The Serpentine Coast: Exploring the Lizard on the South West Coast Path
Is the South West Coast Path top of your hiker’s bucket list? This long-distance coastal route is one of the most beautiful walks in Britain – but its 630 miles of path might look a bit overwhelming if you want to dip in for a walk or two and aren’t sure where to start exploring. The South West Coast Path Association’s inspiring new itineraries are designed to help you fit some of the very best of the coastline into just a few days. They make the perfect introductions to gems such as Exmoor’s wilderness coast or Devon and North Cornwall’s myths and legends. And for walkers and keen wild swimmers, it doesn’t get better than spending three days on South Cornwall’s remote Lizard Peninsula. I spent a long weekend exploring the South West Coast Path’s Serpentine Coast itinerary.
If you’re looking for Cornwall’s wild side, the Lizard Peninsula is the perfect place to start. This really is the end of the line – the most southerly point in Britain is home to mermaid coves, miles of cliffs paths, lofty lighthouses and some rather famous pasty shops. There are no mythical dragons here, if case you’re wondering about the name – it comes from the old Celtic ‘lys ardh’, meaning ‘high court’.
These three walks, curated by the South West Coast Path Association, the charity that looks after the trail, are the perfect introduction to the Lizard’s wild coastline, sheltered coves, subtropical gardens and maritime history. Businesses recommended on these itineraries also support the upkeep of the trail through the charity’s Way Maker scheme – meaning your pounds help look after the Path too. I’ve also created mapped versions of the three routes on Komoot for anyone keen to follow in my footsteps.
We stayed in the village of Lizard at Haelarcher Farmhouse, a cosy B&B a stone’s throw from the Coast Path, and spent each day following a new route along the shoreline. There’s plenty to do when you aren’t walking the coast. too – visit the Cornish seal sanctuary, explore Trebah’s subtropical gardens and grab one of Ann’s famous pasties for supper.
Day one: Around the Lizard peninsula (7km walk)
Welcome to the Lizard. This relaxed circular walk from the village of Lizard and around the coast is the perfect introduction to this remote peninsula. Walk it clockwise to start off with sweeping views of the wild rocks that guard Kynance Cove, then follow the Coast Path south to reach Lizard Point, Britain’s most southerly point, guarded by the tall tower of Lizard Lighthouse.
Pass the lighthouse and follow a gentler section of the coast to reach Church Cove, where postcard-pretty thatched cottages spill down the lane to the sea. There’s a lovely lookout point above the tiny harbour where you can sit and watch the painted fishing boats bob and keep an eye out for seals before you had back to Lizard for a well-earned pasty.
Day two: Lizard to Mullion and back (10 or 20km walk)
Take on one of the wildest stretches of Cornwall’s coast on your second day on the Lizard. This blustery route connects the villages of Lizard and Mullion, and is a place of heathland and big views of rugged cliffs and rocky coves, although its rather raw beauty is softened in spring by the arrival of calmer blue waters and wild flowers. Walk through sweet-smelling yellow gorse and spot the resident wild ponies that graze around the path on your way to Mullion and Mullion Cove – the wide harbour is a great place to stop for lunch or to grab a coffee from Poldhu Cafe.
You can easily make this a one-way 10k walk by catching a bus back to Lizard to Mullion, but I loved walking there and back again – stop for lunch in Mullion and then walk home via Kynance Cove, perhaps Lizard’s most famously beautiful beach, for a swim. This is section of the coast is well-known for shipwrecks, but sharp eyes may be able to spot another kind of fascinating wreck on this walk – inland is Predannack Airfield, where there’s an airplane graveyard of abandoned fighter planes and helicopters just visible from the Coast Path.
Time your return for low tide, when Kynance Cove’s sandy stretch of beach is revealed, and go searching among the rocks for the Mermaid Pool, a deep tidal pool perfect for a cooling post-walk dip.
Day three: Rosemullion (6km walk)
Rosemullion is the gentler and more sheltered side of the Lizard Peninsula, and this Coast Path circuit is the perfect ramble for a relaxed sunny day, starting in the village of Mawnan Smith and following a path shaded by palm trees and giant ferns down to the ocean. This cove-hopping 6km walk is also a lovely route for keen sea swimmers – it was one of the first balmy days of spring when I walked this route, and I managed a dip at each of the sheltered beaches that the coast path winds past. Bream Cove, Porth Saxon and Porthallack are small sheltered coves perfect for a swim or just a sunbathe – this may not be a long or demanding walk, but you could easily spend a whole day following it, beach-hopping or walking a little further to explore Trebah’s subtropical gardens.
On your way back to Mawnan Smith, stop at the wooden swing that hangs beneath cypress trees just off the Coast Path – the view from here of the sparkling Helford Estuary will make you think you’re exploring somewhere far more exotic than Cornwall. If you only have time to take on one of these Lizard routes, this is probably my favourite – just don’t forget your swimsuit.
Where to stay
Haelarcher Farmhouse (pictured above): This stone farmhouse has stood looking out to sea since the 1600s – now it’s a cosy B&B where walkers get a warm welcome from owner Caroline and resident dog Roscoe. We stayed in an airy bedroom looking out at Kynance Cove and appreciated the hearty Cornish breakfasts, which will set you up for a big day of walking.
Henry’s Campsite: Welcome to the strange and wonderful. That’s how Henry’s describes itself – this quirky little campsite is home to hidden corners, beach-inspired artwork and a very chilled vibe. Each camping pitch is in its own mini garden, shaded by palm trees and complete with a picnic table and a view of the sea.
Lizard YHA: Youth Hostels don’t get much better located than this bright former hotel, a step or two off the coast path and right next door to Lizard lighthouse. There’s a lovely garden to hang out in, and a well-equipped kitchen if you fancy cooking one evening.
Lizard Lighthouse Cottages: Play at being a lighthouse keeper and sleep at Britain’s most southerly point at one of these six smart self-catered cottages, right under the watchful eye of Lizard lighthouse.
Find out more about the South West Coast Path and discover bookable and self-led itineraries on the National Trails website. Or explore even further by visiting the South West Coast Path Association’s website packed with information, walks and even more trip inspiration.
The mapped versions of these three Lizard walks are also available on Komoot.