arriving at the Lizard where the coastline is littered with delightful coves. There is Kynance Cove with its beautiful beach and Church Cove, where the church is actually on the beach(!) Mullion and Cadgwith both harbour quaint thatched cottages... Wander around Coverack's lovely little harbour and wide crescent-shaped beach. The magic continues: weaving in, out, around and over headlands before reaching the harbour town of Falmouth.
St Ives is a magnetic hub for artists, who attribute the attraction to the quality of its light. Passing the headland, which struts proudly into the sea, the Path skirts the other side of the town before climbing out along the cliffs onto often narrow and uneven tracks. It weaves in and out of small headlands and coves, over waterfalls, rugged rocks and bouldery slopes. The terrain is tough, isolated and rugged but spectacular all at the same time with little habitation in sight. Occasionally, seals may be spotted, frolicking in the sea.
The same dramatic and unrelenting landscape continues to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch. From there, the Path still undulates but in a gentler pace, passing Levant where its former tin-mining heritage is much in evidence, where engine houses and spoil heaps sit atop rocky cliffs. The surrounding purply red soil adds further drama to the backdrop of rugged cliffs and wild seas. Leaving the industrial heritage behind at Botallack, the cliff top walk to Cape Cornwall is superb with open views all round, passing the ruins of Kenidjack Castle atop a headland.
Leaving the Cape behind, there is a considerable amount of climb and descent, footbridge crossing, rugged and bouldery terrain, narrow in places. Dolphins and seals may be spotted off the coast. At low tide, you can walk along the beach of Whitesand Bay to Sennen Cove, a lovely fishing village with a round house on its harbour front. Enjoy the superb view back to the lighthouse at Cape Cornwall. The beach is popular with surfers. Land's End, being the most south westerly point of the British Isle, can be a bit of a touristy affair but offers the ultimate photo opportunity next to the famous sign-post. More spectacular off the coast are the Armed Knight, a prominent rocky stack, and Enys Dodnan, a pierced islet. From here, the Path weaves around headlands and coves before eventually arriving at the world famous cliff-face Minack Theatre. It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic location for an open air theatre, where the actors have to cope with the elements as well as their nerves. Not far inland from here is the little village of Porthcurno.
In today's world of satellite communication, it is difficult to imagine the important role that the little village of Porthcurno played in British history. For hidden from sight, a network of undersea cables reached out from the village to all four corners of the British Empire and other countries. You can visit the museum to see how this all happened. From the beach at Porthcurno, it is a steep climb onto the cliff and out towards Logan Rock, looking back to fabulous views of Minack Theatre nesting against the cliff face. It is a continuous up and down and around coves and headlands, through a couple of woodlands. Past Lamorna Cove, the Path skirts the windswept wilderness that is Kemyel Crease Nature Reserve before arriving at the quaint harbour village of Mousehole, with its narrow streets. The Path continues more or less alongside the road all the way to Penzance, with great views of St Michael's Mount in the distance. As you pass through Newlyn, note the large number of fishing fleet in the harbour.
The arrival of the railway brought tourism to Penzance. It is still a popular holiday destination with families, who are attracted to its long stretches of sandy beach, galleries and history. Penzance also offers the option of a rest day to visit the Isles of Scilly, a cluster of islands off the Cornish coast, only five of which are inhabited. A daily sailing on the Scillonian operates from Penzance from March to November and it is also possible to fly from either Land's End or Newquay airport. From here, it is an easy walk to St Michael's Mount, which you see perching off the shores of Marazion. It is a magnificent sight to behold. Legend has it that the mythical giant, Cormoran, lived there and regularly pilfered nearby villages until his premature demise at the hand of a young boy. The Path to Portleven is like a crescending roller-coaster: gentle at first, becoming more difficult, deeper and steeper. It skirts round a number of pretty coves and the beaches of Perran, Kenneggy and Praa Sands. Just past Praa Sands, around Rinsey are more relics from Cornwall's mining past.
The Path across Porthleven Sands is relatively gentle. A couple of miles into the walk is Loe Pool, a SSSI and the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall. It was once a tidal inlet and boats had sailed up to Helston, 2 miles inland, but heavy storms had created a bank of shingles, Loe Bar, cutting it off from the sea. The sea here is dangerous and has claimed many ships over the centuries; note the memorial to the 100 plus crew of HMS Anson. At Gunwallow Fishing Cove, sandy beaches give way to rugged rocks and cliffs. There are also a number of delightful and interesting coves: Poldhu Cove where the Marconi Centre pay homage to the birth of modern day communication when the first transatlantic radio signal was transmitted 1901; Mullion Cove with a harbour and village. The best of all though must be Kynance Cove with a white sandy beach, turquoise water and multi-coloured rock stacks; it is one of the most beautiful stretch of coastline in the world. The Lizard is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, renowned for its rare clovers and heathers and colourful serpentine rocks. As you approach the headland, there is superb view of the village, which is further inland.
Lizard Point is the most southerly point on mainland Britain and there follows a lush and generally sheltered coastline with delightful coves and headlands. The Lizard Lighthouse has for many centuries guided many a ship safely around this most treacherous coast. Watch the sea hammer into the 100 metre deep hole that is the Devil's Frying Pan, a 800 year old collapsed sea cave, before exploring the little fishing village of Cadgwith with its narrow roads and thatched cottages, nesting in the cliffs. Pass the disused buildings of an old serpentine mine at Poltesco on the way to Kennacks Sands for a low cliff and small valley walk over gorse and heather scrubs to Coverack.
Coverack is a lovely fishing village with a small harbour and a long stretch of beach across the bay. It is a low cliff walk from Coverack, not much above sea level. It passes briefly through a wood, and, after Lowland Point, Dean Quarry, which until recently was busy with activities. As the Path rounds Dean Point, the treacherous Manacles Reef is visible a mile from shore; many a ship have been lost there, sailing in and out of Falmouth. At Godrevy Cove, the Path detours inland before coming back out to sea briefly at Porthoustock. It swings back inland and follows a road for much of the way to Porthallow - which marks the halfway point of the South West Coast Path. Climb steeply out of Porthallow for a low cliff walk to Nare Point. Enjoy the splendid views across Gillian Harbour and Creek, the River Helford estuary and Falmouth Bay. Gillian Creek can be crossed on foot at low tide, otherwise, it will entail an extra 2 miles of diversion inland, which is a worthwhile detour, if you like creek walks and if you have the time and energy to spare. Once across, the Path passes the church of St Anthony-in-Meneage to go out to Dennis Head before curving back in along the Helford River with great views of estuary wildlife to Helford. The ferry crossing from Helford to Helford Passage on the other side of the river is a seasonal service. The advisable alternative would be to use a taxi to avoid the 10 mile hike round!
Follow a field path out of Helford Passage through a wood. Pass first, the beach of Trebah Gardens which served as a embarkation point for the 29th US Infantry Division for the assault landing on Omaha beach, part of the D-Day Landings. This is followed by Glendurgan Garden with its 176-year-old cherry laurel maze. At Durgan, the Path climbs through a wood, views of the estuary are temporarily obscured, before levelling out along the edge of fields between tall pines. The views from Rosemullion Head are superb. The Path drops sharply down to the beach at Maenporth Bay before climbing out the other side between hedges and thickly set bushes with occasional glimpses of the sea. The Path runs alongside the road around Pendennis Head, where sits Pendennis Castle, a magnificent fortress built by Henry VIII to defend the country against invaders. Enjoy the superb views from Pendennis Point before making the short walk to the ferry terminals.
Falmouth is a historic sea port, strategically placed on the mouth of Carrick Roads, guarded by Penndennis Castle on one side and St Mawes Castle on the other. Falmouth is a good place for a rest day with the opportunity to take a trip upriver to visit the cathedral city of Truro.
All the following stations are on the route: St Ives, Penzance, Falmouth Town and Falmouth Docks.
The National Rail Map provides a map of the rail network for you to plan your journey.
National Express Coaches stops at the following locations along this stretch of the SWCP: St Ives, Penzance, Porthleven & Falmouth
National Express has a route network with over 1,000 UK destinations. The best value tickets will be secured with advance booking.
St Ives and Penzance are readily accessible by car, both being served by the main A30 road, as is Falmouth being. at the end of the A39 road.
There is generally a good bus network in Cornwall, which means that most coastal villages have at least one bus service per day in the summer. Services in the winter months are less regular. We will be pleased to help you to plan your way round using the local bus services.
Car parking is at a premium in St Ives, but we may be able to arrange car parking at your first nights accommodation in either Penzance or Falmouth for the duration of your walking holiday. This will be subject to availability and may incur a small extra charge.
It is possible to return to the start of the walk using public transport, although it may your journey may involve a number of changes. We will be happy to advise on the public transport options and also to get quotes and book a return journey by taxi for you if you prefer.
The South West Coast Path offers a wide range of options. We have grouped some of our favourite itineraries into the three categories below. Click on each one for details.
Please contact us for a tailored itinerary.
The path is waymarked with the coast path sign and acorn logo. Basic navigational and map reading skills are recommended.
March to October.
We specialise in providing walking holidays in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Pembrokeshire and Somerset. We are enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits and have experienced climbing, canoeing, skiing, caving and potholing and windsurfing as well as walking throughout the UK, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
We use our experience to provide self-guided, pack-free walking holidays, tailored to the requirements and abilities of our clients.