Skip to page content | Using this site

Member Login: Join

LDPs Regional Summary

South West England

Walking Routes & Trail-miles: 101 main routes / 10416 miles - 51 waymarked / 4870 miles

Areas: Avon, Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire

National Parks: Dartmoor, Exmoor

Principal AONBs: The Cotswolds (part), Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills, Cranborne Chase & West Wiltshire Downs, Blackdown Hills, Dorset, East Devon, North Devon, South Devon, Tamar Valley, Cornwall, Isles Of Scilly

World Heritage Sites: Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites; City of Bath; Dorset and East Devon Coast; Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

Heritage Coast: Cornwall: Godrevy-Portreath, Gribben Head-Polperro, Isles of Scilly, Pentire Point-Widemouth, Penwith, St Agnes, The Lizard, The Roseland, Trevrose Head, Devon: East Devon, Exmoor, Hartland, Lundy, Rame Head, South Devon, North Devon, Dorset: Purbeck, West Dorset

European Long Distance Paths (E-Routes): E9 Plymouth - Dover.

National Walking Trails (England): Cotswold Way (part), Ridgeway (part), South West Coast Path

Resident population: 5 million

Regional Trails Summary - South West England

The region offers a vast range of landscapes, many very spectacular or unusual, reflecting its very varied geological past. Coastal walking is the highlight of this region. The coastal scenery is outstanding and, for walkers, is accessible from Poole Bay all the way to Minehead on the South West Coast Path that extends a full 630 miles along a coast of quite remarkable and sustained scenic quality. There is great variety, from sheltered chalk bays such as Studland in the south east, rock arches at Durdle Door, perfectly formed bays as at Lulworth Cove, shingle ridges at Chesil Beach, dunes, brackish lagoons as at Fleet, the highest seacliff on the southern coast at Golden Cap, all then giving way beyond the Lizard to wilder and rockier coasts and former fishing coves, while on the north coasts there are yet more rocky headlands and high and dramatic cliffs. There are some sixteen mainland coast sections designated as Heritage Coasts, while the 'Jurassic Coast', running some 95 coastal miles between Exmouth and Swanage, is recognised as the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site and offers, literally, a 'walk through time' following the geological sequence of Jurassic rocks from the oldest in the west. East from Poole, the Bournemouth Coast Path provides a promoted route around Bournemouth to join with the Solent Way. These three routes together provide the track for the coastal E-9 E-Route, the 'European Coastal Path', as it makes its way to Plymouth from Dover.

Several ranges of hills and upland moorland areas form the inland scenery. Extending from the north into the region, the limestone Cotswold Hills head south-westward to Bath. Then, south of the Avon, the Mendip Hills rise before falling away to the Somerset Levels. To the south in Wiltshire, running parallel to the Cotswolds, are the gently undulating chalk hills of the Marlborough and Wessex Downs and the broad open area of Salisbury Plain. The chalk ridge continues through Cranbourne Chase and the North Dorset Downs; a feature broadly followed by The Ridgeway and the Wessex Ridgeway trails to reach Lyme Regis and the sea. The region's south-eastern limits are the Isles of Portland and of Purbeck, with active and also past limestone quarrying and a temperate climate.

West into Devon, near its north coast, the Quantocks rise from the Levels, followed by the Brendon Hills. The most striking inland features for walkers in Devon, however, are the higher moorland massifs of Exmoor and Dartmoor. Both massifs are National Parks. These moors have quite different geological origins: Exmoor's lies in sedimentary rocks, while Dartmoor's lies in an igneous, volcanic past, with granite intrusions underlying the moor. Weathering of these Dartmoor granite outcrops has produced the famous 'tors' so characteristic of the moors. Further to the west in Cornwall, Bodmin Moor has similar origins and its own tors. Igneous activity has also formed the Penwith (Land's End) peninsula and, offshore, the Isles of Scilly. The region's former mining industry is linked with the minerals associated with its igneous past: in the early 19th century, almost half of world copper production came from here, recognised in the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. In contrast the Lizard peninsula includes outcrops of serpentine rocks, once part of an ancient ocean floor. The fertile, rolling lowlands forming much of the rest of the region contrast with these high moorlands. They include the 'red soils' of Devon, notable in the Exeter area and in the 'red cliffs' at Budleigh Salterton. The colour here is caused by iron in the sandstones and mudstones left from a past desert era.

For walkers, in bad weather or in poor visibility the moorland can be a hostile, trackless environment, despite being so far south in England. The coastline is also very exposed and, especially as the peninsula narrows to the west, the climate is increasingly maritime, with high rainfall and strong winds, though still temperate.

Britain's heritage is well represented elsewhere in the region with World Heritage Sites at Stonehenge, Avebury and its associated sites, at the City of Bath, as well as the Dorset and East Devon Coast and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape.

This often-narrow peninsula invites 'coast-to-coast' walking variants and there are several on offer. The 102-mile Two Moors Way, promoted as Devon's own coast-to-coast, links Exmoor's coast with the southern coastline near Plymouth via a full traverse of Dartmoor. The Saint's Way links Padstow and Fowey, the Channel to Channel (Devon to Somerset) links the Bristol and English Channels and the Coast to Coast - Southern England links the same channels from Somerset to Kent.

Walking on the three main moorland massifs and around their fringes, forms the basis for several routes. Dartmoor offers the Dartmoor Way and is circuited by the Dartmoor Ancient Boundary Perambulation. The Templer Way traces the route taken by granite quarried on the moor at Haytor transported to the coast at Teignmouth. The West Devon Way keeps close to the western moorland fringes on its way from Okehampton to Plymouth while the Two Castles Way heads west from the shadow of the moor as it links Okehampton and Launceston castles. Inland Exmoor has the Tarka Trail and Two Moors Way and along its scenic coastline the South West Coast Path. Bodmin Moor is traversed by the Smugglers' Way while more honest past occupations in its mining industry inspire the Copper Trail's circuit.

There are trails on the region's several other hill ranges, including the Mendips (the two Mendip Ways), the Quantocks (Quantock Greenway and Quantock Way while the West Deane Way visits these hills en route to Taunton) and in Dorset the Purbeck Hills (the two Purbeck Ways). The Limestone Link from the southern end of the Cotswold Way joins the Cotswolds and the Mendips. The rolling Wiltshire downland and the past Wessex is the setting for the Wessex Ridgeway, the Wessex Heights Walk, and for the westerly conclusion of the Ridgeway National Trail near Marlborough.

The region has a wealth of often easy waterside walking along its numerous attractive and interesting rivers. There are routes on the Avon, Dart, Erme, Parrett, Plym, Tamar, Teign and Wylye, while the Tarka Trail, based on the fictional otter, includes sections on the Torridge/Okement, Taw and Bray and above the East Lyn River. The Two Rivers Way links the Yeo and the Avon in an arc south of Bristol. Canal walking is provided along the course of the Grand Western Canal.

Routes making a traverse or circuit in the region include the Devon Heartland Way linking Okehampton to the Exe valley, in Dorset the Jubilee Trail (Dorset) makes a west-east traverse and the Round Dorset Walk keeps close to the county borders. The Mid-Wilts Way makes a traverse of Wiltshire and the Clarendon Way links it to Winchester. The Two Counties Way links Taunton in Somerset to the south Devon coast. From Bristol the Bristol to Brecon Walk begins its journey into Wales, going across the old Severn Bridge while the Community Forest Path encircles the city. The Gordano Round includes estuary walking in its circuit of Gordano. Land's End provides a start of the epic End-to-End walking route to John O'Groats, 'LEJOG' (covered here as Land's End to John O'Groats).

Historical and heritage themes underpin several routes: the Leland Trail in Somerset aims to follow John Leland's 16th century survey, while the linking Liberty Trail follows the 1685 walk to join the Protestant rebellion at Lyme Regis, and the Orange Way traces the long march of Prince William in 1688 from Brixham to London.

In the region's main urban areas, the Bristol City Triangular Walk and the South Bristol Circular Walk provide walking on longer trails, while in Plymouth the city's historic Waterfront Walkway forms part of the South West Coast Path. The John Musgrave Heritage Trail remembers a keen Rambler in circuiting the fringes of Torbay.

Walks based on past railway lines include the Bristol-Bath Railway Path and the Camel Trail.

Charity routes include parts of the Macmillan network, the Macmillan Way West (Castle Cary-Barnstaple) and the Abotsbury-Langport Link, along with the Samaritan's Way South West (Bristol-Lynton). Two enthusiasts' routes requiring navigational skills complete the picture: the Old Sarum Challenge heads from Amesbury over downland, while the Sidmouth Saunter includes both coastal and inland scenery and has a shorter variant.