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Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner!

Frances Mills is a trail runner and tour guide for Active England Tours, she has spent the past three winters running around the 2,700 miles of England’s Coast. This blog highlights some of Frances’ favourite places to visit along the South West Coast Path, including some great personal tales and also her top tips for winter travel in Cornwall.

What to expect as a runner on the South West Coast Path

My first diary entry from this multi-year journey began..

“Only a few miles in and my back aches. My soles hurt as if I’ve been punching them”, and ended, “Now that I’ve sat down though – with a camping mug of hot tea and the sun still shining on my face - I can’t help but feel I’m on the right track”. 

Several pairs of muddy trainers and 2700 miles later, the enormity of England’s coastline and the general friendliness of the locals that live on the edges of our island still amazes and inspires me. 

Muddy shoes on the South West Coast Path
Trail running shoes are essential for the South West Coast Path! The miles take their toll - be ready for mud!

Before setting out, my questions for running on the coast were:

How would I cope with weeks on end of solo journeying? Would I see anyone alone on those cliff-tops? Would I find enough shops to buy food and fill up water? Would my legs carry me? Would people talk to me, the muddy girl with a tent on her back?

I chose to run during the winter months mostly to encourage more people to get outside and explore the edges of our wonderful Island throughout all the seasons, something that has become particularly relevant this year during the Covid-19 pandemic; with foreign travel becoming ever more elusive in 2020. Travelling out of season, I suspected not many people would be out on the trails for me to chat to - or give that breathless nod which seems somehow to encompass a warning of the steepness of hills to come as you jog past each other. 

I need not have worried! Runners, walkers and campers have joined me along the way, enjoying my slow routine of run, tea, run, pub, sleep! Keep the sea to my right and keep moving forward: across fields, over styles, around castles, along beaches and up cliffs. With Covid over every horizon, people are still just as keen to talk, though from a healthy distance of two meters (after all there’s an awful lot of space out there on the beaches and coastal paths!). I’ve never once felt crowded in. 

Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner! Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner!
Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner!

A list of the favourite places I visited during winter along the South West Coast Path

A list of the favourite places I visited during winter along the South West Coast Path

Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner!
Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner! Top places to visit on the South West Coast Path in Winter from a trail runner!
 

Frances’ top tips for winter travel in Cornwall 

If you’re planning a trip to Cornwall in the winter here are a few top tips on things to do, or to check before you visit.  

1. Check the ferries. I made the mistake several times of assuming the ferries ran through the winter, only to find a sign reading ‘open in March’. Without a car, this left me with the option of waiting several months or jogging an extra 10 miles along the estuary to the nearest bridge or crossing!

2. Be careful near the cliffs and along cliff-top trails. The winds can whip up in an instant and become quite dangerous. For those like me looking to go longer distances and be out all day, it might be worth carrying with you a tracker/device. I had a SPOT GPS satellite tracker with an emergency call function.

3. Pubs are your friend. Whether in the mood for a beer or a cranberry juice, I love discovering tucked away pubs along the coast. In winter you’re sure to meet friendly locals as you tuck into some freshly-caught local delicacy in the evening, often next to a roaring fire!

4. Layers. If you’re walking and running you might actually get nice and warm while you’re moving, but if the wind picks up or you slow down, it’s vital to have an extra layer with you to put on.

5. Tea! I never go on these adventures without a flask of tea. Perhaps it’s the English in me, but whether I’m sitting on a sunny day staring out at the waves, or walking on a cold snowy path watching the steam rise from my flask, there is nothing better than tea to warm you , cheer you up and keep you going.

Watch the video below, see the South West Coast Path and more from Frances' perspective in this great video!


Frances documents her coastal journey on her Instagram account, and works as a tour guide for Active England Tours. Be sure to follow her on Instagram here: @frances.mills