When you think of epic hikes, it’s easy to conjure up images of America’s great Appalachian Trail or the Camino de Santiago in Spain. But just 60 miles west of Bristol, you’ll find the starting point for one of the most spectacular and adventurous long-distance hiking routes in the world.
The South West Coast Path is the UK’s longest National Trail, stretching 630 miles along magnificent coastline through Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. Unless you have a month or two to spare, the path is best completed in stages, over day trips, weekend breaks, or longer walking holidays. Last spring, I took on the first section of the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Porlock and was instantly hooked.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan your own day hike…
Hiking from Minehead to Porlock
Distance: 9 miles/14km
The South West Coast Path starts in the costal town of Minehead in Somerset, on the edge of Exmoor National Park. The nearest train station is 12 miles away in Taunton and from here, the 28 bus runs direct to Minehead in less than 90 minutes.
Alternatively, there’s a public carpark right next to the trailhead on Quay West and plenty of pay and display spaces along Quay Street. This is also where you’ll find the sculpture marking the start of the trail – it’s impossible to miss the giant pair of map-clutching steel hands, emerging from the ground! After stopping for an obligatory photo or two, follow the paved waterfront path towards Minehead Harbour, passing quaint fishermen cottages as you go.
You will soon come to a turning on the left – climb up through steep woodland, following the signs for North Hill. As you zigzag your way along the shaded path, you’ll see the Bristol Channel and the Welsh coastline stretching out in front of you, between the trees.
Once you emerge from the woods, you’ll be greeted with beautiful clifftop views and the open moors of Exmoor National Park. Even on a sunny Saturday, we had the path all to ourselves, which made this section of the trail all the more wild and wonderful.
Soon, the path splits into two and you can choose to continue along the standard route, or take the ‘Rugged Cliff Top Path’, which leads you closer along the cliff-edge. We opted for the standard route, through pretty farmland and shrubby moorland, with nothing but grazing sheep and the sound of our own footprints to keep us company. This area is part of the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate, which makes up 12,000 stunning acres of Exmoor National Park.
In good old English fashion, the weather turned just as we approached the best viewpoint along the trail – Selworthy Beacon. From here, you can see right across the Channel and down to Bossington Beach. If you’re lucky, you may even be joined by some friendly Exmoor ponies.
The trailhead descends steeply back down to Bossington – a lovely little hamlet, characterised by thatched cottages and quaint tea rooms, including the famous Kitnors Kitchen. Cross the footbridge into the village and admire the chocolate box houses, before continuing the short distance along the trail to Porlock Bay and the charming harbour settlement of Porlock Weir.
We chose to end our hike in Porlock instead – another quintessential English village, with a good selection of shops, traditional pubs and tea rooms. We treated ourselves to a well-earned cream tea at the charming Home Cook Cafe, before catching the no. 10 bus back to Minehead Parade (the bus departs from from ‘Parson Street Junction Church’ and takes about 15 minutes).
The hike from Minehead to Porlock is a stunning introduction to the South West Coast Path and will no doubt make you want to explore much more of this coastline trail. For more information and advice on other sections of the trail, take a look at the official South West Coast Path website. Or for other beautiful hikes and day trips, take a look at my U.K. travel guides.