For those eager to stretch their legs, cloudy Britain will soon offer a bright ray of hope. By the middle of next year, the sea-swaddled nation plans to officially open the entirety of its Coast Path—a nearly 2,800-mile-long walking route that runs all the way around the English coast. Once completed, the path will be the longest managed and way-marked oceanside trail in the world, Evie Carrick reports for Travel and Leisure.
Though the full seaside stretch can’t yet be accessed, parts of the trail, which is divided into four areas—North West, North East, South East and South West—are already hikeable. Even in pieces, the path is nothing to sneeze at: The South West Coast Path, for instance, runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, boasting 630 miles of “superb English coastline,” according to its website.
As Sasha Brady reported for the Lonely Planet last month, governmental organization Natural England spearheaded the campaign to join up England’s existing coastal trails into a continuous jaunt about 10 years ago, shortly after the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The first official stretch of the England Coast Path opened in 2012 at Weymouth Bay in Dorset. (That same year, Wales opened its own Coast Path, an 870-mile-long stretch of trail that, when linked up with Offa’s Dyke Path, offers a 1,030-mile continuous stroll around nearly the entirety of the country.)
The decade-long effort in England involved a series of negotiations between the government and various landowners and stakeholders who previously retained rights of access over dozens of stretches of the nation’s coast. As Alan Franks reported for the Guardian in 2016, these discussions can last years, not including any maintenance that may be needed to get the grounds in tip-top shape.
But as the project nears its final stretch, the payoff is expected to be immense. Over the course of six months in 2019, walking enthusiasts completed more than 29 million hikes on England’s coastal paths—and numbers will likely only increase in lockstep with the path’s expansion, according to Lonely Planet. With seaside routes that wind walkers past coastal ports, rocky cliffs and sandy beaches, the trail is a history lesson and a nature hike rolled up in one.
“Our flagship England Coast Path is taking people through some of the finest and most important landscape in England, opening up historic landmarks, natural wonders and breathtaking scenery, enabling more visitors to experience, recognise and value the benefits of our environment,” Tony Juniper, Natural England’s Chair, said in a statement, as reported by Lonely Planet.
Though progress at a few trail sites has been slightly waylaid as officials sort out necessary environmental protection regulations, Natural England “continues to work towards opening as much of the England Coast Path as it can” this year. (It is currently unclear how much the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has stymied efforts.) Already, the agency has declared 2021 the “Year of the English Coast” in anticipation of the trail’s grand opening.