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Trail talk: Wainwright’s Coast to Coast- a new National Trail

Three Points of the Compass recently walked the Pennine Bridleway. My last night was spent at the Pennine View Campsite at Kirkby Stephen. This is also a popular halt for those walking the Coast to Coast and I spent some time chatting with a handful of backpackers following that route. What was all too apparent was the daftness of my having just completed a National Trail that (in my opinion) shouldn’t be one, while they were following an ‘unofficial’ trail that should be a National Trail. Well, at least part of that is to change.

The Coast to Coast joins the Cleveland Way for a few miles of its length and the number of walkers seen increases as a result. Care must be taken to not wander from the correct path
Three Points of the Compass has crossed the Coast to Coast on various other routes. I encountered it here when hiking the Cleveland Way in 2019. One path received the official Acorn on signage, the other did not

As I write this, there are nineteen National Long Distance Trails in the UK. These are in England, Wales and also includes three of Scotland’s Great Trails- The Great Glen Way, Southern Upland Way and the internationally popular West Highland Way. An official joint announcement from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Natural England and the Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Rural Affairs, access to nature and Biosecurity), informs us that another path will be upgraded in status. This is the Coast to Coast (C2C), crossing England from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. It passes through some cracking countryside and has gained an enviable reputation as an experience to be savoured.

Approval has now been given for the Coast to Coast to be given National Trail status. A recent press release (12 August 2022) has confirmed what many of us have been anticipating for some time. This is great news for England. Scotland has had their own coast to coast for some time. This is the Southern Upland Way and, though few seem to note it, the Great Glen Way both trails traverse from sea to sea.

There is a cost to giving a trail official ‘national’ status of course. £5.6 million has been initially committed to the required upgrade of the route. We are informed that 85% of the existing route is a public right of way or on land with existing legal access rights. Natural England are to create 9.7 miles of new public footpath, 9 miles of new public bridleway and 5 miles of realignment of existing rights of way. The upgraded path is forecast to open in 2025 but obviously everyone will continue to walk it in the interim. The Wainwright Society have been providing, arranging and maintaining waymarking for some years now but that financial and administrative burden will be lifted from them and additional signage installed and maintained long-term. An annual trail maintenance figure of £200k has been estimated of which 25% would come from authorities on the route.

We are told that the new National Trail will closely follow the existing route, maps can be seen here. Volunteers have been improving paths, laying flags etc for decades now. The trail paths have to be up to handling an increased footfall and will require still further costly ‘improving’ with installation of tougher surfaces in places to protect both the walker and sensitive environments, removal and replacement of stiles with gates, all with, again, ongoing maintenance. But to counteract the cost of this, there will be an inevitable uplift in local economy. And, it must be noted, the Coast to Coast is already a very popular trail with over 6000 people completing it each year of whom a quarter are thought to be overseas visitors. Accommodation providers, facilities, mapping, guidebooks and baggage transfer are already largely in place but these will no doubt increase as a result of the increased footfall.

As mentioned above, there are currently 19 National Trails. When the Coast to Coast joins them in three years time it is almost certain to become the 21st, as by then, if they ever do get it finally signed off, the England Coast Path will have become the 20th. Those almost 3000 coastal miles will also include parts of or all of other National Trails- the Cleveland Way, [Peddars Way &] Norfolk Coast Path, South West Coast Path and Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

The first laid down English ‘coast to coast’ guidebook was designed by Alfred Wainwright and published in 1973. I had hoped that his name could actually be included in the re-designated National Trail but that is not within the proposal from Natural England. That said, the great man thought that such a trail should not be prescriptive and that walkers should make the trail their own and not slavishly follow his suggestion. Just as well as the route has been altered many times in the intervening years. The current trail is around 197 miles in length and most walkers will take around two weeks to complete it. I haven’t yet walked it but it has been hovering around on my ‘to do’ list for some time now and this is probably the impetus I required to push it up my list.

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