Safety Advice

The organisations responsible for managing the Coast Path have developed these guidelines to help you have a safe walk. Please read and always follow them.

As well as following the Countryside Code, when you are walking the South West Coast Path remember:

Staying safe is your own responsibility - please look after yourself and other members of your group

  • Let someone know where you are going and what time you are likely to be back - mobile phone reception is patchy on the coast.
  • Take something to eat and drink.
  • Informal paths leading to beaches can be dangerous and are best avoided.
  • If you are crossing a beach, make sure you know the tide times so you won’t be cut off and stay clear of the base of the cliff.
  • In areas of mining heritage there may be uncapped mineshafts hidden in the undergrowth near to the path - so if you (or your dog) leave the path, take great care to look out for and stay away from holes or depressions in the ground.

Keep to the path and stay away from cliff edges - please follow advisory signs and waymarks.

Whilst it is tempting to go close to cliff edges to peer over you should stay back from them:

  • as a slip or trip could be fatal.
  • some cliffs overhang or are unstable and this is not always obvious.
  • take particular care when the grass is short, as when wet it can be very slippery.

Take special care of children and dogs – please look after them at all times.

  • Keep your dog under close control - see our dogs on the Coast Path page for more advice.
  • Children and dogs may not see potential dangers – such as cliff edges - especially if they are excited.
  • Do not disturb farm animals or wildlife – walk around cattle not between them, especially if they have calves.
  • If cattle start to act aggressively and chase you and your dog, you should let go of the lead.

Dress sensibly for the terrain and weather - wear suitable clothing and footwear and be ready for possible changes in the weather. For your comfort:

  • Check the weather forecast before you set out.
  • Protect yourself from the sun – sea breezes can hide its strength.
  • On the coast mist, fog and high winds are more likely and can be more hazardous.
  • Wear comfortable footwear with a good grip.
  • If you are going far, take waterproofs and extra clothing, especially in cold weather.

To enjoy your walk, stay within your fitness level – some sections of the Coast Path can be strenuous and/or remote.

  • Plan a walk that suits your fitness level.
  • Find out about the section you plan to walk.
  • Turn back if the walk is too strenuous for anyone in your group.
  • Be aware that the surface of the Coast Path varies and will generally be more natural and more uneven away from car parks, towns and villages.
  • Remember that in remote areas or at quiet times you may not see another person for some time if you are in difficulties.

Top tips for walking near livestock

A herd of cows at South Hole, North Devon, photographed by Anick Graveline.

Cows photographed by Anick Graveline in South Hole, North Devon.

When walking on the South West Coast Path you will inevitably encounter livestock. Livestock on the coastline are doing a wonderful job as conservation grazers keeping the coastal grassland habitat diverse and special. Although only docile animals should be on the Coast Path, animals can be unpredictable, especially if they have young.

Here are some top tips to help you navigate your way along the Path and past roaming livestock:

  • Stop, look and listen when entering land where livestock are present.
  • Move quickly and quietly giving all livestock a wide berth. Avoid putting yourself between animals and their young.
  • Stay alert and keep an eye out for any behavioural changes.
  • Be prepared for livestock to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
  • Keep your dog close on a short lead, and under effective control.
  • If you feel threatened by livestock, let your dog go. Cattle and ponies should follow the dog and not you. You can then catch up with your dog further along the Path.
  • Cattle and ponies are naturally inquisitive, but most will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  • Don't panic, wave your arms or run.
  • Don't put yourself at risk by walking close to livestock. If you cannot see a safe path through, find an alternative route. If cattle or ponies are blocking a path, you're well within your right to find a safe way, away from the Path to avoid them. You should then re-join the footpath as soon as possible when you consider it safe to do so.
  • When walking on land with sheep, always give them a wide berth especially during lambing season.
  • Keep your dog on a short lead and do not let them off in areas with sheep present.
  • Sheep are naturally very nervous and stress can lead to them hurting themselves and unborn lambs.
  • It is an offence to allow a dog to worry sheep. Worrying includes attacking or chasing sheep.

Report any frightening incidents or attacks to the landowner, the highway authority, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), and also the police if it's of a serious nature.

In an emergency dial 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.

To help the emergency services locate you quickly they need to know where you are, so:

  • Learn to read a map to be able to accurately report your position – use What3Words or visit www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk or download the OS Locate app for smartphones.
  • Look out for the small signs with the location and grid reference that are on many fingerposts and signs along the Path.