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South West Coast Path: The Best North Devon Sections

Valley of the Rocks walk

Having been placed under the limelight once again in recent years with the success of Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path, the South West Coast Path continues to inspire and delight walkers from all across the country, and often from across the globe.

For anyone that doesn’t know, the South West Coast Path (SWCP) is a 630 mile route beginning in Minehead, snaking around the peninsula into and out of Cornwall, and eventually finishing up along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. From wind-whipped sand dunes to luscious green farmland, the South West Coast Path offers a range of scenery that is mesmerising in both its diversity and beauty.

Although it is possible to walk the route in one go, albeit over many days, most people choose to tackle small sections at a time, sometimes with the objective of completing the route over a number of months or years. Breaking it up into sections also allows for mapping out shorter day hikes, giving you a bite-sized SWCP experience. In this article, I’ll break down the best South West Coast Path sections in North Devon, including where to start and finish them, and any extra info you’ll need.

South West Coast Path North Devon

Barnstaple to Instow via the Tarka Trail

The Tarka Trail is a 180-mile figure of eight walking and cycling trail that covers a lot of the North Devon region. Of the 180 mile total, 55 miles are shared with the South West Coast Path which allows for excellent accessibility, well-maintained paths, and great signage. Parts of the SWCP aren’t always clear or well mapped out, so the Tarka Trail is a great place to start for anyone looking to get a feel for walking the coastal route.

This route is entirely paved and popular with cyclists in the summer months, especially thanks to local bike rental facilities. However, it’s also a great walking route and although not challenging for experienced walkers, provides a nice day out with some lovely scenery. It’s a 13.5-mile (just under 22km) round trip and will probably take around four hours at a steady pace. You can choose to cut this in half and walk to Fremington Quay, but you’ll regret missing out on seeing the beach at Instow and not having one of North Devon’s favourite treats —  a Hockings Ice Cream!

Walking alongside the estuary on a clear day is lovely, with fields on one side and the river on the other. The ground is flat and well-paved throughout the route so you won’t require walking boots for this one, just some comfortable footwear with good support such as running shoes. Once you reach Instow there are a couple of pubs that you can stop in to grab a drink and a bite to eat. I’d recommend either the Instow Arms or the Boat House, especially in summer as they both have outdoor seating available.

Tarka Trail on the South West Coast Path in  North Devon
The Tarka Trail

Combe Martin to Heddon Valley

At the other end of the spectrum, the section of the South West Coast Path between Combe Martin and Heddon Valley will provide a great workout for even experienced hikers. With about 500m of elevation gain and some tricky terrain thrown in, this walk is exhilarating and extremely rewarding upon completion. The route is around 12.5km each way, so should take between four to six hours to complete allowing for the terrain and stoppages for refuelling.

You’ll enjoy a swift rise up onto the cliffs from Combe Martin which will provide exceptional views across the sea on a clear day, with glimpses of the town from above on your right-hand side. Little Hangman and Great Hangman are two scenic points you’ll be able to stop at to enjoy the surroundings, showcasing what the SWCP is really about. You’ll briefly take a turn inland before heading back out to the cliffs as you pass Trentishoe. As you circle around the cliff towards Heddon Valley the path is narrow, so be careful when passing or if you’re walking on a windy day.

The Hunters Inn makes a great finish point, providing a great range of food and drink for hungry walkers. There are also toilets close by along with a little National Trust shop. Overall this is a lovely hike and well worth doing on a nice clear day. With little shelter from the sun, make sure to pack some sunscreen and a hat!

Combe Martin South West Coast Path
Evening views over Combe Martin

Lynton to Crock Point

By no means the longest or hardest route on the South West Coast Path, I’ve chosen this short walk purely for the amount that you can see in such a short time. Around 4km each way, this route is a combination of road and coast path with an elevation gain of around 100m. Including highlights such as Valley of Rocks and Lee Abbey, this is a great way to spend a morning before exploring Lynmouth in the afternoon.

Parking in Lynton, you’ll want to follow North Walk until it merges into the SWCP. Much like the other routes on this list, on a clear day, the views are amazing as you look along the stretch of coast and back inland at the green fields. A decent amount of this path has been paved, so you won’t have to worry too much about loose, rocky terrain; there’s also a fair share of it that is on a road.

Both Lee Abbey and Valley of Rocks are well worth stopping at to admire the scenery and take some photos. You could also enjoy a little detour down to Lee Abbey Bay to get your beach fix. Although there’s no reason to stop at Crock Point, it’s just a great way to sample a small slice of the coast path in a couple of hours and still manage to squeeze in a lot of sights. The path will continue on to Woody Bay and Martinhoe and continue rewarding you with beautiful sights of the North Devon coast. You could also take a short trip to A May’s Farm shop, one of the best farm shops in North Devon, and grab yourself some lovely fresh produce for that evening’s dinner.

Valley of the Rocks on the South West Coast Path in North Devon
The spectacular Valley of the Rocks

Lee Beach to Woolacombe Beach

Point to point, this route clocks in at around 8.5km with an elevation gain of 230m. An intermediate route that takes you from one spectacular beach to another, allowing you to enjoy spectacular scenery along the way. Taking around three to four hours to complete there and back, this part of the coast path shows off the expansive moorland-esque parts of the North Devon segment, passing by Bull Point Lighthouse and Morte Point too.

Parking at Lee doesn’t only give you the benefit of enjoying a cheaper day’s parking (Woolacombe is expensive and busy in the summer), but allows you to enjoy a lunchtime treat from one of the many restaurants in Woolacombe. If you’re planning on bringing your four-legged friend with you, Woolacombe is a great place to visit in North Devon with your dog and this section of the path is mostly off-road.

Really, the only paved section of the path here is the small road segment at the start and end, with most of it being flat(ish) hard mud or rocky path. This is a lovely section of the SWCP and the view of Woolacombe Beach on your approach is really something! If you did choose to do this walk in reverse, I’d suggest timing it so that you can catch the sunset on your return to Woolacombe, giving you a lovely orange glow across the horizon.

South West Coast Path North Devon
The South West Coast Path from Mortehoe Village to Morte Point

Hopefully, this has helped you decide which North Devon sections of the South West Coast Path you’ll be hiking next. Regardless of where you choose, you’ll be met with stunning views and excellent routes, enjoy!

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