Generally a remote and wild coastline with the exception of the areas around Falmouth and St Austell, the scenery is spectacular with cliffs that drop straight down to the sea. In places, the Path is lined with hedges and gorse and heathery scrubs. There are also the occasional woodlands that obscure the view. Steep climbs down to and out of bays, some of which sheltering pretty little villages with white washed houses: Portloe, Polperro and Cawsand. The architecture of Pentewan and Charlestown is an interesting break from the traditional fishing cottages. Mevagissey, Fowey and Looe may be larger but their streets are impossibly narrow and steep. Cars are often banned from many of these Cornish villages in the summer months. Here is a pictorial diary recounting the trip from Falmouth to Plymouth by one of our walkers in 2017.
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. The route starts with two ferry crossings: Falmouth to St Mawes then St Mawes to St Anthony's (Easter to October only - the bus and an extra 2.5 miles of walk otherwise! Using a taxi may be quicker!). The Path winds out of St Anthony with great views back across to St Mawes. Carricknath Point offers tremendous views across the estuary to Falmouth. It is also surprisingly steep, a promise of what is to come! It is a bit of a roller coaster of a walk along the Roseland Peninsula: gentle for much of the time with high cliffs towards the end. It is very remote, with only a couple of villages along the way. Views are often obscured by trees and high hedges. Near Zone Point, the southernmost part of the Peninsula, the terrain changes to pasture on one side and scrubby slopes on the other. On the way to Portscatho, Portbeor Beach can be glimpsed as you pass from the top, Towan Beach, however, is much more accessible. The delightful village of Portscatho, with its white washed buildings and narrow streets, suddenly comes to view - like an oasis in the desert. Porthcurnick lies on the northern end of the bay. The Path drops down to the beaches of Porthbean, Pendower and Carne around Gerrans Bay. The cliffs gain height from here and the drops and climbs more frequent and steep. Although Portloe is only three miles away, it will feel longer.
Portloe is a compact little village with white washed houses; the steep-sided valleys, which surround the bay have restricted further expansion. It is therefore a steep climb out of the village, along cliffs that drop straight to the sea! Once out of Portloe, you are in for a day's walk along wild and isolated cliffs with steep descents to the few beaches along this section. The first beach that you come to is at Portholland Cove, followed by Porthluney Cove which has the beautiful Caerhays Castle as a backdrop. The scenery is spectacular. The Path drops down again at Hemmick Cove. A steep climb out to the heather and gorse covered Dodman Point, which at 114m (375ft) is the highest point on the South Cornwall coast. A large, granite cross stands here, it was erected as a navigational aide for boats heading towards Falmouth. A couple more steep rises and falls lead to Gorran Haven with its cluster of white-washed cottages. The Path climbs out along the cliffs above Great Perhaver Beach to Chapel Point, where it drops down to the delightful Colona Beach. The busy fishing harbour village of Mevagissey is only a mile or so away.
Tourism has replaced fishing as Mevagissey's primary industry but it is still a charming place, with its impossibly narrow and steep, medieval streets and alleys. The Path climbs out from the harbour to Penare Point which offers great views back to the cliffs on the north side of the harbour. Looking ahead to Black Head, the view takes in Pentewan with the houses built out of the Pentewan stones and a largish wood above Hallane. It is difficult to imagine that Pentewan was once a busy harbour filled with ships carrying china clay, coal, limestones and timber. Inland are views of the china clay works of St Austell. Past Black Head are the cliffs of Ropehaven a very fragile coastline that is popular with birdwatchers. The Path traverses through the woods above these cliffs, obscuring views of St Austell Bay. It drops to the beach at Porthpean before arriving at the harbour village of Charlestown, a Georgian "new town" built expressly for the export of china clay and copper and still a working port today! Charlestown has an interesting mix of fishing cottages and grand Georgian buildings. A collection of old square-rigged sailing ships fill the inner harbour. The Path continues, passing above the lovely beach at Carlyon Bay on the way to Par.
Par Sands is a busy resort and only two miles to the internationally renowned Eden Project! Par village is more suburban in appearance, as opposed to the more usual cluster of houses found along the coasts of Cornwall! The Path is diverted inland here to circumvent the china clay works. A mile further on is Polkerris, also with a popular beach. Climb out of Polkerris through a wood and out to Gribbin Head. A striking red and white daymark tower identifies the headland to mariners. It is open to visitors in the Summer. The view pass Gribbin Head is beautiful: the inlets to Polridmouth and Fowey, and Polruan sitting on a headland. A low sand bank separates a freshwater lake and Menabilly, the author Daphne du Maurier's former home, from the sea at Polridmouth. It is hard going, through several woodlands, until the wonderfully named Readymoney Cove. The ruins of the 16th century St Catherine's Castle heads the walk down the road to Fowey itself.
Fowey is built on a natural harbour and played an important in the Crusades, when local shipping owners often hired their vessels to the Crown. The streets, like Mevagissey before, are incredibly narrow and steep, except for those along the harbour front. It is also the start/end of Cornwall's own "Coast to Coast" - the Saints Way. After the ferry crossing to Polruan - it runs all year round, except Christmas Day - the Path climbs through its narrow streets to the mouth of the Fowey estuary and skirts the edge of the village on the other side. It is the start of perhaps the toughest and one of the loneliest stretches of the South Cornwall coastal path. The beaches here tend to be small and remote but it is well worth the walk with some tremendous coves, cliffs and headlands. The Path passes above the two beaches in Lantic Bay and heads out to Pencarrow Head before coming back into Lantivet Bay. It is a tough but spectacular four miles to Polperro. The view of this little fishing village, with houses sprawling on its surrounding hills, is a most welcome sight after the long trek.
Despite having to climb out of Polperro, the Path to Talland Bay is easy by comparison, although the view is often obscured by vegetation. Looe is hidden away, pass two headlands along a rocky shoreline. A ferry runs between East Looe and West Looe but it is just as easy to use the seven arch, Victorian stone bridge further up the road to and enjoy the tremendous view upriver.
Looe is a wonderful harbour town; much of West Looe is nestled against the hillside, facilities and shops are around the narrow streets and alleys of East Looe. It boasts the second biggest fish market in Cornwall. A stay here must entail frequenting one of its many restaurants and cafes. It is an easy walk to Millendreath along a tarmac path, passing the residential outskirt of East Looe and Plaidy. The Path to Seaton undulates in and out of woodlands, where the views open out, they are tremendous. Stroll along the sandy, pebbly beach at Seaton and before climbing out to Downberry for a rolling cliff top walk to Portwrinkle.
It is a high cliff walk to Rame Head. At Tregantle Fort, the Ministry of Defence has introduced a permissive path for walkers when the firing range is not being used. The fort is one of many built in the 19th century to defend Plymouth. Otherwise, it is a walk inland along the road to skirt around the fort before continuing on above the long stretch of beach in Whitsand Bay. The Path leaves the road after a mile or so to veer out towards the headland at Rame Head, passing on the way Polhawn fort. It is an easy walk to Penlee Point, after which the Path traverses through woodlands to Cawsand, Kingsand's twin. Kingsand, Cawsand's twin, was, until 1844 boundary changes, in Devon. The old boundary border is opposite the halfway house. It is a good path from the village to Cremyll; open views across Plymouth Sounds to start with, which is then interrupted by patches of woods. Pass Picklecombe, the Path enters completely into a mature woodland through Mount Edgecombe, all the way to Cremyll to take a ferry ride to Plymouth. You have now left Cornwall because the River Tamar is very much the dividing line between the two counties.
Plymouth played an important role in Britain's naval history. The Hoe is where Sir Francis Drake had finished his game of bowls before setting out to defeat the Spanish Armada; a distinctive red and white lighthouse now stands. The Pilgrim Fathers had set sail for the New World from the Mayflower Steps. Out to the sea is Drake's Island, where Sir Francis Drake had set sail to circumnavigate the world. Roundhead prisoners had been held there for leading the rebellion against Charles I. A 19th century strategic forts was built on the island.
All the following stations are on the route: Falmouth Town & Docks, Par, Looe, St Austell (2 miles/3.2km from Charlestown), Plymouth
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: Falmouth, Holmbush (1.4miles/ 2km from Charlestown) & Plymouth
National Express has a route network with over 1,000 UK destinations. The best value tickets will be secured with advance booking.
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.
Falmouth and Plymouth are readily accessible by car.
We may be able to arrange car parking at your first nights accommodation in 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, as both Falmouth and Plymouth have railway stations. 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, but here are a few of our favourites. Please click on each one for more details.
We are not offering South West Coast Path walking holidays in 2020.
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, 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.