The historic pirate route around the southwest coast of England is a wild and woolly single trail that hugs the Cornish coastline… with lots of foodie options en route.
Need To Know
Description: Inn-to-Inn Hike
Time: 5 Days
Grade 4 out of 5 – Perfect for experienced hikers and fit novices
The St Ives to Penzance leg of the South West Coast Path – or the Coastal Walk in Cornwall – is truly one of the best that I have done.
The former pirate route is an inn-to-inn adventure, so there is no need to carry camping gear. The accommodation along the way is also very special (quaint pubs in isolated seaside towns).
It’s off-road. A single trail meanders along cliffs, beaches and through fern forests, around rugged rocky outcrops, over hills of flowers and passing only a few moments of civilisation. Further, it conveniently features amazing food experiences along the way.
The coastal walk is best for more experienced hikers, but also fit novices (the fact it doesn’t require camping makes this a very accessible multi-day hike). You can reduce daily distances and/or use a pick-up service to carry your gear (and hike with a day pack only) if you’re a beginner. A bunch of companies can do this for you and will also book all your accommodation. No brain required!
There’s also a local bus service that allows you to jump on and off and do short distances, point-to-point. If you do this, you’d base yourself in the best of the accommodation options I mention. Most people seem to do this option.
Distance: 76.5km, however you can choose to do shorter sections.
Difficulty: The weather (wind and rain) can make it tough, but there was a lot of folk in their 60s tackling it just fine.
Map Downloads: Head to the South West Coast Path site for great maps and links for accredited walking companies, accommodation suggestions, distance calculators, buses and baggage transfers.
Bookings: There are many companies that provide a complete walking holiday package including guided and self-guided walks.
I suggest visiting the South West Coast Path website for more information.
Sarah’s Top Three Tips
1. Spend a day in each town at both ends. St Ives and Penzance are worth a visit in their own right.
2. Pack wet weather and arctic-ready gear even in Summer. The weather can turn.
3. Take togs. The beaches along the way are really quite beautiful.
I recommend going by train. Departing from London., leave from Paddington Station and change at St Erth.
This second train ride to St Ives is spectacular (and is timed to meet your London train). All up, it will take a good 5-6 hours.
From Wild and Precious
“In a world where we buy our way to solutions, we assume there is a price for this kind of freedom. There is, but it’s not a pecuniary one. It’s having to stand as yourself without your things, and then to walk your own path. Is this what we feel we can’t afford?”
Buy This One Wild and Precious Life
Day 1 – Walk St Ives to Gurnard’s Head, via Zennor
A hard walk, but you can decide to stay in Zennor if it’s too much for your first day. Stop in Zennor for lunch at The Tinner’s Arms. Locals love this joint. It has new owners; I was not blown away. But if you’re after a quick bite in a lovely town, well, there are no other options! (PS: DH Lawrence lived here for a while).
I stayed at Gurnard’s Head hotel. I highly recommend you do, too.
Day 2 – Walk from Gurnard’s Head to St Just
Kick off with a clamber around the head itself (I meditated on the peak of the Head, below) and then onwards up and down cliffs. A tough day of walking but thoroughly rewarding. You pull into St Just via a valley coming up from Cape Cornwall, which is magical.
I stayed at The Commercial Hotel on the main square. Friendly and basic. There’s a great health food shop on the square, too (with some amazing local raw chocolate) and a classic butcher that makes particularly meaty pasties (they have fresh ones coming out of the oven at 9.30am, 10am and 11am). The menu features details of where the beef in your pasty came from.
Day 3 – Walk from St Just to Sennen
A shorter day dumping you onto the surf beach at Sennen. A wild and woolly affair. I stayed at The Old Success, which is the drinking and socialising hub for the locals. Basic with a fun restaurant area. There’s a very cute café up a bit further where I sat for hours out of the rain drinking tea and soup.
Day 4 – Walk from Sennen to Porthcurno
Gosh, this stretch is stunning with some special finds. I wouldn’t bother stopping at Land’s End. It’s the southernmost point in the UK and windy. That’s about it.
Along the way, you pass a Coastwatch tower where the volunteer waves madly at you, and a tiny little hamlet of stone cottages at Porthgwarra. There’s a little boat shack serving tea, pasties and scones. And then you arrive at Porthcurno Cove, regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain.
The joint I stayed at is not worth writing home about. My advice would be to stay in Porthgwarra or Treen (at Logan Rock). I ate at Logan Rock Inn. A cracking pub. Super friendly. A 30-minute walk from Porthcurno. The fish pie is the house dish. With peas.
I went to the Minack Theatre. This is an outdoor amphitheatre built into the cliff, overlooking Porthcurno Cove and the beach. It’s stunning and has a cult following. The theatre reviewer for The Guardian had travelled all the way to see the performance that night of The Third Policeman. Tickets are cheap, there were dolphins and seals cavorting in the water in the background the night I went, and the whole thing is set against a sunset.
Know this: a woman built the thing, using a wheelbarrow to carry the rocks in!
Day 5 – Walk from Porthcurno to Penzance
More stunningness with perilous paths that go down to beautiful beaches (you’ll be the only person on it – I was). This stretch is quite varied – through forest and ferns and boulders on the beach and is quite tough-going. The last bit is along a paved path, back in civilization, which feels weird after staying in villages with little internet and phone coverage and hanging with cows and ponies for days.
I stopped at Lamorna Cove and jumped in the water and had a chai tea and a banana at a very Grecian-feeling café with benches overlooking the ocean.
I stayed at The Artist’s Residence. A fun hub housed in a historic Georgian House, with a cute back garden and a great restaurant, The Barn (I ate hake stew, above). Again, ask for the loft to get high above the rooftops and views of the harbour. And spend the evening hanging in their lounge – cosy and friendly.
Day 6 – Penzance to London
The direct train to Piccadilly leaves from just down the road.
Turn It Into An Adventure!
Spend a day in St Ives
It’s a gorgeous little town. Check out the Tate Gallery and have a beer at
The Sloop Inn. It was built in 1312 and you have to stoop (into The Sloop!) because the eaves are so low.
Stay at Gurnard’s Head
If you can only stay in one spot along the way, or you choose to do the hike by splaying out each day from one accommodation base, make it the Gurnard’s Head Hotel. The rooms are divine, and the joint is placed in a paddock atop a cliff and the food is astounding.
See some theatre with dolphins
Try to get a ticket to a show at the Minack Theatre on the final leg.
Stop at Mousehole on Day 5 for lunch
A really lovely town. I recommend checking out The Old Coastguard (owned by the same brothers who have Gurnard’s Head) – it has an epic beer garden overlooking the ocean.