Frequently Asked Questions
In producing this website, we’ve tried to make it easy for you to find out all the information you need to have a great time walking along the Coast Path. However, inevitably there remain some questions that we couldn’t work out the best place to put them so here they are.
Q. How will I know I’m on the Coast Path?
A. The Path is well signed at main access points, junctions with other paths or roads and other places where the route would not be obvious. Coast Path signs have the acorn waymark, common to all National Trails, and the words ‘Coast Path’. The distance to the next destination will also be shown at main access points.
Q. Can I ride my horse or bike on the South West Coast Path?
A. Generally speaking no - most of the South West Coast Path is only available to people on foot. This is because nearly all of it is a public footpath rather than a public bridleway. It also does not make for very good cycling due to the numerous steep ups and downs, and the over 25,000 steps you’d encounter, that mean that you’d end up pushing or carrying your bike for much of the way. However there are plenty of great off-road cycle routes in the Westcountry – check out the 1 South West Cycle Adventure website and Sustrans for inspiration.
Q. I want to hold an event on the South West Coast Path – what do I need to know?
A. The basic requirements for any event are to ensure the participants (and bystanders) are kept safe, no damage is done and you are covered for any liabilities. For a small scale event, this is relatively straightforward, but as the number of people attending increases, it will get more complex, and so will require more planning.
Generally the risk to participants of most events on the Coast Path will be low, as the Coast Path is managed to ensure that it is safe for people to use, however we would recommend that participants are at a minimum made aware of our safety guidance, wear suitable clothing and footwear, have opportunities for refreshments and know how far and strenuous the walk will be. If the event involves running, or is at night the risks will be greater and so will need to be assessed in more detail. You should also have insurance, contingency plans for emergencies and a system for communications during the event (note that mobile phone coverage along the coast is patchy, with no signal in many of the valleys).
If the event involves more than about 20 people, than it is advisable to stagger the start, as this will avoid ‘traffic-jams’ on narrow sections of paths or at stiles and kissing gates, and will be less off-putting to other users of the path. For this reason it is also wise to set an appropriate maximum number of participants.
The majority of the Coast Path is robust enough to handle large numbers of walkers. However please try and avoid busy sections and peak times, as the path being over-crowded could spoil the enjoyment of your event and other people’s experience of the Coast Path.
Whilst not obligatory, for large events it is worthwhile consulting widely beforehand to identify any potential problems, help the event go smoothly and possibly help with promotion. Typical consultees include the highway authority, relevant landowners and land managing bodies, car park owners, local police and rescue services, parish councils, local Tourist Information or Visitor Centres and any relevant user groups. You will also need to get the permission of landowners for setting up check points and refreshments stops, particularly if you would like to take a vehicle where they are not normally allowed.
Finally at the end of the event, remove any signs you’ve put up, litter generated by participants (e.g. empty paper cups) and acknowledge any help, advice and co-operation you have received.
Further advice on organising an event can be found on the Best of Both Worlds website (note this website is no longer updated, but the advice is still useful).
Q. Can I get my baggage moved between overnight stops?
A. Yes, there is a luggage transfer service that covers the entire route. They deliver tens of thousands of walker’s bags each year which allows them to daisy chain and 'partner up' bookings to reduce their carbon footprint, and the cost to users. You can find out more on our Luggage Transfer page.
Q. How do you know how long the Path is?
A. We measured it! GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment allows us to accurately plot the line of the Path and measure its exact length. The 630 mile/1014 km route takes in the towns along the way and follows the Path around the Isle of Portland rather than the inland route from West Bexington to Osmington Mills. It does not include diversions needed when seasonal ferries are not operating, or when military firing closes the Path through the army ranges at Lulworth. See the distance calculator to find out how far it is between places along the route.
Q. Who owns the Path?
A. Most of the land that the South West Coast Path crosses is privately owned by many different individuals and estates. The Path itself is mostly a ‘right of way’ - this means that you have a legal right to walk across the land as long as you keep on the Path.
Q. And who looks after the Coast Path
A. The South West Coast Path Team coordinates the management and promotion of the whole route on a strategic basis, whilst ongoing maintenance and improvements of the path are delivered on the ground by local councils and the National Trust, who each look after their own sections. Contact details for these will be found on their individual websites which can be reached from our Useful Links page under the heading 'Path Management and Landowners'. By agreement with the relevant highway authority, the National Trust manages the Path on land that it owns. Both the highway authorities and the National Trust also contribute to maintenance costs.
Q. How much does the Path cost and who pays for it?
A. 75% of the money needed to keep the Path in good condition comes from Natural England and the other 25% from the managing organisations. The annual cost of this maintenance work is currently approximately £560,000. Other work such as developing a new section of Coast Path or reinstating the route after a cliff fall requires additional money, which is sought from a variety of sources.
Q. How many people use the Coast Path and how much income does it generate?
A. As there are so many ways of getting on and off the Coast Path, it’s not possible to measure precisely how many people walk along it, but it is probably in the millions each year. Research to support our successful bid for RDPE funding to improve the path estimated that Coast Path walkers spend at least £222 million annually. Whilst the calculations used to produce this estimate are complex, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is probably on the low side:
- £222 million sounds a huge amount, but equates to only around 2.3% of overall tourism expenditure in the region.
- Respondents to the latest SW Tourism survey (2009) cited walking as the best activity on offer (37%), while the beach and coast came second (18%).
- The 2008 SW Tourism Survey found that 69% of visitors undertook a short walk during their visit, and for 4% of visitors it was the main reason for their visit. For long walks, the figures are 35% & 7% respectively.
- The majority of visitors come to the SW to experience our beautiful countryside. Whilst they can see much of it from a car, it is only by using our network of paths that people can go the last mile or two to reach the most spectacular views, and special places.
- The closure of the Coast Path and other paths during the Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001 had a catastrophic impact on the tourism industry.
Q. Is it best to walk from Minehead to Poole or from Poole to Minehead?
A. Most people walk start at the Minehead end and heads towards Poole, but that is mainly because that is the direction most of the guidebooks are written (the SW Coast Path Association produce a reverse guide). If you are using the Baggage Transfer service, it also helps to go that way as you’ll be going with the flow, but otherwise it’s just as good going the other way.