Clovelly to Welcombe on the South West Coast Path Walking

At a whopping 630 miles the South West Coast Path (SWCP) is by far the longest of our official National Trails, and a real classic. But rather than tackle the whole thing in one go most walkers nibble at it in bite-sized chunks. Starting at the historic and almost-too-perfect fishing village of Clovelly, the day-long stretch described here is among the best and wildest of the entire SWCP, following the rugged Culm Coast to the outermost point of the Bristol Channel and on down the weatherbeaten Atlantic seaboard. With its wave-washed slabs, sharp fins and tottering headlands the rock scenery is continually impressive, and keen climbers will particularly enjoy checking out the many highlights. But it's not all about the rock; there are dense mossy oakwoods and breezy clifftop pastures too - plus waterfalls, hidden coves and booming surf. You might even find yourself a cream tea along the way. Does coastal walking get any better than this?
Before getting underway it's worth making your way into Clovelly, where the cobbled 'high street' (car-free) leads steeply downhill between fishermen's cottages to the stone-built harbour. It's a fascinating, ancient place - but probably best enjoyed outside the tourist season. For more info on the whole 630 miles of the SWCP see here:

Heading from Hartland Quay towards St Catherine's Tor   © Dan Bailey -
Heading from Hartland Quay towards St Catherine's Tor
Fetching Map

Detailed description

SS3149624910 At a bend on the road above Clovelly go left through a gate (signed for the coast path), then follow the trail northwest along the edge of the escarpment, through deep woods and open pastures. Pass an unusual carved wooden shelter, and the spectacular wooded clifftop of Gallantry Bower (watch out - the edge is unfenced and it's a long way down). From here descend to a track junction in woodland teeming with pheasants, where the SWCP bears left away from the cliff edge to rejoin the coastline down at the secluded bay of Mouth Mill.

SS2983126531 Tide permitting, head out onto the bouldery beach to see Rock, a spectacular sea stack with two huge natural rock windows. Return to the SWCP, cross the stream, walk a short way inland and then cut right to climb steeply out of the wooded coombe. Cross open pastures on Brownsham Cliff, and at a path junction go right to descend steep zigzags into another narrow wooded coombe. Cross the stream and climb the far side, bearing right at any trail junctions to stay on the SWCP. Regain open ground up on Windbury Head, site of an ancient hillfort.

SS2863126594 Continuing west, a long easy stage leads through a succession of hedge-lined cow pastures on the cliff edge overlooking the sea, with the island of Lundy floating on the western horizon and the South Wales coast far out to your right. Beyond a point at Titchberry the SWCP loops around the rim of spectaular Shipload Bay, then leads past the mushroom-shaped tower of a radar station overlooking Barley Bay to reach the high neck of land overlooking Hartland Point. If you want an exciting detour here there's a bit of scrappy scrambling onto the sharp rocky peak close at hand, affording a seagull's-eye view down to the whitewashed lighthouse on the tip of the point.

SS2317327555 At Hartland Point the coast makes a 90-degree turn south, marking an abrupt change from the comparative shelter of the Bristol Channel to the open Atlantic. This next stage has the most remarkable of the rock scenery. Follow the edge over Blagdon Cliff and Upright Cliff, then descend into the steep coombe beyond. On the south side of the bay is the mini mountain of , a steep ridge with some impressive overlapping slabs. Head inland briefly to a bridge over the stream. Climb out of the coombe and then turn right on a 4WD track that leads down into the fold between Smoothlands and the mainland proper; it's worth detouring up to the ridge crest for the view over its north face.

SS2247226354 Back on the SWCP, pass the craggy headland of , then climb steeply up onto Blegberry Cliff. Beyond there's a short descent into yet another coombe, where there's a waterfall and path access to the shoreline below. Another quick up-and-over leads into the valley of the Abbey River. Pass a house, cross a footbridge over the stream, and then climb west onto with its incredible slabby north wall (home to recent testpiece The Walk of Life). Continue over Warren Cliff, passing a ruined tower to join the road down to the pub at .

SS2231624712 The SWCP continues along the coast from the car park just above the pub. Pass the striking flat-topped headland of and head towards St Catherine's Tor, another amazing mini-mountain cut in half by the sea. Climb it if you like, but by this stage most people will be happy not to add another 80m ascent to the day. Instead the SWCP runs through the unusual hidden valley behind the Tor, from where it's another up-and-over to the idyllic grassy valley above . There's a fabulous waterfall here, and if the tide's low the beach is worth a stop too.

SS2258723618 Head inland briefly and cross a bridge over the stream. There's now a choice of routes - the clifftop path over Swansford Hill or the inland variant up an unspoilt little valley. The two strands rejoin after a few hundred metres. Now continue south along the crumbly cliff edge - there are no more sneaky dips for a while, just easy level striding. Meet a minor road at Sandhole Cross, and follow it briefly.

SS2205120733 The coast path soon leaves the road, cutting right through fields back to the cliff edge. Pass various radio masts on Nabor Point, then climb to Embury Beacon, where the ramparts of an iron age fort are still clearly visible. Continue over Knap Head, then make the steep descent to the stream and car park in the floor of the beautiful Welcombe valley. Below is Welcombe Mouth, another great beach at low tide.

SS2132317953 There's one last climb to go, a tiring plod up to the pastures on the clifftop south of Welcombe Mouth. Now if you really want a challenge try carrying on from here all the way to Bude, with loads more ups and downs and yet more stunning cliff scenery all the way; or maybe you could do that tomorrow and head to the pub instead. For this more sensible option go left on a field-margin path to meet a minor road at Mead. Turn right onto this, and follow it round to Darracott, where there's an excellent pub and various places to stay (see accommodation).

This has been viewed 8,009 times

Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email