Walking the South West Coast Path: My experiences
Ever since my experience of trekking the Great Wall of China last year, I have wanted to go on another trekking holiday. Not only do I love walking and hiking, I also find it helps my back whilst keeping me fit. Plus it’s a great way to relax and reflect. So this year, I decided to push myself (again!) and my friend and I took on the South West Coast path in Cornwall. Now, we didn’t walk the whole of this path, as it is 630 miles, which would take a month or two to complete.
As we only had a week, we decided to walk a section of the path (69 miles), but due to VERY bad and dangerous stormy weather (unfortunate) we had to cut some of the walks short (more on this later). Despite this, we still managed to walk around 34 miles in 4 days. And with some very challenging terrain and bad weather, I think this was pretty good going 🙂
We based ourselves in Penzance and got an apartment via Cornish Escapes (Air B n B are also very good for apartments etc). The reason we chose Penzance was because the bus links are very good from there, and this enabled us to catch a bus each morning to where we would start our walk and then catch a bus back to Penzance in the evening.
You could of course choose to stay in a different place each night, but with my back I wanted to avoid carrying all my stuff on the walks, so this option suited us better. We loosely followed the St Ives to The Lizard route, detailed on the South West Coast Path website, but some of the walks were cut short or adapted due to the storms we had.
Day 1: Mousehole to Marazion (7.5 miles)
We started with a fairly easy walk on day 1. Easy in the sense that it was mostly on the flat, walking on tarmac along the seafront. This walk was supposed to start at Lamorna and be 9.2 miles, but instead we got the bus to a place called Mousehole and started there which made it about 7.5 miles. This is because the weather was bad, with strong winds and the walk from Lamorna was across rugged cliffs, which we thought might have been a wee bit dodgy. So instead we missed this bit out and got the bus from Penzance to Mousehole (after I spent 5 minutes laughing at the name!) and started the walk from there.
I’d never been to Mousehole before – it was a cute little place. A tiny fishing village full of charm with a pretty harbour and a few shops, pubs and restaurants.
We had a quick look around (there wasn’t much there) and then began our walk on the South West Coast Path, following the signs to Newlyn. Apparently, Newlyn is the third largest fishing harbour in Britain and was also very pretty. What I loved about walking the South West Coast path is that you come across some charming little places that you might not have seen otherwise. We carried on through Penzance and along the seafront to Marazion, passing the famous St Michael’s Mount along the way.
The views were amazing and we finished our walk with a well deserved cider in a local pub, before getting the bus back to Penzance and planning our day 2!
Day 2: Pendeen to Lands End (11.5 miles)
Well, this one was more challenging and the views – WOW. We got the bus to Pendeen and started there. It was definitely more remote here and it was mostly walking across the clifftops with a few rough ascents and descents.
It started with walking through an old mining district before leading around Cape Cornwall and finished at Sennen Cove, which was a lovely beach.
However, from here we walked another couple of miles to Land’s End to catch the bus, as we’d missed the last bus from Sennen Cove.
Day 3: Gurnards Head to St Ives (abandoned due to very bad weather!)
So today we started our walk in the middle of nowhere (literally!) at a famous pub called the Gurnards Head. Which I will forever remember as the pub where I dropped my phone on the concrete floor and smashed the screen (hooray!) There is literally nothing else around here, apart from the pub, which is bright yellow so you can’t miss it. Anyway, after a swift half of Cornish cider, we decided to brave the elements and begin our walk.
Even before we started, the wind was pretty strong. This section of the South West Coast path is rated as “Severe” in the Challenging stakes as it is one of the toughest sections of the entire path, due to rocky and boggy ground. It is also very remote and the path can be narrow and rough, plunging up and down the cliffs on the sea edge.
We managed to do almost 3 miles of our planned walk before the weather took a turn for the worse. The fog dropped, the wind picked up and it started raining really heavily. The winds were so strong it felt too dangerous to continue, with us climbing up and down slippy rocks right next to the rough sea. So we made the decision to turn back and head up to the nearest village which was called Zennor.
There wasn’t much there apart from a church and a cafe but we took shelter in the cafe and had some lunch before deciding to get the bus to St Ives. Which would have all been fabulous if there were buses running from Zennor to St Ives. As we were now out of season, we soon realised that there were no buses. And we had no service on our phones as we were in such a remote location.
We weren’t sure what else we could apart from start walking towards St Ives, along the road. It wasn’t ideal as cars came pretty fast down this road and it was twisty and turny so potentially dangerous for us, but it was that or braving the coast path again which wasn’t really an option in the weather. Luckily as we walked along the road in heavy rain towards St Ives, a nice man stopped and gave us a lift to St Ives. He literally saved our lives that day!
Safe to say, once in St Ives we enjoyed a large, stiff drink 🙂
Day 5: Marazion to Porthleven (11.5 miles)
We had a day off from walking on day 4 – mainly as the weather was so bad! We did manage to see a couple of nice places on our day off from walking though, including Porthcurno where there is the famous outdoor theatre on the cliff. We saw a pretty beach here and spotted some dolphins which was cool, before getting drunk in a pub in Penzance. 😀
So anyway, back to day 5.. I was a tad hungover for this walk, which was not ideal as it was pretty long and challenging! This section of the South West Coast Path is actually graded as Moderate to Strenuous so yeah, it wasn’t easy.
That being said, I think it was my favourite section that we walked simply because of the stunning views. Much of this walk is through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there is a mix of terrain, including level walking, narrow paths up and down cliffs, rocky sections and sandy beaches.
We came across an amazing beach on this walk – it was our favourite one that we came across during our trip (Praa Sands). It was so chilled and hidden away from the tourists, it reminded me of some of the beaches in Sydney, Australia.
After a brief rest on this beach watching the surfers, we continued on towards Porthleven. This was quite a challenging section of the path with some tiring climbs for our now aching legs – we were so glad to see Porthleven come into view I can tell you!
Porthleven is a pretty fishing village and we had a well deserved drink here followed by a beautiful seafood meal for dinner. 🙂 Perfect day!
My tips for walking the South West Coast Path
- Take layers – if you are walking the path in the Autumn like we were, you need layers. We experienced all seasons in one walk, every day! One minute it was sunny and warm, the next it was freezing, then it was raining heavily! As a result you need to prepare for all seasons and eventualities. I took waterproofs, thin fleeces, neck warmer, a headband which covered my ears (needed due to the wind), my running t-shirts (wicking material), walking trousers (full length, waterproof and shorter ones), walking boots, walking socks, sunglasses, suncream. Yes, you need it all!
- Don’t be afraid to turn back – if the weather is bad, it can be dangerous on some of the routes.
- Plan your routes before you set out – make sure you can get a bus back to where you need to be. the buses run less frequently out of season.
- Buy a weekly bus pass – if you are using the buses. You will save loads this way and you download the pass to your phone, nice and easy and allows you unlimited travel on the Kernow buses.
- Take a map if you have one – the South West coast path is well sign posted for the most part, however there were some bits where we weren’t sure which way to go on some of the routes.
So there you have it, this was my adventure in Cornwall last week! I would love to go back when the weather is better and attempt more of this beautiful path. If you are in Cornwall/Devon I would thoroughly recommend walking parts of this path as the views are simply amazing 🙂
I had scoliosis surgery in 2010 and blog about my experiences living with scoliosis. My aim is to raise awareness of scoliosis and help and inspire others with the condition.