Discover our coastal heritage

Along the Coast Path you will discover the evidence left behind from millennia of people living, working and occasionally fighting along our coastline.

To find out more about these settlements, we have produced a series of short videos and walks taking in some of the most interesting sites along the path.

The Coast Path has a long history. Much of it follows the route used by the coastguards and excise officers on the watch for smugglers. Right up until 1913 the whole length of the Path was regularly patrolled by the coastguards in the constant struggle to apprehend lawbreakers. They needed to be able to look down into every bay and cove and as a result, the Path closely hugs the coast providing excellent views but rarely the most direct path between two points.

The resulting history and heritage along the coast is diverse and so we’ve split it into three categories.  If you expand the navigation menu on the right, you'll find details of walks where you see these amazing places for yourself.

Religious and spiritual sites

A number of sites along the South West Coast Path have Bronze or Iron Age burial features known as barrows or tumuli. Coastal cliffs must have provided a very dramatic setting for prehistoric burials and other rituals – as they still do for the churches and chapels from later periods dotted along the Coast Path. Walkers will also come across modern memorials to individuals or their achievements that take advantage of striking locations. Watch our video to find out more.

Defence and offence

The coast has always been the front line for repelling invaders. Forts and castles dating from the Iron Age right through to the Second World War provide some of the most dramatic and obvious man-made structures along the entire length of the South West Coast Path.

Headlands provide excellent vantage points and are comparatively easy to defend. Iron Age forts with earth ramparts and ditches are common on headlands along the South West Coast Path.

In several later periods the need to control the English Channel led to construction of major defences along the south coast of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Some of these were reoccupied during the nineteenth century, and a further ring of forts (‘Palmerston follies’) were created around Plymouth at that time.

The Coast Path also links together numerous traces of Second World War defences. These range from individual pillboxes to an entire deserted village at Tyneham in Dorset. Tyneham was one of two sites depopulated to allow military training to take place, but its inhabitants were never allowed to return. Watch our video to find out more.

Trade and Industry

There is a rich industrial heritage relating to quarrying, mining, lime burning, fishing and boat building along the Coast Path. Trade with other coastal settlements near and far has also taken place over many centuries.

The rocks that have been exploited around the coast of the South West vary from the limestones of Dorset (Purbeck marble and Portland Limestone) and Devon (around Torquay and Plymouth) to slates in North Cornwall and the multicoloured serpentine of the Lizard.

Beam engine houses on rugged cliffs are an icon of the Cornish landscape and often feature on postcards and in advertisements. They are important relics of a distinctive industrial landscape created by hard-rock mining for metals during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Six areas adjacent to the Coast Path are now part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site – the St Agnes Mining District, Portreath Harbour, the ports of Hayle and Charlestown, the St Just Mining District and Trewavas.

Along the whole length of the Coast Path you’ll find the lime kilns that were used to supply burnt lime, in order to sweeten the naturally acid soils to make crops and grass grow better. Watch our video to find out more.