It has been announced today that the Coast-to-Coast, the classic long-distance walk across Northern England, will be accorded official National Trail status. Conceived and promoted by Alfred Wainwright, the 317km (197 mile) route linking St Bees in Cumbria with Robin Hoods Bay on the North Sea coast runs across the grain of upland England to take in three National Parks - the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors, as well as a snippet of the North Pennines AONB.
Adoption as an official route will bring increased investment in trail infrastructure and, it is hoped, generate knock-on benefits to businesses and local communities.
"The designation of Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk as a National Trail has long been one of the Society's ambitions" said Eric Robson, Chair of the Wainwright Society.
"The Walk is one of the country's most popular long-distance routes, and helps support businesses and jobs from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, including in some of the north's most sparsely populated rural communities. We very much welcome, therefore, the news that the route will become a new National Trail."
First featured in a Wainwright guidebook in 1973, it has grown to become one of Britain's best-known and most-walked backpacking routes, walked end-to-end by an estimated 6000 people per year. However unlike other established routes such as the Pennine Way, the Coast-to-Coast has to date existed as an unofficial trail, as much an idea as a physical entity.
The new official status will see the route recorded on Ordnance Survey maps in its entirety for the first time. Its adoption by Natural England as one of the country's National Trails will also bring funding for path maintenance, and give the whole route the security of right of way designation.
A budget of £5.6 million has been set aside for path 'improvements', which will include new path surfaces, signposts and waymarking, and replacing stiles with gates to help make the trail accessible to more people of different abilities. New circular branches will be established, to make it easier for people to do short sections of the route rather than walking it end-to-end.
The enhanced path is expected to open in 2025.
The intention is for it to follow as closely as possible the line of the unofficial trail. While 85% of the existing route is a public right of way or on land with existing legal access rights there are some locations where changes to the existing rights of way or new paths are needed, say Natural England "to ensure the long-term sustainability of the trail". Working with the relevant National Park and other local authorities, the agency will now begin to discuss proposals to create 9.7 miles [it's unclear why they want to work in old money - Ed.] of new public footpath and 9 miles of new public bridleway, as well as the re-alignment of 5 miles of existing rights of way.
Adoption as the 17th officially sanctioned National Trail in England and Wales will mean the route can be promoted on the Visit Britain and National Trails websites, with the aim of creating new opportunities for international and domestic tourism.
Even as an unofficial trail the Coast-to-Coast is estimated to bring in around £7Million per year for the local economy of the areas it passes through. Natural England plan to "boost the economic and social benefits" and help encourage local businesses to further develop opportunities such as tour guiding services, or accommodation and hospitality provision.
"The way we will now develop the Coast to Coast into a National Trail is a turning point for national trail development as it will be the first national trail where delivery of the social and economic benefits for users and communities will be built in from the start" said Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Natural England.
"Once established the Coast to Coast National Trail will allow many different types of users, with a range of abilities and backgrounds, to connect with nature on this iconic walking route whilst also bringing the benefits of tourism and other business to communities along the trail."
Natural England will also work with local communities and local authorities boost access for people of all abilities. This will include working with disabled user groups, and developing shorter side loops to make it easier for residents living near the trail to use it as a practical resource.
"This is the start, of course, of bringing the project to successful fruition" said the Wainwright Society's Eric Robson.
"But this is a very exciting and important step and we look forward to working with partners along the route to establish the C2C Walk as one of the UK's great National Trails. As Alfred Wainwright said of the walk he devised: "Surely there cannot be a finer itinerary for a long-distance walk!"