South West Coast Path – Minehead To Woolacombe
The South West Coast Path extends 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, taking in the Devon and Cornwall coastlines.
In May this year, 3 of us spent a few days walking the first part of the South West Coast Path. We normally spend the nights in hotels, pubs, youth hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation. On this occasion we hired a lodge at the Hele Valley Holiday Park in the village of Hele, near Ilfracombe.
The 270 mile drive from Manchester took around 5½ hours and upon arrival at Combe Martin we dropped in for a beer at the unique Pack of Cards public house, which as the name implies was built to resemble a pack of cards. Click the link for interesting information on how it was constructed.
Day 1 – Minehead to Porlock Weir (9 miles)
We caught the bus for the almost 2 hour journey to Minehead and made our way to the monument at the starting point of the 630 mile South West Coast Path. The path from the monument goes past the harbour then climbs steadily zig zag uphill in woodland to North Hill. Once out of the woodland the industrial chimneys at Milford Haven and the Pembrokeshire coast could be seen across the Bristol Channel. The stone and grassy path then kept mainly to the high ground until going downhill to Hurlstone Combe. This part of the walk saw the gorse in full bloom.
Eventually the village of Bossington was reached and on seeing what looked like a thatched roof pub we were disappointed to find it was a cafe. We continued to just outside Porlock Weir and took the path to Porlock where salvation in the form of the Royal Oak public house was found. The total ascents for the day were 507 metres/1,663 ft. The bus service in this part of Somerset is unreliable to say the least and after another drink in the Ship Inn we got a taxi back to Hele. The £60 fare was a shock but we conceded it was a long journey. Drinks and a meal at Hele Billy’s Bar and Restaurant, which is highly recommended, finished off the evening.
Day 2 – Porlock Weir to Lynmouth (13.2 miles)
We left our vehicle at Porlock and taxied back from Lynmouth owing to the unavailability of suitable public transport. A big part of this day’s walk on the South West Coast Path was through the ancient Culbone Woods, high above the sea. Oak and Whitebeam were the main tree species in this area. The location, with steep drops and many landslips, was in fact reminiscent of the island of Madeira. On this section we met a guy from Sussex who had planned to complete the whole 630 mile South West Coast Path in 21 days, an average distance of 30 miles per day!
This area is notorious for the ticks that can cause Lyme Disease. With all of us wearing only shorts we were careful when the path became overgrown. Next came Embelle Wood and Yenworthy Wood, then the dramatic Devon coastline came into view. Many wild Exmoor ponies were seen or passed today.
Yenworthy Combe was crossed and then the track climbed to Steeple Start, followed by Wingate Combe near Desolation Point. The lighthouse at Foreland Point came into view, then our destination Lynmouth and above it Lynton, although it was still a good few miles walking yet.
The South West Coast Path continued uphill to the viewpoint at Butter Hill, then Countisbury. The grassy track then headed steadily downhill to the town of Lynmouth, the scene of a disastrous flood with the loss of 34 lives, in August 1952. Today’s total ascents were 1,568 metres/5,144 ft.
Day 3 – Lynmouth to Combe Martin (13.5 miles)
We did today’s walk in the reverse direction, again using a taxi to return to Combe Martin. This was to be the best day’s walking on the trip and also the most strenuous. The path out of Combe Martin climbed relentlessly uphill to Little Hangman, this was a place with great views all around.
A walk along the grassy ridge below Holdstone Hill followed, then it was a steep ascent and descent over Sherrycombe to reach the cairn at Great Hangman, the highest point on the entire South West Coast Path. Many ups and downs followed on the scenic, grassy path overlooking the sea, with steep drops all around.
This was great clifftop walking until the path reached the viewpoint above Heddon’s Mouth where an extremely steep descent, mainly on scree, took us to the valley bottom. The sign for the Hunters Inn ½ mile away was very tempting but we resisted and carried on along the valley floor. A bridge over the river was crossed and then the steep ascent to regain the height followed.
A descent to the road running from the Lee Abbey Estate to Lynmouth was followed by a steady climb to Castle Rock and then the descent into Lynmouth and a welcoming drink or two in the Rising Sun pub at the harbour. Total ascents today were 1,309 metres/4,294 ft.
Day 4 – Combe Martin to Woolacombe (13 miles)
Today’s trek on the South West Coast Path was again a great scenic coastal walk with
ascents of 1,204 metres/3,950 ft. We caught the bus for the short journey to Combe Martin and started the walk at the harbour. The path ran mainly inland until we entered Watermouth, a small inlet and anchorage for boats.
Widmouth Head came next with it’s fine viewpoint of Lundy Island. We entered our base of Hele, went around the shoreline and climbed into the woods leading to Ilfracombe. A 10 minute downpour started and made the ground underfoot quite slippery.
Soon we had great views of Ilfracombe with it’s large harbour sheltering fishing vessels, pleasure craft and the last ocean going paddle steamer, the Waverley. Freshly caught Plaice was consumed from the harbour side chip shop before heading out of the town towards our destination, Woolacombe.
Once out of the town and it’s suburbs the ground became grassy for the next 3 miles. Bull Point and it’s lighthouse, built in 1879, was reached then came the viewpoint at Morte Point. The wide sweep of Woolacombe sands soon came into view and a steep climb up to the road finished this section of the South West Coast Path.
South West Coast Path 2