Exploring the SWCP with Photographer David Miller

Originally used as a patrol route in the 19th century, the 630 miles of unbroken trail and 115,000 feet of total elevation - just short of climbing Everest 4 times - now serves as a haven for trail runners seeking adventure, solitude, and challenge.

Written by
David Miller
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6
min read
Summary
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The South West Coast Path has always had a hold on me. Also known as the Salt Path, it’s a place to see mother nature in full force, and as a passionate runner and a photographer, it’s a place that never ceases to bring new opportunities, experiences, and adventures. 

I remember taking a trip to Hartland Quay which is located in a virtually unspoilt corner of North Devon. It is wonderfully remote and punctuated by great jagged ridges of rock stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was here I witnessed the raging fury of huge breakers crashing in full force against this tiny headland. Rain and south-westerly winds added to the drama, testing my resilience. Boy did I feel good about finishing that five-miler. Tough didn’t do it justice when the wind was howling and the rain was driving across the horizon, intent on pummelling me into submission. That sense of accomplishment, that you’ve achieved the amazing, is a feeling I’ll always associate with the SWCP.

Trail running as a whole is booming in this part of the world and it’s easy to see why. Sweeping beaches, dramatic cliffs, blustery headlands and sheltered coves, this coastline trail has so much to offer. Whether it's pastoral tranquility or fierce, physical challenge you're looking for, there is a stretch of path for just about every kind of runner. But make no mistake, this coastline can be unforgiving and anybody taking it on alone should be both mentally and physically prepared.

Having spent years on the trail and developing as a runner, it’s hard to choose a single favourite section. Especially when there’s 630 miles to choose from. But there are five sections that I would recommend to any runner looking to experience the sheer beauty and defiant natural challenge the South West Coast Path brings.

St Agnes (Cornwall):

Set on the cliff tops high above the Atlantic Ocean and in the shadow of the beacon; St Agnes is seemingly remote and peaceful. Big blue seas with purple and yellow heathland are to be expected here. It’s rich in Cornish mining heritage so be sure to pass through the iconic ruins at Wheal Coates.

Hartland Quay (Devon):

A dramatic and awe-inspiring section of coastline decorated by great jagged ridges of rock. Arguably one of the most challenging sections of the SWCP but totally worth the effort as you’ll pass the majestic Speke’s Mill Mouth Waterfall.

White Nothe (Dorset):

The White Nothe is a huge white chalky cliff that dominates this section of coastline. On a clear day you’ll witness layer after layer of interlinking background stretching across the world famous Jurassic Coast. Truly a sight to see.

Valley Of The Rocks, Exmoor (North Devon):

1 km west of the village of Lynton you’ll find the hugely popular Valley Of Rocks showcasing its rocky crags and towering pinnacles. The coastal cliff trails are amongst the highest in Britain and will reward you with some spectacular views. You may even be greeted by a herd of friendly feral goats...

Kynance Cove (Cornwall):

A unique and picturesque cove near Lizard Point marking the most southerly point in Britain. This area features stunning white beaches, turquoise seas, and hidden coves. A truly unique section of the SWCP.

For me The South West Coast Path is so much more than just a trail. It’s a source of inspiration and a beacon of hope during difficult times. Since the pandemic hit, we have all experienced isolation, loss, loneliness and uncertainty so places such as this, that offer a natural sense of healing, are needed more than ever.

The path is overseen by the South West Coast Path Association and, as a rough guide, it costs the charity at least £1,000 per year for every mile of the SWCP to be kept open, maintained and clearly signposted. The association exists because they believe everyone should have access to the path as a place to connect with nature, relax, exercise, and take time away from the stresses of daily life. If you’ve ever experienced the happiness, joy, pain, suffering, or tears the SWCP can bring, I’d encourage you to explore what they do and how you can get involved.

And if you want the numbers, the South West Coast Patch has a lot of them. For starters, the trail sees on average 8,600,000 visitors per year. Roughly 30,000 stairs add to the 115,000 feet of ascent, with the highest point of the path sitting at 1044 feet above sea level. There are 880 gates along the 630 miles of trail, with 436 stiles, 230 bridges, and 13 ferries. The trail is also home to 2 world heritage sites.

I thrive on showing the world trail running through my eyes, it’s my calling and my camera allows me to do this - basically a license to explore. Living on the coast has allowed me to capture both amateur and professional runners on this beautiful path I like to call my home.

Golden Cap - the highest point on the South Coast of Britain.

Jamie Stephenson cruising to a course record at the KVK race in St Agnes, Cornwall.
Jodie Gauld climbing up the Minnack Theatre steps during the South West Traverse.
Nicky Spinks finding her flow approaching Porthleven.
Will Harper-Penrose running free at Wheal Coates. 
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Author Bio

David Miller

David Miller is a sports photographer and runner based on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, UK. To see more of his work, follow his photography Instagram account at davidmillerphotography_

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