At 35 miles long, the section of the South West Coast Path in Exmoor makes up just over 5% of the entire National Trail. It runs from the Path’s start point at Minehead to Combe Martin in North Devon.
Leave the pavements of Minehead behind as you set off onto the first section of the 630 mile trail, through woodland, along steep cliff tops, farm tracks and up and down beautiful wooded combes with bracken, gorse and bubbling streams.
Exmoor boasts the highest coastline in England with cliffs rising to 250m, 820ft, therefore there are some steep climbs and descents in this section. You can choose to follow the dramatic route known as the ‘rugged’ coast path which runs closer to the coast, or stay more inland on the moor and enjoy the spectacular views from Selworthy Beacon.
There is a lot to look out for, as the Exmoor coast provides a rich habitat for many beautiful and rare species of flora and fauna, including the blackneck moth, red deer, stag beetles and whitebeam trees (relatives of the rowan or mountain ash, unique to Exmoor).
The force of the sea is really evident at the end of your journey, where it is essential to follow the sign-posted paths. In 1996 the natural 6000 year-old shingle ridge across Porlock Bay was breached by a storm, resulting in the dramatic flooding of the fields behind at each high tide. This land is now changing from farmland to saltmarsh, creating a very special habitat for marine life and birds.
Challenging – Moderate with some more strenuous ascents.
In this section the Coast Path, some of which is managed by the National Trust, journeys over dramatic cliff paths, along farm tracks, through fields and beautiful wooded combes with seasonal waterfalls and streams. Leave the open harbour of Porlock Weir and climb the steep slopes into Yearnor Wood.
From Culbone you can choose to follow the clifftop route with spectacular views over Exmoor and across to the Welsh coast, or take the more direct path through ancient Culbone Woods. Either way, this is a dramatic landscape which was almost certainly the inspiration for the descriptions of the wild coastal settings in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and The Ancient Mariner, both written whilst staying on Exmoor.
Challenging – Strenuous. An easy start on tarmac to Castle Rock. There are some challenging climbs, including reaching the summit of Great Hangman – which at 1,043 feet (318 m) is the highest point of the South West Coast Path.
An easy start on tarmac to Castle Rock turns to grassy clifftops, which then lead to the spectacular rock formations of The Valley of Rocks. This is part of R. D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone territory and the landscape is so extraordinary that legend has explained its origin as the acts of the Devil. From here there are some challenging climbs, including reaching the highest point of the South West Coast Path, and lovely views along beautiful stretches following the edge of the land, away from civilisation.
Content credit: South West Coast Path