Cornwall has a special place in my heart, it’s my playground, my home. I’ve walked all 300 miles of its spectacular coastline and criss-crossed hundreds of miles of Cornish footpaths through countryside and moorland and coast to coast. It’s wild and rugged, breathtakingly beautiful and elemental in equal measure, but just in case you need any more convincing here are a few more reasons to plan a hike on the UK’s most westerly peninsular:
When you’re planning your first backpacking trip you won’t get much better than Cornwall for gaining experience. Navigation on the coast path is pretty straight forward: keep the sea on your right! (Or your left if you’re so inclined!) The South West Coast Path is also very well signposted, so it’s a good way to practice your map-reading without it being critical.
If you're not ready for wild camping you'll discover plenty of campsites and b&b's along the way. And if you don't want to carry a lot of weight there are baggage transfer services between them. (which you might be thankful for on some of the more challenging sections!)
The south coast has plenty of sections that are kinder to the legs, with longer stretches of less demanding terrain. I recommend areas like Falmouth or the Roseland Peninsular, both areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – less demanding but no less spectacular!
And there’s another aspect to hiking and walking in Cornwall that most people forget: the myriad of inland paths available. The county boasts thousands of miles of Rights of Way; 2,239 miles to be precise (3,603km). For the most part they’re pretty underpopulated, which makes it easy to get away from it all. There are paths that hug tranquil creeks and waymarked trails that cross the county from coast to coast. (Try a day hike on the well sign posted St Michael’s Way or the Mineral Tramways Trail). There are farmland tracks, mining trails, rivers and woodland… Just about every type of landscape a beginner hiker could hope to explore.
The dramatic coastal landscape of Cornwall draws visitors like bees to a honeypot, clustering around pretty villages and small coastal towns. The drama and wildness of the cliff tops and the sweeping sands of long, pristine beaches take your breath away. But
Outside of the honeypots the coastline is the preserve of serious hikers and walkers. This is due in large part to the challenging terrain.
Hikers looking for a challenge should head to the north east coast or further west between St Ives and Lands End. On the south coast the path around The Lizard or Polperro area will get your quads burning and your heart pumping. And there’s no better reward for the tough work-out than the stunning landscape beneath your feet.
As well as the north east section of the South West Coast Path, you’ll find Bodmin Moor and the moors of West Penwith offer the opportunity to find some remote wildness, with rocky tors and granite outcrops studding the ancient landscape. Bronze age field systems, megaliths, stone circles and burial chambers can be found in their 1000s across the 2 moors, often within easy walking distance from each other. Even on a sunny summer’s day you can have the most impressive ones to yourself.
Solo hiking is a joy, a chance to clear your head and take in the world at your own pace without the guilt of pleasing anyone but yourself. You can stop wherever you want, whenever and how often you like. You can eat where you like and sleep where you want. As a woman who hikes I’ve always felt safe and at ease in Cornwall, never threatened or harassed. Prepare yourself well (know the tide times, carry a personal first aid kit, plan ‘exit routes’, remember that mobile phone signal is sketchy, etc) and the pleasure of solo walking, backpacking and wild camping in Cornwall will make you feel awesome. Trust me, I know: I’m a solo hiker!
Cornwall has over half of the South West Coast Path National Trail to call its own, which is 300+ miles of coastline to explore! Our coast is full of rich history, fascinating geology, extraordinary wildlife and landscapes. It offers everything from strenuous cliff climbs to easy stretches of sandy beaches and estuaries.
Discover more here: (NB link to the South West Coast Path page is coming soon!)The South West Coast Path
Cornwall has a granite spine that stretches from Lands End through St Austell and up to Bodmin Moor, where a string of granite outcrops (Tors) appear to burst and bubble through the land. It’s especially noticeable on higher ground where the landscape becomes wild and rugged. (I highly recommend a walk on The St Michael’s Way to experience it). The stone has been quarried for centuries, and towns, villages and hamlets are never without a typical granite cottage. Cornish granite has been used far and wide too, notably for monuments like Tower Bridge and Nelson’s Column in London.
It’s this unique geology that shapes the coastline with the dramatic cliffs, coves and harbours that make it famous. A hike on the South West Coast Path will take you through Millook Haven on the north coast where the zig-zagged cliff faces will leave you in awe. At Cligga Head near St Agnes the greisen veined rocks reach for the sky right beside the path. And a walk around the serpentine rocks at Kynance Cove will leave you no less impressed. It’s a humbling experience to walk in these places, but the interior landscape of Cornwall has a lot to offer too.
The characteristic small, meandering patchwork fields that shape the countryside are the result of the ancient enclosure of medieval strip-farming. Strips of land were combined and bounded with unique stock proof hedges and some field systems in the far south west are thousands of years old. Take a walk on one of the coast to coast trails like The Saint Michael’s Way and discover the landscapes most casual walkers ignore.
Iconic Cornish engine houses cling perilously close to the edge of cliffs at places like Botallack and St Agnes; ‘bricks and mortar’ evidence of Cornwall’s industrial past. Intensive mining for tin and copper has left the landscape scarred with stories to tell of wealth, boom and bust. Not forgetting an international reputation for the people and expert skills the industry produced, including engineer and inventor Richard Trevithick and the notable chemist and inventor Humphrey Davy.
Then there’s the stuff of myth and legend from Tintagel Castle to the giants of St Michael’s mount. You can walk along myriad routes of pilgrims and 18th century travellers that cross the county, or discover more recent history at Turnaware and Mount Edgcumbe.
Wherever you go walking in Cornwall you’ll discover the legacies of innumerable artists, writers and poets (and their characters) who lived, worked and were inspired by its people and the extraordinary landscape.
There are some fascinating wildlife habitats in Cornwall, and the Cornish hedge is unique among them. The Cornish hedge is built in a way not found anywhere else in the UK. Walk along any lane or field-edge and you’ll see stone faced hedges infilled with earth that are sometimes large enough to support oak and sycamore trees. There are 30,000 miles of Cornish hedges and most of them are ancient. They support a plethora of wildlife from small mammals, insects and birds to a diverse and colourful range of wildflowers. In upland areas the hedges look like ribbons weaving across the landscape, painted with a slick of gold when the gorse is in flower.
Birdwatchers should plan a hike in October when the annual migration often brings rare species to the coast. There are two RSPB reserves including the Hayle Estuary and Marazion Marsh. They both hug the coast so even the casual coast path walker might spot something extraordinary.
You might even be lucky to see seals, dolphins or basking sharks out in the bays in summer. But summer’s just one season of delights…