Notes for Potential Hikers
We were limited to two weeks. Because I enjoyed all parts of the path on our 2002/2005 hikes, the choice of a starting location was a bit arbitrary. For those who have a limited amount of time and want to hike just a section, my advice is to not worry too much about which section you choose, just pick a place and start walking. If you enjoy your walk, you can return in a subsequent year and pick up where you left off. Our hike had three parts:
- For the first 11 days we just followed the SWCP, starting at Padstow and walking as far as we got each day. We left the path twice. On May 19th we had a reservation at an AirBnB in St Just, a roughly 19 mile hike. But the path was more rugged than the prior days, and our progress was slower. When we reached the half-way point at about 3:00, we agreed we would just walk as far as we got and hitch or call a cab to get to St Just. Then, on May 22, we had reserved a room at a very appealing AirBnB that was not directly on the path. From the trail we diverted inland just a few hundred meters, drank some great local cider and chatted with the locals, and then took a taxi to our room. In both instances, we returned to the path on foot the subsequent mornings.
- We reached Falmouth after 11 days of walking, and that evening we made a plan for how to spend our final two days before we needed to return to London. We made a spontaneous decision to spend our 12th day walking inland along the estuary to the King Harry Ferry, then catch a bus to Truro, and a train to an AirBnB in St Austell.
- On our 13th day we took a very enjoyable day hike, including 3 ferry rides and a bus ride.
The entire SWCP is heavily used. There are people out for an hour walking their dogs, people out for half or full day loop hikes, and people on multi-day hikes. In 2002/2005 we saw thousands of day hikers, but very few other hikers on multi-day trips. But in 2022 we saw many dozens, perhaps over a hundred, multi-day hikers. It seems that the SWCP is getting the attention from long-distance hikers that it deserves! I was quite surprised by the number of backpackers we saw.
Many multi-day hikers use a service to pre-book accommodations. Information on these services is available at the SWCP Association website. The services make it possible to take a trip like this without spending any significant time planning. The booking companies usually offer optional baggage transport services, allowing people who do not want to carry a pack to enjoy the path. In addition to hikers using these services, we saw other hikers who were carrying camping gear. There were other SWCP hikers in the campgrounds we used. We met a few people thru-hiking the entire path, and many hikers who were walking one-week sections with the goal to eventually hike the entire route.
Getting to and from the SWCP
There are trains from London to many destinations in Devon and Cornwall, and an extensive network of buses. The SWCP Association divides the trail into 52 segments, providing information about transit options for each segment.
Wild Camping, Campgrounds
We carried our camping gear, but used it on only three nights when we stayed in campgrounds. We booked most of our accommodations about 24 hours in advance, based on the weather forecast and our mood.
Wild camping is not technically allowed, although we had wild camped on this trail in 2002/2005, and on many other long hikes in the UK. We saw a few wild campers on this trip. There are numerous campgrounds along the route, and our stays in campgrounds were convenient and pleasant. We did not wild camp on this trip. In our opinion, the SWCP can absorb a small number of wild campers if they are rigorous about stealth camping practices. But this landscape is not like the long trails in the US, where wild camping is legal on the vast majority of the routes, or like the Alps or Pyrenees where it is permissible, common, and acceptable to bivouac on most of the route.
My only big disappointment on this trip is that the independent B&B’s have largely disappeared. In 2002/2005 we could walk into any coastal village and find at least several and often many B&B shingles. During our past trips we would walk as far as we got, arrive at a random village, and easily find a room. On this trip, however, we saw only a couple of B&B shingles. We used AirBnB when we wanted to find a room, and frequently found only limited options. We enjoyed the flexibility that comes without pre-booking rooms, and we were prepared to camp if we didn’t succeed at finding a room. Hikers who do not want to camp will need to do one of three things: pre-book everything; be willing to take a taxi inland where there are more accommodation options; or, pay a premium for a room that is near the path. We booked many of our rooms a day in advance using AirBnB and were satisfied with all of them.