UK travel: Six of the best stops on South West 660, Britain’s new road trip route


On the UK’s Southwest 660, a new roadtrip route that includes Exmoor National Park, it’s almost impossible not to be distracted by the amazing coastal panoramas. Photo / Getty Images

Going west on the coastal 660 is UK’s answer to America’s Route 66, writes Simon Heptinstall

Your rental car sweeps around wide, smooth bends on glorious cliff tops, the waves crashing on rocky shores below.

Drive slowly over the crest of Countisbury Hill, where Exmoor National Park meets the sea, heading west into an Atlantic sunset. The road rounds a headland and suddenly drops steeply into a hidden bay.

It’s almost impossible not to be distracted as an amazing coastal panorama opens up in front of you. It’s like a Hollywood sunset at the end of a blockbusting romance. You’re driving right into one of England’s finest views.

Through the windscreen, you’ll look down into Lynmouth Bay, where pretty Victorian houses cling to the far cliff among the trees above the beach, boats and a classic thatched harborside pub.

Perhaps you’ll stop and stay at The Rising Sun, a waterside inn that was already 400 years old when the Romantic poet Shelley had his honeymoon there in 1812.

Welcome to the South West 660, a new road trip route around England’s southwestern peninsular offering scores of roads, views and experiences like that. Route 660 is UK’s answer to Route 66 – the first British roadtrip that could become internationally famous thanks to one of the world’s great coastlines.

There are 1062km around the coastlines of Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. The route concentrates on smaller, quieter roads and avoids the honey-pot resorts that make the southwest one of the UK’s biggest internal holiday destinations.

In fact, South West 660 is aimed at out-of-season travellers, with promises of autumn trees overhanging winding estuaries, waves crashing against winter headlands and spring flowers along unspoilt coastal footpaths.

Lyme Regis is a pretty stop to spend a night or two as part of a road trip on the UK's new Southwest 660. Photo / 123RF
Lyme Regis is a pretty stop to spend a night or two as part of a road trip on the UK’s new Southwest 660. Photo / 123RF

Whatever time you drive the route, you’ll feel like you’re in a car ad if you take the stretch in the middle of the South Devon coast. Cruising along the more than 3km straight causeway at Slapton you’ll have a long freshwater lake sparkling a few feet on your right, while the sea crashes against pebbles a few feet away on your left.

Or maybe your most memorable motoring moment will be in a narrow leafy lane wiggling across Dorset’s rolling chalk cliffs. If you stop in a lay-by you can take a picnic staring down at the extraordinary nearly 30km and 180 billion pebbles of Chesil Beach, a geographical oddity stretching all the way to the horizon.

The launch of the South West 660 route this year comes as road trips have become all the rage for post-pandemic travelers in Europe. The 660-mile trip may be a once-in-a-lifetime motoring marathon – but can easily be tackled in shorter chunks.

It’s less about burning up the distance and ticking off the sight, more about slow travel and appreciating the journey. So the route is split into 12 sections each around 80km long – each one makes a great day trip.

Let me suggest some of the best sections. How do I know? I’m a former BBC Top Gear writer who has spent his career driving those roads. I know them so well I was asked to compile the entire route of the SW660. Here are some of my favorite bits:

1. Clovelly, Devon

Start by realizing that a road trip can be as leisurely as you like. So if you find a good hotel simply stay a while, forget the timetable and explore. One of the best hotels on the South West 660 route is perched on the harbor wall at Clovelly. This is probably Devon’s most picturesque seaside village, a traffic-free jumble of whitewashed cottages tumbling down a steep cleft in precipitous cliffs. Unique highlights here include waves spraying the Red Lion’s bedroom windows and nights in the bar turning into impromptu singsongs with the village lifeboat crew.

Clovelly is probably Devon's most picturesque seaside village, a traffic-free jumble of whitewashed cottages tumbling down a steep cleft in precipitous cliffs.  Photo / Getty Images
Clovelly is probably Devon’s most picturesque seaside village, a traffic-free jumble of whitewashed cottages tumbling down a steep cleft in precipitous cliffs. Photo / Getty Images

2. Corfe Castle, Dorset

The section of the route between Poole and Weymouth runs entirely through rolling unspoilt coastal downland officially designated as an Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty. Don’t just drive however – stop and walk to see memorable seascapes like Lulworth Cove’s strange circular beach, Durdle Door’s statuesque rock sea arch and Poole’s massive natural harbor dotted with islands and boats.

The highlight of the lot though is Corfe Castle’s romantic hilltop ruins. It’s one of Dorset’s most photogenic panoramas. Have smartphones ready, particularly at sunset. While you wait for sundown, the chocolate-box village is full of classic teashops, where scones with jam and cream are served on bone china plates in a hushed atmosphere.

Corfe Castle in Dorset, England, is one of the highlights of the Southwest 660, a new road trip route aimed to attract tourism.  Photo / 123RF
Corfe Castle in Dorset, England, is one of the highlights of the Southwest 660, a new road trip route aimed to attract tourism. Photo / 123RF

3. Lyme Regis, Dorset

The whole route is full of quirky local places to eat and drink, from old fishermen’s pubs to pop-up beach cafes. In the section between Weymouth and Lyme Regis for example, try walking down a grassy path to find The Hive beach cafe at Burton Bradstock. It’s just a wooden shed really but its signature dish is a glorious sandwich bulging with fresh local crabmeat.

Or book a table at celebrity chef Mark Hix’s Oyster House in the fossil-hunter’s haunt of Lyme Regis a few miles to the west. Savor his specialty of fried “Portland Pearls” with scotch bonnet mayo sitting at tables overlooking the old curving stone harbor wall far below.

4. Fowey River, Cornwall

Continue further west to find a sequence of winding estuaries on the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall, all with steep wooded banks and crammed with bobbing yachts. The Dart estuary is overlooked by the grand buildings of the Royal Naval College and The Fal opens out into one of Britain’s most historic natural harbours, where Nelson’s fleet once assembled.

But the prettiest estuary is probably the Fowey (pronounced “Foy” by locals). The road route crosses this river on a small ferry that lands in the pastel-painted fishing village of Fowey itself, full of art galleries, antique shops and cafes. It’s great to explore. Try the winding cliff path leading to a castle built by Henry VIII to deter pirate attacks.

5. The Far West, Cornwall

The road-trip route between Penzance and St Ives leads round the far western tip of Cornwall, the rocky Land’s End headland.

Follow the South West 660 and you’ll be taken along little lanes around the edge of the coast. This is a gloriously wild shore with hidden sandy coves, tiny harbors and trees bent by the wind. Along the way, find quirky sights like a spectacular open-air theater carved into the rocky sea cliffs 100 years ago and ancient mine workings extending under the waves that have been declared a World Heritage Site. In contrast, the main tourist road is an uninteresting A-road through the middle of Cornwall – the most memorable thing will be the traffic jams.

6. Hartland Quay, Devon

One of the best sections leads from Padstow in North Cornwall to Clovelly in North Devon. A sat nav would whiz you between the two along a bland trunk road in a dour hour. Instead, the Southwest 660 follows high-hedged lanes to Hartland Quay.

The final stretch twisting down to the shore feels as if you’re driving out to sea. It reaches a dead end where the only building is an old nautical hotel. The bar walls are full of lists of local shipwrecks but it’s a welcome retreat from sea spray and wind. The hotel makes a good stop for a chat over a pint of local beer and a hot pasty. Alongside are the rubble remains of the “Quay”. It was smashed to bits in a storm 100 years ago. Locals never tried to rebuild it. Round here the sea usually wins in the end.

CHECKLIST: SOUTH WEST 660

GETTING THERE
Dorset, where the South West 660 begins, is about three hours’ drive from London. For more information on the route, see southwest660.com

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