Another stretch of the coast, open for all

I recently joined the Norfolk Area Ramblers in a breezy Great Yarmouth for the launch celebration for the latest stretch of the England Coast Path.

The creation of the Coast Path is a requirement of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009), and requires Natural England to create both the path itself and areas of public access known as “spreading room” along the coastal margin. The path is due to be completed along the entirety of the coast of England by 2020.

As the newest recruit to the Ramblers’ Policy and Advocacy team, the occasion also gave me the chance to meet the dedicated team of volunteers who have been instrumental in making sure that this stretch of the England Coast Path provides the best walking experience.

Norfolk Area Ramblers at the Launch Ceremony
left to right: Ian Mitchell, Peter James, Catherine Hawkins and Ken Hawkins, from the Norfolk Area Ramblers at the Launch Ceremony.

To kick things off, the ceremony started with speeches from Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Andrew Sells (Chairman of Natural England) and Cllr David Collis (Chairman of Norfolk County Council). All three showed their enthusiasm for the coast path project, noting the importance of everyone having the chance to enjoy the coast. They all stressed the many benefits of walking to mental and physical health and wellbeing, the economic positives to coastal communities and the social history that the path will present to walkers as they travel along the coast.

David Collis speaks
Cllr David Collis of Norfolk County Council.

The ceremony concluded with Lord Gardiner cutting the traditional opening ribbon – this one green – and then a heritage walk around the sights of Great Yarmouth.

Coast Path opens
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Cutting the Ribbon.

Hopton-on-Sea to Sea Palling is the second stretch that this dedicated volunteer team has been involved in and their work started back in early 2013, with an initial survey of the coast and possible routes for the path to follow.

Promenade at Gorleston-on-Sea
Promenade at Gorleston-on-Sea.

By the time the team first met with Natural England to discuss the options, they had a detailed knowledge of the coastline and many of the practical constraints involved. In some areas, existing promenades made an obvious route for the path. In others, a path clearly needed to be created with new sleeper bridges and board walks providing coastal access for the first time.

Hopton-on-Sea holiday village
The coast next to the Hopton-on-Sea holiday village.

Through a series of consultation and progress meetings spanning over three years, the volunteers developed a very good, open and productive relationship with Natural England, and were able to bring their walkers’ perspective, local knowledge and useful contacts to the project to help the process along.

Coastal Erosion at Hopton-on-Sea
Coastal Erosion at Hopton-on-Sea.

On this stretch of coast, a particular area of concern is erosion and storm damage, with maintenance and coastal protection works being needed regularly in some areas. Natural England’s methodology for the Coast Path allows for this using “roll-back”, where provision is made for the path to move inland over time in locations known to be eroding.

The volunteers clearly enjoyed getting out on the coast, surveying the route and making their contribution to this incredible national project, which is creating a wonderful asset for future generations to enjoy.

Although there were many obstacles to overcome, and it was sometimes difficult to know which areas to survey in advance of discussions with Natural England, the team’s experience with the Coast Path project is growing and discussions have already started on the next stretch (Weybourne to Hunstanton). In the meantime, they have been out walking the newly opened stretch and giving feedback to Norfolk Trails who have been putting the infrastructure in place.

A map of progress on the Coast Path project is available online. With nine stretches now open to the public in the North East, North West, East Anglia, South East and South West, there are more places than ever before to go and explore the coast.