South West Coast Path: Plymouth to Dartmouth

Steeped in England’s rich naval and maritime history, this stimulating 100km route links the biggest city on the trail to one of the most elegant old ports on the route, via a wild and exposed stretch of coastline. Along the way, learn how the historic ports of Devon and Cornwall shaped our island’s history.

Follow in the footsteps of buccaneers and uncover the history of great naval heroes like Sir Francis Drake on this history-packed journey through England’s rich maritime heritage.

The route starts in the vibrant city of Plymouth, following the Waterfront Walkway past the harbours and dockyards where an empire was forged by naval power.

Beyond Plymouth, the mood changes as the path enters the unspoiled South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and onwards around the coast to the inlets of the Kingsbridge Estuary and the sophisticated port of Salcombe – famed for its regatta.

After the rugged promontories of Prawle and Start Point – the trail swings north, passing through steep-sided valleys and expansive strandlines as it follows one of the most sparsely populated corners of Devon to the elegant old port of Dartmouth – home to the world-renowned Naval College where some of England’s greatest naval commanders first found their sea legs.

Tour Overview

The icons below highlight the distance, difficulty and theme of this itinerary.

Distance

100km

Number of Days

5

Grade

Moderate

Theme

History / Coastal

Landscape Type

By Water / Rolling Countryside / City

South West Coast Path: Plymouth to Dartmouth

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Itinerary

This undeveloped stretch of coast provides a mixture of easy, high, open walking and some fairly strenuous climbs up and down steep slopes and steps to reach beautiful coves. The daily distances vary considerably and some involve several hundred metres of ascent and descent, so don’t underestimate the time/effort required.

Day 1 - Plymouth to River Yealm

The first part of this journey follows the Waterfront Walkway along some of the vibrant, historic streets of the largest city on the South West Coast Path. The walkway offers fantastic views over Plymouth Sound and has several artistic features to look out for, all celebrating the rich history of this important city. Beyond Plymouth, the trail offers easy walking close to the sea to Wembury, with its incredibly diverse plant and animal life and fantastic views of the Great Mew Stone.   24.2 km /15 miles

Day 2 - River Yealm to Bigbury On Sea

This undeveloped stretch of coast is recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is part of the South Devon Heritage Coast. The path provides a mixture of easy, high open walking and some strenuous climbs up and down steep slopes and steps to reach secluded coves. The views are some of the best on the entire Coast Path. You need to plan this day in advance as you have two river crossings; the River Yealm crossed by a seasonal ferry and the River Erme which normally can be easily forded one hour either side of low tide.  16.6 km / 10.3 miles

Day 3 - Bigbury on Sea to Salcombe

Your journey begins on a boat across the Avon to Bantham and from here the Path offers fairly easy walking past Thurlestone (watch out for golf balls!), until it begins to dip up and down to the sea on its way to the beautifully sheltered Hope Cove.

The section from Hope to Salcombe is one of the most beautiful sections of the entire 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. The path is quite rugged and difficult in places but becomes easier as you join the Courtney Walk and look down on the steep rocky slopes which lead down to the sea along the final stretch into Salcombe. 22.5 km / 14.0 miles

Day 4 - Salcombe to Torcross

From the shelter of the Salcombe Estuary, the path crosses high cliffs to Prawle Point, passing beautiful sandy beaches below, which may tempt you down for a swim. On windy days the sea crashes wildly against the rugged rocks and these cliffs have claimed many wrecks over the centuries. After a rocky, exposed stretch to Start Point, the path becomes more level on its journey to Torcross, with just one steep climb near the end. At Torcross your efforts are rewarded with some good seafront restaurants and pubs.  20.3 km / 12.6 miles

Day 5 - Torcross to Dartmouth

The sea is ever-present along the first stretch, leading to more difficult walking around rugged headlands on the approach to Dartmouth. The path is sheltered at times as it meanders through woodland, contrasting with the enormous sense of space and light when it later passes along steep, grassy slopes which lead down to the sea. There‘s plenty to see in the attractive town of Dartmouth by way of cafes and restaurants offering the catch of the day and galleries and unusual shops in the interesting buildings of Foss Street. 16.6 km / 10.3 miles

Accommodation

There are a range of comfortable pubs, inns, hotel and hostels to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned rest. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B’s, as well as self-catering options and campsites. There’s ample choice in Plymouth, Salcombe and Dartmouth, but options are more restricted on the less populated sections through South Devon.

Travel

Air / Rail

Fly to Bristol or Exeter then train or bus to Plymouth. Plymouth is easily reached as it has a mainline train station and a large bus station serving much of Devon and Cornwall and regular buses to Wembury. For timetable information, visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.

Advice

There are several rivers to cross on this itinerary; the River Yealm (ferry), River Erme (ford at low tide) and River Avon (ferry). You can find details of these on the South West Coast Path Association’s estuaries and ferries page, and timetable information is also posted at Wembury Beach car park, and at each river crossing. The amount of ascent/descent on some sections make them quite demanding. Best times of year are May and September.

Food & Drink

Expect to find fresh seafood at pubs and restaurants in the larger towns and some refreshing local ales from local breweries like St Austell and – of course – traditional West Country cider, which can be extremely potent!

Maps, Guidebooks and Merchandise

The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the National Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.

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