It’s tempting to spend the colder months cocooned inside, trying not to stray too far from the fire, but if you make the effort to dig out your waterproofs to brave the elements for a wintry stroll, you’ll be rewarded with lifted spirits, and a new-found appreciation of your cosy indoor world on your return.
Whilst the breath-taking sights on the South West Coast Path provide plenty of reasons to venture out all year round, come rain or shine, we think that wintry walks hold their own unique charms.
Dramatic coastlines are enhanced by their bleak weather back-drop, offering mesmerising views of grey-green waves whipped by the wind, crashing impressively on the rocks below. And when the sun fleetingly breaks through the clouds, the low beams create an array of spectacular reflections and silhouettes spanning the wintry sky and choppy sea below.
Once you’ve had your fill of fresh air and glorious views, you can return to your original agenda of a lazy afternoon curled up by the fire, or holed up in your favourite friendly local, safe in the knowledge that you have earned it.
Here are some of our favourite uplifting winter walks along the beautiful South West Coast Path…
Starting from West Bay, near Bridport, this bracing walk takes you through a scenic golf course to Burton Bradstock, and then back along high, golden, fossil-rich cliffs that offer spectacular views of neighbouring Devon coastline.
From West Bay Road car park walk the short distance towards the sea, turning left onto Station Road. Carry on roughly eastwardly, along Station Road, and turn right after the houses to pick up the footpath on the left. Follow the path uphill and into the next field, continuing along up the hill to the fence at the top. Turn left here to walk beside the fence, along the path into the golf course. Be aware of golfers and golf balls whilst and stay on the track, turning left with it at the end to enter the caravan park.
Take the third turning on the right and follow the path along the track behind the caravans, and bear left at the shower block to carry on along the footpath ahead. The path closely follows the hedge on the right and then bears left up the hill to reach Burton Road via some steps.
Turn right to walk through Burton Bradstock along the main road towards Weymouth. Cross the road, turn right, and then left after the garage and then take the footpath up the steps to the left. Walk on a short distance and then bear right across the field, towards the houses on the right-hand side, to emerge on Beach Road. Turn right and walk down to the beach.
To return from the beach, turn left onto the Coast Path towards Freshwater and West Bay, following it above Burton Cliff – ignoring both the road to the right and the footpath to the right a short distance further on. Once at Freshwater, follow the Coast Path inland until it crosses a stream via a footbridge.
Turn left with the Coast Path and follow it across a bridge and through a holiday park, back towards the coast, climbing steeply uphill after the last caravans. Continue around East Cliff, where you will descend steeply on the other side back into West Bay.
Go through Station Yard car park, turning left on Station Road and then right onto West Bay Road.
If the exertion has left you feeling peckish, West Bay boasts a wide selection of restaurants, tea rooms, cafés and pubs to restore your energy levels.
A fantastic walk for children who will love looking out for (and listening out for) the rescued donkeys that are cared for in the land surrounding the walk. The pretty shingle beach below also provides the opportunity for much pebble skimming amusement.
Before you set off on your walk, you are likely to want to have a little look around The Donkey Sanctuary which is free to enter. You can support the cause by visiting the Visitors’ Centre, and maybe the Hayloft Restaurant too.
Start the walk from the Donkey Sanctuary Car Park, head south into the Donkey Sanctuary itself, and continue through the Sanctuary gates and onto the track beyond. Follow this down through the combe as it turns into a path and then makes its way along the hillside above the trees.
When you reach a path crossing yours from right to left, turn left onto it and descend the hillside, through the trees, to the bottom of the valley. Here, turn right on the path and continue on beside the stream until you reach the beach.
Turn right on the beach and pick up the Coast Path as it climbs the steps and heads steeply up the hill, towards the yellow cliffs at Lower Dunscombe. Ignore the path halfway up, leading back towards the Donkey Sanctuary, and continue along the Coast Path as it climbs over the cliffs and then curves inland above the steep valley at Lincombe.
When you reach the path that heads inland, as the Coast Path turns sharply around the head of the valley and points towards the sea again, turn right and follow the track to the crossroads at the end of the field. Turn right again and take this track through the caravan park, to emerge on the road beside Dunscombe Manor.
Once on the road, turn left and walk about 150 yards to the grassy lane on your right with its memorial trees and benches. Walk down the lane, turn left when you come to the gap in the hedge on your left, and follow the sign through the next field. Turn right at the end to continue along the left-hand boundary of the next field.
Ignore the path on your left at the end of this field, sign-posted to Trow, and instead cross the stile to take the right-hand path just beyond. Follow this path through the fields to the road. Cross the road and pick up the footpath opposite, to your left, which will return you to the Donkey Sanctuary and the start of your walk.
Refuel at the Hayloft Restaurant, which offers healthy warming meals, or tempting homemade treats.
Take a stroll along the peaceful shores of Slapton Ley, home to an abundance of wildlife and birds at all times of year. This freshwater lake is divided from the sea by a long, narrow shingle beach which is famous for the D-Day practise Exercise Tiger, which tragically ended in the loss of nearly 1000 Allied servicemen in 1944.
Start the walk in the centre of Torcross, with your back to the Start Bay Stores. Cross the road and turn left, continuing alongside the road to join the permissive path to Stokenham, which carries on beside the road. Leave the road at the Stokeley Farm Shop entrance and follow the path to the caravan site beyond.
Turn left along the drive, towards the caravan site entrance, bearing right to continue straight ahead past the reception and facilities block. Go past the water point at the far end, and cross the lane to carry on along the path ahead and through the field, towards the church tower. Continue through the church car park and into Stokenham village.
Opposite the Church House Inn, turn left to the main road. Turn right along the verge, crossing the road immediately to take the minor lane opposite which bears left. Follow this lane uphill for a short while, bearing right by an old barn to follow the public byway uphill along a green lane. After this levels out it reaches a junction of surfaced lanes. Turn left here, and take the left fork a little way beyond.
After the entrance to Mattiscombe Farm you will see a junction with a narrow lane on the left and a public footpath on the right. Go through the gate onto the footpath and cross the field. Keep the woodland to your right and walk to the metal kissing-gate at the top. At the surfaced drive turn left and then almost immediately bear right, along a path that leads into trees.
On the other side of the trees, cross the stile into a field, walk along the left-hand boundary to another stile. Cross this and continue downhill along the left side of the next large field, and drop to the gate in the bottom left-hand corner of the field. Bear right after the gate and then left almost straight away, keeping the farm building to your right. Carry on down the track to take the right hand of two gates ahead, into a green lane – part of an extensive network of ancient routes through the South Hams, some of which date back to the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago.
Cross the stream and climb with the path to a wide track leading into Beeson. At the first junction in the village turn left, down the hill, and follow the lane to the right. At the next junction turn left, and continue to follow the road downhill, to the right and then to the left. After the double bend, at a sharp right-hand turn by a metal gate, bear left to cross over a stile and follow the right-hand boundary down towards the sea. Cross two more stiles and the green ahead, and carry on to the track beside the boulders.
Turn left onto the Coast Path, continuing along the track and following it inland to the left as it becomes a footpath beside some cottages. Follow the path downwards as it heads back towards the sea, crosses a field and drops down some steps and under a tunnel, onto the end of the beach at Torcross. Turn left to return to the start of the walk.
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4. Bantham to Thurlestone (3.8 miles) – Starting from Bantham Beach Car Park – TQ7 3AJ
Bantham is one of South Devon‘s most popular beaches, drawing visitors with its vast expanses of golden sand and breath-taking views across the water to Burgh Island, as well as some of the best surf in the UK.
Start the walk from the Bantham beach car park take the road towards the beach, and the left fork at the bottom through the kissing gate and onto the Coast Path. Follow the path around the rocky point and on along the clifftop past the golf course. Ignore the paths leading inland across the golf course and continue around Warren Point above the small Leas Foot Sand beach at Thurlestone. When you reach the lane heading inland above the beach, turn left to follow it past the golf clubhouse and on to the road.
Turn left on the road and walk through Thurlestone, past the tennis courts, towards the war memorial on your left. Turn left immediately after the memorial, in front of the church, and then take the track on the right. Walk past the churchyard to carry on along the path to the left of the hedge. Follow the left-hand hedge in the next two fields, going through the hedge towards the end of the second field to cut across the right-hand corner and bear right along the open ground ahead, descending steeply to join the track at the bottom.
Follow the track along the right-hand hedge to cross the field, heading for the far right-hand corner. Join the lane in the corner and follow it uphill, to come out in Bantham, by the fourteenth-century Sloop Inn. You may be tempted to pause for a reviving pint, or a warming meal in front of the cosy fire, as the food here is excellent and hearty.
Finish the walk by turning left from the Sloop, and walking down the road back towards the beach car park. To stroll along the beach, walk past the path to the ferry landing and fork right beyond it to the dunes and the tip of Bantham Ham, where you can clamber down to the beach, and back along to the car park.
A walk of contrasts, which takes in tropical palms and banana trees, rugged coastal scenery with steep, rocky spires, gorse and heather. The National Trust property at Overbecks and its stunning gardens are well worth visiting if time allows (open seasonally mid Feb to end Oct).
Start the walk from the ferry ramp at South Sands, and turn left to walk up the hill along the road past the South Sands Hotel. Follow the sharp curve left and then right, continuing past the sign to Overbecks. At the postbox, carry on along the public footpath and straight ahead past the National Trust hut.
At the next junction follow the sign for Overbecks again, walking uphill along a winding drive through tropical trees. Immediately before the gates to Overbecks, turn right up the footpath signed to Tor Woods, Sharp Tor and Bolt Head.
At the next fingerpost, turn left up the steps and follow the path towards Sharp Tor, Starehole and Bolt Head. Continue along the footpath past the high viewpoint at Sharp Tor, where there is a compass on a plinth. Turn sharply left here to continue along the path above the rocky hillside.
When a path leaves on the right, signposted to Starehole and Bolt Head, ignore it and continue straight on, downhill into the valley. Cross the stream to climb the steep path opposite, and continue ahead alongside the wall at the top. At the next sign, take the second path on the left to follow the Coast Path towards the headland.
At Bolt Head turn left with the Coast Path, and head north back towards Salcombe. Ignore the path to the left above Starehole Cove, and continue along the Coast Path as it rounds the bottom of Sharp Tor and returns through the trees to the drive at Overbecks.
From here, retrace your steps back down the hill to South Sands, where you can procure refreshments from South Sands Hotel, its walker’s hut, or (open seasonally).
A short walk offering spectacular sea views from the River Fowey headland, and taking in St Catherine’s Castle ruins, as well as a couple of small secluded coves and some pretty woodland. St Catherine’s castle is managed by English Heritage, is open all year round and admission is free.
Start by walking back to the entrance of the car park, taking the footpath along the lane to the right and following it through Allday’s Fields, continuing along the edge of Readymoney Wood. At the bottom, at the T-junction, turn right on the track, and descend to turn right again, onto the Coast Path towards St Catherine’s Point.
From St Catherine’s Point continue along the Coast Path, downwards to Coombe Haven, and then climb steeply up on the far side of the cove, round the small headland to drop back down into the next valley.
Once again you will climb away from the shoreline to continue around Southground Cliffs, before descending gently on Lankelly Cliff, and then dropping to Southground Point with the daymark tower on Gribbin Head in front of you. From here the Coast path turns inland and heads down to the cove at Polridmouth.
At Polridmouth, turn right onto the footpath at the edge of the woods before the lake and follow it back up to the car park, about a mile beyond.
An abundance of excellent eateries can be found in Fowey.
A challenging walk that will reward your efforts with spectacular views, pretty countryside and atmospheric smugglers’ coves. You may also be lucky enough to spot some grey seals that are often seen on this part of the coast. Look out for them on the rocks at low tide.
Start the walk from the centre of Polperro cross the Saxon Bridge and walk down Big Green. Turn left again along Lansallos Street to walk along Quay Road to the harbour.
Pick up the Coast Path just before the beach and follow it up the steep hill towards Polruan. At the top, at Chapel Cliff, there is a network of footpaths on the National Trust land which all link up further on.
Continue along the Coast Path towards Polruan. Walk past the footpath to the right at East Coombe and cross the footbridge to turn right onto the footpath which runs steeply up the hill beside a stream.
Continue through the meadow and follow the path as it detours left at the top to come out on a quiet country lane. Turn right here and right again at the junction beyond. At the next junction turn right to continue along the road marked as ‘access only’ and follow for it around a mile, where you will then drop steeply down on Landaviddy Lane back into Polperro.
There are numerous pubs, cafés and tea rooms to choose from once back in Polperro.
A short walk along the Coast Path from the picturesque fishing village of Polperro with its narrow streets of tiny cottages, to the old smugglers’ bay at Talland. Allow time to pause in the Heritage Museum en route for colourful tales of the smugglers and fishermen from Polperro’s past.
Start the walk from the bus stop at the Crumplehorn car park, walk down into Polperro. Then from Fore Street carry on to the bottom of Talland Hill.
Turn right onto Talland Street to carry on along The Warren, around the north side of the harbour. The path climbs steeply up the hill past the viewpoint. Continue on the Coast Path when the path forks at the top, and follow it around Downend Point to Talland, ignoring both the footpath inland to Brent, and the lane on your left just before you reach Talland Bay.
For a detour to Talland village and church, and the other beach, continue ahead past the first beach at Talland Bay, and past the car park, turning right onto the lane beyond it.
Otherwise turn left on the lane above the first beach (Bridals Lane), following it through trees at the bottom of the hill, crossing the stream in the valley, and then climbing steadily uphill to the road at Carey Park, above Polperro.
Cross the road to continue along the lane ahead. Turn right at the bottom of the lane, following the sign to the village. From here, follow Talland Hill back down to the harbour, where you can retrace your steps to the car park at Crumplehorn.
Talland Bay Beach Café and The Smuggler’s Rest offer excellent refreshments en route. Alternatively there are plenty of excellent choices available on your return to Polperro.
A short and easy walk out to the tip of Baggy Point and back again, taking in magnificent views of the coastline, an old wreck post, and even some preserved whale bones!
Start the walk from the National Trust car park, follow the Coast Path in a westward direction, along the road towards Baggy Point. As you pass the last houses on the side of the path, stop to look at some preserved bones from a whale that got washed up on the beach many years ago.
Carry on through the gate and past the memorial to author of ‘Tarka the Otter’, Henry Williamson, and then follow the lower path to the left. This lower path is suitable for pushchairs and wheel chairs, so can be followed in reverse for the return journey.
At the end of the headland there is a level viewing area which is a great spot to look out for breeding seabirds, including both cormorants and shags. From the viewpoint, take the path that leads steeply uphill to a plateau, where there is a handy seat for catching your breath.
At the top of the hill, take the path leading north towards a tall, white wooden ‘wreck post’ with steps on the side, left from the days when lifesaving crews used a breeches buoy to throw to sailors on sinking ships near the shoreline, to pull them to safety on land.
Continue past the wreck post to the highest part of Baggy Point, where the view opens up across Morte Bay. Retrace your steps back past the wreck post to the sign on the corner of the wall, and then take the farm track leading to the left back down to the car park.
A wide choice of refreshments are available in nearby Croyde.
10. Bull Point & Lee Bay (4.5 miles), North Devon – Starting from Lee Bay seafront – EX34 8LR
A varied walk through ancient woodland, prehistoric standing stones, windswept coastal farmland and exposed heathland with superb views across the Bristol Channel.
Start the walk from Lee Bay seafront in North Devon, take the lane sign-posted ‘Footpath to Lee Village’ and follow it inland, past the car park and through two fields to reach a footpath on the right, into Borough Wood – one of the last surviving ancient woodlands which once covered Britain, and still here thanks to its position in a valley too steep to be cultivated.
Taking the path, and cross the bridge, following the stream through the woods for about a mile. When a path crosses yours, sign-posted to Damage Barton, turn right onto it, and climb steeply uphill through the trees to cross the field beyond.
Cross the lane (Warcombe Lane), and continue along the footpath into the next field. Head for the sign behind the hedge at the far end and then for the right-hand corner. Bear right to the gate and follow the waymarkers to another footpath. Bear left here and go through the gate to Damage Barton.
After passing the barton, turn right on the lane and then fork left a little further on. Cross the stile on the left and follow the path along the edge of the field, dropping down through trees to the stream.
Cross the stream, and continue along the footpath through the woods as it climbs steeply uphill to the lighthouse track. Turn right and follow the track to Bull Point lighthouse.
From the lighthouse take the Coast Path on the right towards Bennetts Mouth and Lee Bay, which descends to the beautiful valley at Bennetts Mouth. Continue on the Coast Path as it climbs back uphill, onto another area of heathland above a small headland, Damagehue Rock. From here the path drops steeply back down again to the road at Damage Hue. Turn left on the road to return to Lee Bay seafront.
Following your roller coaster walk along this beautiful stretch of North Devon coast, you can warm your cockles at Lee Bay’s Grampus Inn which is dog-friendly and serves real ales and hearty food throughout the year (check opening hours).