Imagine going for a long coastal walk without the hassle of having to loop back to wherever you parked your car. You can stop along the way to sample local food and drink as well as attractions and then, without re-tracing your steps, stay overnight in a local B &B, pub or hotel before continuing your coastal adventure the next day. Along the way you’ll enjoy new vistas along the South West Coast before hopping on the train or bus to get you back home again. Sounds good? Well, fortunately for those visiting the West Country, a ‘road trip’ with a difference has been devised by the team at South West 660. ‘We had the idea over a beer!’ says one of its co-founders, Chris Jackson. ‘We were discussing how best to showcase this beautiful corner of the UK while helping to support the hospitality sector in the low season. And this brilliant new coastal route, the South West 660, was the result!”
Originally created as an off-peak road trip, the route covers 660-miles from Poole in Dorset to Watchet in Somerset, following the beautiful coastline of South West England, and it’s divided into 12 sections, each around 50 miles, which cover the four counties that make up this corner of the UK. The aim of the South West 660 was to encourage visitors in the quieter off season months, as well as working with local restaurants, accommodation providers and tourist attractions, to help boost tourism when the days are shorter.
What they quickly realised is that there are many keen walkers who still wish to explore the South West during the busier spring and summer season. And so, in order to avoid using the busy road network, they introduced an ‘eco-hike road trip’ option using public transport during the peak season, combined with walking sections of the Coast Path.
It's a win-win for all involved. The local economy continues to prosper, walkers can enjoy the longer days and fairer weather, and the environment benefits from the lowered carbon emissions.
Blue skies in Weymouth as I step off the train. (Photo: Rachel Mead)
Eco-hiking the South West 660 in Dorset
Never one to shy away from an eco-hike, I was invited by the South West 660 team to ‘test drive’ the sustainable route. I packed a light rucksack with minimal overnight necessities and alighted from the train in Weymouth on a sunny morning. I spent a happy hour strolling along the promenade enjoying the sculpture trail and enjoying a leisurely coffee by the beach, before catching the bus to my next destination. This slow approach to travel is what the South West 660 trail is all about; their mantra ‘Experience the journey, discover the destination’ emblazoned on their website clearly states this. You’ll have ample time to soak up the local culture and, perhaps, come across things which would normally pass you by.
The itinerary which lay ahead of me on this Weymouth in Dorset to Topsham in Devon section, featured an open top bus ride to West Bay. Here I would pick up the South West Coast Path and walk the 10 miles along this stunning section of the Jurassic Coast ending up in Lyme Regis for a late lunch. From there I would cover the coastline in a ‘hike and public transport combo’ to finish in Topsham the following evening before catching the train home to Dorset.
View from my front row seat in the bus as we go through Abbotsbury. (Photo: Rachel Mead)
On the buses
For the bus journey between Weymouth and West Bay, ‘bagsy’ those front seats at the top! The bus gifts you a magical ride through West Dorset, the thatched cottages in Abbotsbury being the highlight for me. And this is where I hopped off to do some exploring. With the 14th century St Catherine’s Chapel offering splendid coastal views, and Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens (declared by Alan Titchmarsh as the ‘finest gardens I have ever visited’), it’s a worth stopping off here before you wave down the next bus to West Bay.
You may feel a sense of the familiar on arrival at this pretty harbour as West Bay was the location for ITV’s award-winning thriller Broadchurch. It’s distinctive golden cliffs playing a starring role alongside David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Ruud Jansen Venneboer, co-founder of South West 660 says that many of their visitors are Europeans who come here to see these locations. ‘They are often inspired by British film and TV, and love nothing more than recognising what they may have seen on the big screen. They also love the land and seascapes of the West Country, its quaint towns and villages, as well as its history and culture which is on display wherever they look.’
With plentiful eateries, West Bay is an ideal pre-hike pit-stop. Hotly recommended is The Station Kitchen, which hosted several of the stars of Broadchurch when they were filming here. Based in former train carriages in the now defunct West Bay Station, their creamy seafood curry would fuel you up well for your hike along the Jurassic Coast if you decided to lunch here instead.
Woodfired Seaside Sauna Haus at Seatown. (Photo: Rachel Mead)
The Royal Route & Golden Cap
The South West Coast Path leads you up West Cliff before merging with the Monarch’s Way as it tracks along the cliff edge. This 625-mile long distance footpath traces the escape route King Charles II took after his defeat against Oliver Cromwell in 1651, part of which passes through Dorset. After three miles of hiking, you’ll arrive in Seatown. Local amenities here include The Anchor Inn next to the beach and the wood-fired Seaside Sauna Haus. Enjoy some chilling out time here as you are about to scale the highest point along the Coast Path - Golden Cap. At 191 metres high it gets the heart racing, but the views are magnificent. Just take it at a pace that suits you.
The Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis, run by celebrity chef and food writer Mark Hix. (Photo: South West 660)
Falling in love with Lyme
Lyme Regis was a midway stop along my longer South West 660 experience. And it certainly warrants an overnight stay so you can explore this delightful town from its glorious Cobb to its fossil strewn beaches. Dorset House, an award-winning B & B in a glorious Georgian house, is renowned for its four-course ‘breakfast with rooms’ including homemade bread and locally sourced breakfast ingredients. There are plenty of options for dining out, including Poco Pizza with their authentic Italian pizza. While The Oyster & Fish House serves spanking fresh fish caught from sparkling Lyme Bay that you see on your route. The town recently unveiled a statue of its most famous resident, the trail-blazing fossil hunter Mary Anning, which you can see by the Marine Theatre. And you can book a guided fossil walk at Lyme Regis Museum, if you fancy looking for ammonites with an expert.
I really enjoyed planning my eco-hike along the South West Coast Path, checking the bus or train times and then factoring in what to see along the way - you can take things as leisurely as you like. If this appeals, then become a member of the South West 660 for just £15 a year, which gives you discounts in many eateries and hotels along the whole 660-mile route taking in Somerset, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. There is plenty to explore, from glorious coastal views and award-winning local food and drink to cultural and historic treasures. I can’t wait to embark on my next eco-hike on the South West 660.
Find out more at southwest660.com