First Impressions of the South West Coast Path

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Encounters with scenic views and low-flying objects on our walk from Thurlestone to South Milton Sands

Our trip to South Devon has started with a series of pleasant surprises. Firstly, the trip from London was a lot shorter and more convenient than I had expected, clocking in at roughly three hours. I had always assumed that “the West Country” was roughly as far away from London as America, in terms of “felt distance” at least, but while that argument may be made for Penzance on the western tip of Cornwall – a whopping six hours by train: about as much time as it takes to fly to New York – Plymouth is actually as easy to reach as Manchester or Liverpool. You board the train, you read your paper, and when you have come to the sports pages, you are already nearly there.

Secondly, not only had the Thurlestone Hotel, our host in South Devon, given us a great room with a wonderful view, it turns out that it’s the very same suite they use as their showpiece on the hotel’s website – albeit minus The Woman In White. Mrs. Easy Hiker graciously volunteered to take over the part, but insisting on her own interpretation (and a more lifelike pose).

"Mrs. Easy Hiker on the balcony of a suite in Thurlestone Hotel"

Well, for me, there can only be one winner in this. (You can make up your own mind and compare her version with the original here. )

The third surprise for us, having left behind an unseasonably cold capital with spring weather straight from the Siberian plains, was the sunshine and the balmy temperature. Not knowing how much we could trust the tongue-in-cheek assurances of the locals that the weather “was always like that in South Devon”, we decided to take advantage of the perfect conditions as much as we could – and set off straight away to explore the very stretch of the beach that we could see from our window.

"Milton Sands along the South West Coast Path in Thurlestone"

Which is – like any stretch of the coast between Minehead in the Bristol Channel and Poole in Dorset – part of the South West Coast Path.

This coast really delivers “what it says on the tin”, and – unlike many coastal paths around the Mediterranean – allows you to keep in touch with the sea at all times, never taking you on long detours through the hinterland. Even where this poses some tricky problems.

"The South West Coast path in Thurlestone shared by golfers and hikers"

Take Thurlestone, for example. There is a golf course right by the coast, established in the 1890s, and they could have made life difficult for hikers, perhaps even insisted on keeping them out altogether, but they did not and allowed them a right of way on a narrow path through their land.

Read: How to Hike the South West Coast Path

Now, hikers and golfers are not the easiest of bedfellows (once a ball landed only a few feet from us on the grass, with a clearly audible thud.) The warnings in certain spots, to “cross the area quickly” are certainly not there for nothing. At any rate, you should always have an eye on the players who are about to tee off. Just by watching them swing, you may, after a short while, feel confident enough to identify those who are most likely to be spraying a few foul balls into the stands. (Observed: not everybody on the course has the perfect follow-through motion of a Tiger Woods.)

Originally, golf course and hiking trail were much further apart, but circumstance has brought them together: several metres of the coastline have crumbled away over the years, and this process of erosion is, of course, far from finished. This is something to think of, too, the next time you feel tempted to step right on the edge of the path for that unique view of the cliffs underneath you.

"Beach in Thurlestone along the South West Coast Path"

After little more than a mile, we reached South Milton Sands and its monumental stone arch …

"Arch of the South Milton Sands in Thurlestone"

… a great introduction to the many beauty spots of the South West Coast Path.

Having made the last part of our way down by the beach …

"Easy Hiker leaving the sandy beach of South Milton Sands in Thurlestone"

… we decided to return on the trail proper – which led us through the South Milton Ley, a nature reserve run by the Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society.

"View by the South Milton Ley in Thurlestone"

Thanks to the (excellent) website of the South West Coast Path, we had been prepared for great coastal views and panoramas over the ocean, but that was an added bonus for us – our final surprise of the day, so-to-speak.

"Our first impressions of the South West Coast Path"

Our first impressions of the South West Coast Path has left us wanting to see more!

Our first two days in South Devon, on the invitation of the South West Coast Path National Trail Agency, was spent as guests of the Thurlestone Hotel, a four-star luxury spa hotel.

10 comments to First Impressions of the South West Coast Path

  • I absolutely and totally agree, Charles. And thanks for dropping by.

  • Charles

    The most underrated coast in the world. Had the pleasure of visiting and working in Devon/Cornwall in the 70’s. Cheers from Georgia(USA) !

  • You really should, Leigh, even if it’s just part of it. You’d love it!

  • My daughter did several hundred miles of the path but she had a lot of rain. Still the photos are marvelous and the scenery looks divine. I’d love to hike at least part of it.

  • It is a lovely corner in the UK, for sure. We wouldn’t use any other but train to get here. It’s really the most civilized way to travel. And the Devon cream tea was Mrs Easy Hiker’s dream come true.

  • Love this part of England. Been there lots, both Cornwall and Devon – but not exactly here. Looks gorgeous; something to consider for next time, for sure. Taking the train from London is a much better idea than driving. Last summer it took an age just to get out of the general vicinity of Heathrow.

  • It was a rather short train journey time. I always thought it would take more than 3 hours to get there, but I was thinking of Penzance.

  • Lovely stuff. Not done it for years but it’s a v civilsed train journey too, if I remember rightly.

  • It is very beautiful here, Jeff! Another place for you to consider visiting.

  • Looks like a beautiful region to explore. Gorgeous pics too!

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