Mevagissey harbour  Visiting Cornwall Logo - background is part of Bodmin Moor as seen from Jamaica Inn at Altarnun. The road in the picture is the main A30 through Cornwall. Eden Project near St Austell 

The South West Coast Path

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The South West Coast Path is 630 miles long and stretches from Minehead in the north of Somerset to Poole Harbour in the east of Dorset (or the other way if you are travelling clockwise.

Within Cornwall there are about 290 miles of the coast path, crossing seven rivers and climbing about 55,000 feet in total (and going down again a very similar distance).

The origin of many sections of this pathway starts with the Revenue men in the 18th century. The coast pathways linked together harbours, inlets and coves that the Revenue men needed to visibly check every day. Using a path close to the cliff edges allowed them to see into the coves and inlets long before they arrived there. The paths were also used by the coastguards, who originally took over the duties of the Revenue men. Around 1829 the role of the coastguard changed with the instructions "When a wreck takes place ...... every individual is to use his utmost exertion to save the lives of the persons on board".

During the first World War these duties included watching for saboteurs and spies, the disposal of beached mines and warning of enemy attacks. The use of communications became vital and Coastguards developed into expert signalers. Formal accommodation in close proximity to the coast was needed for the large force of coastguards around the Cornish coast and this resulted in the building of terraces of coastguard cottsges. The names of Coastguard Cottages and Coastguard Terrace still abound in Cornish fishing villages.

The Second World War saw the need for more manpower resulting in the formation of the Auxiliary Coastguard. The role of the service at that time was to maintain a constant watch of the coast a task for which they were armed. The role of rescue was as ever important with the hazards of war creating an extra dimension in the rescue of ditched air crews.

The coastguard lookout on Pedn-men-du The coastguard lookout on Pedn-men-du

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Copyright Rod Allday and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Throughout these times the coastguards continued to use the coast pathways, as did their families in getting to and from school and other coastal villages. All along the footpaths Coastguard Observation or Look-Out posts where constructed from which the coastguards could observe the sea with a degree of comfort and shelter. The regular use of these paths made them into major routes for those on foot around the coast.

Coastguard lookout at Cape Cornwall
Coastguard lookout, Cape Cornwall (Philip Halling) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Today, the coast footpaths are as busy as ever, but now the travellers are mainly tourists. There is no better way to see and photograph the wonderful Cornish coastline than from the South West Coast Path.

Buy the National Trail Guides:
Minehead to Padstow
Padstow to Falmouth
Falmouth to Exmouth

Also Route Maps printed on waterproof paper:
1. Minehead to Bude
2. Bude to Portreath
3. Portreath to Lizard Point
4. Lizard to Plymouth

Read "Exploring the South West Coast Path" by Philip J Carter

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