An eclectic mix of landscapes: high cliffs are interwoven with long stretches of sandy beach and rugged headlands with urban landscaping. It is also greener and lusher with more woodland walking than in Cornwall. We start with an interesting urban walk around the docks and history of Plymouth. There are several ferry crossings, some of which are seasonal, e.g. the Yealm and the Avon, so careful planning is needed. At the Erme, we can arrange a taxi to avoid you having to wait for low tide! There are four miles of sandbank to content with at Slapton Sands. At Strete and Stoke Fleming, the Path leaves the coast completely! The towns and villages alo tend to be larger than those in Cornwall but no less beautiful. Salcombe and Dartmouth on the mouth of estuaries, Brixham and Torquay on headlands. The area around Torbay is quite built up and it even has its own milder micro-climate. The famous Jurassic Coast also starts/ends here in Devon! This fragile and beautiful coastline has produced some of the most amazing rock features, notably the undercliffs near Beer.
Plymouth played an important role in Britain's naval history and the Coast Path passes many of these historical reference points. 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. Leaving behind the city of Plymouth, the Path skirts around Mount Batten Tower an impressive 30 foot high circular artillery fort, with tremendous views around the Sound. The Path climbs gently along Jennycliff Bay to Staddon Point. Looking inland are a number of former military fortifications, most of which are now derelict. Bovisand Bay is exquisite, with three beaches at low tide. It is an easy low cliff walk round a rugged shoreline to Wembury.
Shortly after leaving Wembury beach, cross the River Yealm at Warren Point. A ferry provides a seasonal, restricted service to Noss Mayo. It is a good track leaving from the jetty, for which you have a certain Lord Revelstoke to thank. He had it built as part of a carriage drive in the 1880s. Once through Passage Woods and Brakehill Plantation, the view is splendid and extensive, which makes up for the distance to Mothecombe. Nearing Mothecombe, the Path dips up and down more frequently and steeply. St Anchorite's Rock is popular with climbers, buzzards and kestrels. Rocks jut out of the sea at Butcher's Cove and Bugle Hole. The Erme can only be waded across for one hour at low tide, otherwise you will need a taxi to take you around, to avoid a 9-mile detour. Once over, at Wonwell Court, the stroll out along the estuary is followed by a serious number of ascents and descents. The distance from Wembury to Bigbury does not look far on the map but the constant ups and downs will make it feel more than doubled!
It is worth visiting Burgh Island while you are at Bigbury. You can stroll across the causeway at low tide or use the marvellously quaint sea tractor. The island inspired Agatha Christie to write "Evil Under the Sun" and was used as the location for the 2002 TV adaptation with David Suchet playing the role of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Back on the Path, you will have to cross the River Avon before a tremendous stretch of cliff walking with uninterrupted, extensive views; low level to start with, getting progressively steeper and higher! A ferry operates a seasonal, restricted service between Bigbury (Cockleridge) and Bantham, though not on Sundays! It is not advisable to wade cross it; not even at low tide! From Bantham, the cliff walk to Thurlstone reaches a height of 61m (200ft) and offers a tremendous view back across the estuary and to Burgh Island. A long wooden footbridge over sea marshes connects South Milton Beach and Thurlestone beach. From Thurlestone, look out to the bay for the arch-shaped rock formation that gave the area its name and also the jumble of rocks, called "The Books". The Path climbs to Beacon Point before dropping down to the picturesque Hope Cove, passing the villages of Outer Hope and Inner Hope, along the way.
The Path climbs very steeply up from the Cove before turning out to Bolt Tail. On a good day you can see as far down as Dodman Point to the South, inland to Dartmoor and the spire of Malborough to the east. It is then a tremendous 6.5 miles of cliff top walk to Bolt Head - thankfully with not too many ups and downs! The views from the cliff top of Bolberry Down, in particular, is far reaching. Approaching Salcombe are the exotic garden of Overbecks and the gorgeous beaches of South Sands and North Sands, protected by velvety wooded hills. The view of Salcombe coming down from the road is breath-taking.
Salcombe is a lovely town that sits on a hill close to the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary. The views from the harbour are tremendous. The route starts with a ferry ride to East Portlemouth on the other side of the estuary. The Path climbs out through a wood to the Bar, the stretch of water on the mouth of the estuary. The Path undulates from here to Prawle Point, the southernmost point of Devon. As you walk away from Prawle Point, look back to see the arch under the Point. Note some wonderful names along the way: The Bull, Pig's Nose and Gammon Head. The walk to Start Point is gentler above a rocky shoreline. The cliffside continues to climb inland, so although not much views inland, the views font and back are tremendous. The Path comes out at the top end of the pinnacle ridge that runs all the way down to Start Point and turns uphill on a tarmac path. There follows a rolling high cliff walk to Torcross. Along the way is the ruined village of old Hallsands, which many regards as the tragic result of man's interference with mother nature. Originally a fishing village of 37 houses and 128 inhabitants with a store and a pub, the dredging of shingles from its beaches had removed a natural protection against strong winds and seas. Over the course of one night, on 26 January 1917, the remaining 28 houses were washed away, leaving only one house standing. Although, no lives were lost, the villagers lost their livelihood and were left homeless. And it would seem that it may not be long before the last remaining house too, falls into the sea.
At Torcross, a battered American Sherman tank stands on the western edge of Slapton Lee. The tank commemorates the unnecessary loss of lives in April 1944, when over 900 US servicemen lost their lives practising for the "Operation Tiger" D-Day landings. An ambush by a German E-boat flotilla on a convoy of large tank landing ships had resulted in the death of 638 servicemen in the seas, bodies floated to the shores. Worse was to come when many hundreds more were killed by friendly fire on the beach, as live ammunition was used to simulate real battle conditions! A four mile natural shingle ridge separates the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley from the sea. The Lake is a nature reserve popular with birdwatchers. At the end of Slapton Sands, the Path climbs through an overgrown wooded area to join a rather busy road! It turns in to the village of Strete, before descending back to the coast, at Blackpool Sands. This shingle beach was the scene of an even earlier bloodshed when a strong force of French knights, intent on capturing Dartmouth, were defeated in 1404. The Path climbs away from the coast again, to Stoke Fleming! It does eventually regain the coast above a group of rocks with the lovely name of "Dancing Beggars". It then rounds the headland with lovely views across the Dartmouth estuary mouth before descending on road to Dartmouth. The impressive Dartmouth Castle is constructed on the narrowest point of the Dart Estuary. It, together with Kingswear Castle on the east side of the Estuary, defended Dartmouth from attacks. Gallants Bower, higher above Dartmouth Castle, is one of few surviving Civil War military sites; Royalists had built a fort to defend against Parliamentarian attacks. It was demolished in 1650, following the Royalist defeat.
Dartmouth is a lovely little town. The deep water and its position on the mouth of the Dart made it a safe and natural harbour for cross-channel journeys, and ships sailed from here to the Holy Land to fight in the 2nd and 3rd Crusade. The surrounding steep hills had, however, made settlement difficult. It was a series of land reclamation from the river over the centuries that has enabled Dartmouth to grow to what it is today. A number of ferry services operate daily between Dartmouth and Kingswear, on the other side of the estuary. Kingswear is a quaint little village on a steep hill, with its own marina and the Dartmouth and Paignton Steam Railway ends here. The Path leaves Kingswear on a road passing above Kingswear Castle. The Dart can be glimpsed between houses and trees. The Path passes through a long stretch of woodland till Outer Froward Point. From here, it is more or less a high cliff walk to Berry Head with spectacular views of cliffs and headlands in the Path ahead and occasional steep drops to beaches and secluded valleys. Berry Head National Nature Reserve is worth a detour. It is the site of an Iron Age fort, two Napoleonic forts and the shortest lighthouse set on the deepest and highest point on Britain. It is then a short descent by road to Brixham harbour.
Brixham harbour is charming with its traditional cottages. A replica of the Golden Hind sits alongside fishing boats and pleasure boats. This is the home of the Brixham trawler, only a few of which remain, that enabled fishermen to travel further and stay at sea longer to increase their catch. Enjoy the superb views along both ends of the Bay; although houses and high rise apartments have replaced rugged cliffs and rocks, it is no less attractive, with bright red sandstones adding colour to the coastline. Pass Churston Cove, the Path rises to a wooded walk beside a golf course to the beaches of Elberry cove and Broadsands. From the other end of the beach, the path runs parallel to the steam railway line for a while at Goodrington and then along the promenade at Paignton. From Livermead, the Path runs alongside the road, all the way to Torquay with splendid views of Torbay.
Torquay would not look out of place on the French Riveria. Grand Victorian villas and terraces and penthouse apartments perch above the town; beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian houses, cafes and restaurants line the seafront, whilst the gleaming white yachts of the rich fill its marina. The Path follows the road for much of the time around the Bay but does not get as far out as Hope's Nose. After Brandy Cove, it drops well below the main road, and for a while it feels as though you have left Torquay already and are back to the drama of a coastal walk with steep high cliffs and sandy coves, some of which through mature woodlands. Round Black Head, the salmon pink Long Quarry Point draws your eyes: protruding into the sea like the head of a crocodile. The view across Walls Hill Downs to Babbacombe is tremendous. Babbacombe Cliff Railway connects Oddicombe Beach to the outskirts of St Mary's Church. For the next four miles, the Path runs first alongside a golf course for a while, undulates through woodlands and then below farmland, through the little village of Maidenhead, finally arriving at Shaldon.
Shaldon is a lovely village with quaint thatched cottages and even a bowling green. Some of the land that it sits on had once been reclaimed from the River! The view up river and to Teignmouth across the other side of the estuary is tremendous, but then so is the view looking back to Shaldon. An all year round service operates between Shaldon and Teignmouth, but Shaldon Bridge a little further up the estuary, is an acceptable alternative in bad weather. Grand Georgian houses line the length of the promenade on Teignmouth's sea front and a lovely Victorian pier reaches out into the sea. The Path follows a railway line built by the great engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Dawlish Warren. It is a brilliant feat of engineering, built into the cliffs, close to the sea; there is an alternative route when tide renders the Path impassable. Between Teignmouth and Dawlish Warren is the town of Dawlish. It offers a mixture of fine Georgian and Victorian architecture and buildings from earlier periods. A charming river runs through the town centre. Dawlish Warren boasts a beach and a nature reserve and golf course on the sand spit, which juts out into the River Exe estuary, almost all the way to Exmouth. The Path and the railway turn upriver to Starcross where a seasonal ferry operates to Exmouth.
Exmouth is a lovely town with a beautiful marina and a seafront lined with grand houses. The Path trails along two miles of sandy beach, along the Promenade to Maer Rocks where it turns off to follow the coastline. Crumbling low cliffs replace the sandy beach at Straight Point. We are now in the renowned Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Some of the oldest rocks date from around 250 million years ago, when a vast river had flowed through here to where Normandy is today! A gentle descent to Budleigh Salterton, which has grown from a fishing village to a quiet coastal town. A footbridge takes you across the Otter Estuary Nature Reserve, a SSSI consisting of mudflats and saltmarshes, home to rare flora, and native and migrating birds. There follows more low level undulating cliff walk.
Sidmouth is a character town with period buildings. An annual folk festival runs in August bringing a riot of colour, music and dance. Coastal erosion is a problem around here and Sidmouth would have probably suffered from the same fate as Hallsands if the seawall had not recently been strengthened and shingle trucked in to replenish where the beach should have been. A sandy beach is now visible at low tide. On the eastern edge of town, further coastal erosion has necessitated a short diversion through residential roads before returning to the cliff. A succession of steep climbs and contour of deep valleys follow, along farmland and woodland paths. Chalky white cliffs make a gradual appearance amongst the red mudstone and sandstone. The Path passes quite close to Branscombe, home of Branscombe Point, a lace-making style. The village had a flourishing lace-making industry from 17th to 19th century, as did much of the area around here. There are spectacular views of chalk pinnacles and wooded slopes around Hooken Undercliff, a result of a landslip in 1790. Beer Head and Seaton Bay comes to view. Beer is a lovely fishing village. Care should be taken when crossing the small stream which runs down its sloping streets. Beneath the chalk cliffs, around the village, is a labyrinth of caves and vast caverns, hewn out by man's hands since the time of the Romans. The beautiful creamy white stone was used in the construction of St Pauls Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle, among other grand buildings. Above the village is the headquarter of Peco, a manufacturer of model railway accessories. Model railway enthusiasts can immerse themselves at the Pecorama exhibition centre and/or drive a light railway. Further along is Seaton, a pretty resort with a mile long arc of pebble beach.
A unique seaside town in East Devon, Seaton sits on the Jurassic Coast and Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site.
All the following stations are on the route: Plymouth, Paignton, Torquay, Teignmouth, Dawlish, Dawlish Warren, Starcross, Exmouth, with the exception of Axminster (Seaton 7.6miles/12.2km)
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 stretchthe SWCP: Plymouth, Brixham, Paignton, Torquay (1.9miles/3.1km from town centre), Teignmouth, Dawlish, Dawlish Warren, Starcross, Exmouth
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 Devon. There are reduced services on Saturdays, and more so on Sundays, public holidays and over the Winter months.
South Devon is readily accessible by car with being close to the M5 motorway and A38 dual carriageway.
We may be able to arrange car parking at your first nights accommodation 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, but may include a catching a few different buses/trains. 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.