We’d decided to spend the Easter break walking the first section of the 630-mile South West Coast Path, with a view to possibly walking the whole lot over the course of the next few years (or even decades). We left Minehead in glorious sunshine and spent the next three days walking the full coastline of the Exmoor National Park, an area that none of us had previously visited.
The first section of the path runs through attractive woodland and zig-zags steeply up to the open moorland of Selworthy Beacon. From the start, there were far-reaching views across to the Glamorgan coastline.
We didn’t follow the path over the summit of Selworthy Beacon, but instead opted for the ‘Rugged Alternative Coast Path’, which runs closer to the sea and offers more dramatic views.
The path drops in and out of several combes. In Henners Combe, we encountered a lamb that had somehow found its way out of the field. It was obviously in some distress, as all the other sheep seemed to have been rounded up from the field. I later reported it at the National Park Centre in Porlock and can only hope that the farmer was alerted.
By early afternoon, we were already approaching Porlock, where we were staying the night, so took our time to enjoy the sunshine and the views.
The official route of the coast path bypasses Hurlstone Point, but it looked too inviting to ignore!
Just below the Point are the remains of a Coastguard station, which seems to be as far as most people walk; we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by others, having enjoyed much of the earlier part of the day in relative solitude.
Our second day took us from Porlock to Lynmouth, a much longer stage altogether. Much of the early part of the day was spent in beautiful woodland. Culbone and Embelle Woods are particularly noteworthy, being rare examples of the so-called ‘Celtic Rainforest’, which would once have covered much of the western parts of these islands.
Around the middle of the day, we reached the psychological and more-or-less literal halfway point, when we crossed from Somerset into Devon. Unfortunately it had just begun to rain heavily, a state of affairs that remained for the rest of the day and so no photos were taken. The scenery was as superb as ever, but I think it’s fair to say that we weren’t in the best state of mind to appreciate it!
Happily day three dawned largely bright and sunny, and stayed that way for most of the day, apart from the odd very brief shower. The coast path zig-zags steeply up to Lynton, but no lesser an authority than Richard Gilbert’s Wild Walks directs that ‘walkers should swallow their pride and take the Cliff Railway’, so we opted to do this instead.
Lynton is left via the North Walk, a Victorian promenade, which leads to one of the highlights of the walk, the Valley of Rocks.
Beyond the Valley of Rocks, we were onto a minor road for the next couple of miles, apart from a brief clifftop path around Crock Point. The road is left at Woody Bay, beyond which more woodland and moorland walking leads to the dramatic inlet at Heddon’s Mouth.
At Heddon’s Mouth, it is necessary to descend almost to sea level before climbing back up to around 800 feet.
Beyond Heddon’s Mouth, the route runs mainly across whale-backed moorland hills. The path sticks to the seaward edge of Holdstone Down, rather than crossing the summit, and gives fantastic views all the way.
Holdstone Down is followed by another long descent, before the final pull up to Great Hangman. We certainly felt this climb, coming as it did towards the very end of the walk!
At 1043 feet, Great Hangman is the highest point on the entire South West Coast Path and is also the highest sea cliff on the British mainland. The curious name is thought to be derived from the Celtic am maen, meaning ‘hill of stones’. Given the size of the cairn, it would certainly be apt!
Great Hangman has a twin, Little Hangman, which formed our next objective. This lies a little way off (and uphill of!) the coast path, but it promised to be too good a viewpoint to be bypassed. We weren’t disappointed.
From Little Hangman, it was downhill all the way to our final destination, Combe Martin. Although we were sorry to be coming to the end of three days of superlative walking, we were also elated by the wonderful scenery we’d experienced, and were already planning a return visit to carry on where we left off!
Some photos by Georgina Collins.