The Secretary of State for the Environment has today formally announced the route of the first stretch of the English coastal path, bringing the vision of a continuous round-England route one small step closer to reality.
The 32km path runs from Rufus Castle on Portland to Lulworth Cove in Weymouth Bay. New access provisions will be introduced along the route in time for the Olympics.
It's a modest beginning to a huge undertaking perhaps, but a you've got to start somewhere. Back in 2009 the Marine and Coastal Access Act made the round-England route a serious prospect, but since the coalition Government gained power in Westminster progress has been sluggish. To date work on implementing coastal access has only started on six relatively small sections of coast in Weymouth Bay, Norfolk, Durham, Somerset, Kent and Cumbria.
Walking Charity the Ramblers has worked closely with the BMC, Natural England, the local authority and other stakeholders to ensure the best route for the Weymouth Bay section. The path, say supporters, will boost the area's tourism economy, as well as improving social wellbeing, health and enjoyment. Crucially, access rights will extend beyond the path itself, giving climbers as much reason to celebrate as walkers.
'The BMC is particularly relieved that the Secretary of State has made sensible decisions in respect of several objections to the coastal access proposals. Specifically the recognition that climbing is a permitted activity under both the new access provisions and in areas of existing open access as defined by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act' says Access and Conservation Officer Cath Flitcroft in a piece on the BMC website.
'There was some concern for example, that climbing would be prohibited along the stretch of coast from Durdle Door to Stair Hole but this will not be the case. Following discussions between Natural England, the landowner and the BMC, it is envisaged that some voluntary seasonal climbing restrictions will be put in place along this stretch of coast in order to protect some important species of cliff nesting bird, but these restrictions will be based on the 'least restrictive approach' principle.'
The BMC and the Ramblers are now urging the government to press on with the next stages of this project and bring the benefits of the coastal path to the rest of England.
Justin Cooke, Ramblers Senior Policy Officer, said:
'This is a great day for walkers everywhere as we see the first steps towards our vision of a continuous English coastal path become a reality.'
'An English coastal path would take in exhilarating cliff-top walks, breathtaking shorelines, an abundance of wildlife and millions of years of the earth's history, as well as breathing new life to our coastal villages and seaside towns.'
'We now urge the government to clearly set out the timeline for the next stretches of the path and bring the benefits of this exciting project to the rest of the country.'
But hang on, doesn't the South West Coast Path already run along this stretch of Dorset's shoreline? In which case, what's really changed? We wondered that too. Justin Cooke explains:
'Though it does roughly follow much of the South West Coast path, the route importantly has "spreading room" either side of the path which is Open Access Land meaning that people can enjoy more of the coast, more freely.'
'The new route [also] includes what is referred to as "roll back", meaning that as the coast is eroded the route will simply roll back with the line of the coast, rather than having to have a new right of way instated like you would have with many existing coastal paths.'
Still, the full English lap is still many years away, at best. Meanwhile the completed Welsh coastal path is set to launch on May 5 this year, making Wales the first country in the world to have a continuous coastal path, albeit with a narrower margin of flanking access land than envisaged under the English plan.