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Quick facts

  • 630 miles long
  • Britain’s longest trail
  • £1,400 per mile to maintain
  • Over 70% in National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Over 9 million visitors every year
  • Generates over £530 million into the economy

To find out more about our charity’s cause and the threats the Coast Path is facing, please visit our Every Mile Matters campaign page.

General introduction

With 19th century origins as a coastguard patrol route to restrict smuggling, the modern day South West Coast Path is England’s longest waymarked footpath. It runs for 630 miles, from Minehead on the edge of Exmoor to the shores of Poole Harbour and offers the ultimate challenge for the long-distance walker. But the Path is not solely the domain of the endurance walker. Its various segments are enjoyed by many millions of visitors throughout the year, who come to marvel at the natural scenery on offer. This is the true wonder of the South West Coast Path; this single trail connects visitors with some of the finest coastal landscapes to be found anywhere in the world.

Its truly special nature is reflected in the array of official designations it has collected over the years. As it threads its way around the coastline, the Coast Path passes through a number of National Nature Reserves and Heritage Coasts, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve and a Geopark, as well as one National Park. No wonder it’s regularly described as one of the world’s greatest walks and has been listed as the UK’s best walking route by the likes of Walk magazine, Coast magazine and Country Walking among others.

What’s most fascinating about our coastline are the stories that can be revealed within the landscape, from its heritage and geological features to the wildlife and natural scenery. Artists and writers have been inspired to interpret these stories in their work for generations with JMW Turner and Agatha Christie to name but two well-known figures associated with this stretch of coast. It regularly provides the backdrop to TV and film productions, while the ever changing nature, where land meets the sea, is captured on camera by the millions of people that walk the Coast Path every year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I refer to the South West Coast Path?

Wherever possible, the South West Coast Path should be written in full at first mention. After this, it can be shortened to SWCP, Coast Path (in title case) or simply Path. You may also refer to it as the South West Coast Path National Trail or, after it has been written once in full, the Trail. It is not accurate to refer to the Path as the ‘South West Coastal Path’, ‘coastal path’ or ‘coast path’.

What does the South West Coast Path Association do?

The South West Coast Path Association (SWCPA) is the charity that looks after the Coast Path and protects it for the enjoyment of everyone. For almost half a century the SWCPA has been championing the Path to make it one of the world’s greatest trails. As a registered charity, the Association provides information for users of the National Trail and raises funds to improve access for all, coordinating hundreds of projects with the help of the South West Coast Path Trail Partnership. The Trail Partnership was set up in 2013 to co-ordinate work to protect, enhance and promote England’s longest National Trail. The SWCPA coordinates the partnership which comprises: National Trust; Cornwall Council; Devon County Council; Dorset Council; Exmoor National Park Authority; Torbay Council and Plymouth City Council.

Where does it start and finish?

The SWCP is 630 miles long and is the longest established National Trail in the country. Starting at Minehead in Somerset it runs along the coastline of Exmoor, continuing along the coast of North Devon into Cornwall. It follows the entire coastline of Cornwall, goes across the mouth of the River Tamar and continues into Devon. After running along the south coast of Devon it then follows the Dorset coastline before finally ending at Poole Harbour.

What is the landscape the Path passes through like?

As Britain’s longest National Trail, the SWCP wraps its way around the region creating a natural corridor through magnificent landscapes. It boasts an extraordinarily wide variety of habitats such as grassland, heathland, moorland, woodland, sand dunes, mud flats, coastal cliffs and saltwater marsh which support biodiversity. Over 70% of the Path is within a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Not to forget other regional, national and international designations held including; 2 World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Geopark, 5 RAMSAR sites, 7 Special Protection Areas; 13 Marine Conservation Zones; 8 Special Areas of Conservation; and over 50 Local and National Nature Reserves – which all recognise what a special pace this is.

How challenging is the SWCP?

The South West Coast Path offers some of the most challenging yet rewarding walking to be found in the UK. Walking the entire Path includes 115,000 feet of ascent and descent, which is equivalent to scaling Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, four times over. This is equivalent to completing Ben Nevis 26 times and Mount Snowdon 48 times. 

How long does it take to complete?

The majority of people who complete all 630 miles of the SWCP, do so in approximately 6-8 weeks. Our most popular length itinerary, which the South West Coast Path Guidebook follows is 52 days. However, the time people take to complete this Path varies greatly depending on their age, fitness levels, method to complete (i.e. running, walking or Nordic walking) and the amount of time they have available to spend walking the Path.

What is the Fastest Known Time?

The fasted known time to complete all 630 miles is 10 days 12 hours and 6 minutes. This record was set in September 2020 by ultra-runner Kristian Morgan from London who shaved more than 3hrs off the longstanding record held by ultra-runner Damian Hall (set back in 2016). Currently, there is no solo female FKT recorded for the South West Coast Path, although Julie Gardener set a time of 14 days 14 hours and 44 minutes as part of a mixed gender team, running with Mark Townsend in May 2013.