It was timely to launch the Emsworth Walkers Are Welcome Town on 30 November, just as the Ramblers published their Paths in Crisis report. This exposes the highway authorities’ cuts to their path budgets and the devastating effect these have on walkers.
There are over 100,000 outstanding reported path-problems in England, and about one third of English councils have slashed their path budgets again this year after three years of severe cuts. This is ridiculous when paths are so good for the local economy—as Emsworth admirably shows.
In order to achieve Walkers Are Welcome Town status Emsworth, on Hampshire’s south coast, had to meet six criteria. One is good public transport, and I can endorse this, having travelled there by train. There is also a bus service.
Towns must show that there is popular local support and endorsement from the council. This was evident at the launch. We met in the town square for the ceremony and there were about 30 people present.
The mayor of Havant, Paul Buckley, came to receive the certificate and give the Walkers Are Welcome town his blessing. The borough council unanimously endorsed the proposal in July. There were representatives from Emsworth Business Association, Emsworth Residents’ Association and Chichester Harbour Conservancy, among others. It was good to see a broad base of support for the initiative, giving confidence that it will endure (another of the criteria).
There must also be good marketing, and the steering group is doing a fine job, with publicity for the initiative.
They also have the support of local journalists and have had good coverage in the press.
Naturally, I am particularly keen that towns should meet the requirement to ensure their paths are in good order, with well-waymarked walks. Unusually, Emsworth is at the start of three long-distance paths: the Solent Way, the Wayfarer’s Walk and the Sussex Border Path.
Hampshire County Council has traditionally had a good record on paths, and that continues today (although it too will face huge pressures from cuts). We sampled Emsworth’s walking opportunities with a ramble along the combined Solent Way and Wayfarer’s Walk to Nore Barn Woods: this is one of a great selection on the Emsworth Walks website. I was delighted to observe flocks of black-tailed godwit and knot, as I don’t get much opportunity to see waders in the Chilterns.
Then it was back to Emsworth for lunch at the excellent Blue Bell Inn, courtesy of Giles Babbs, chairman of the Emsworth Business Association.
I received very warm welcome from Emsworth and am delighted it has joined the Walkers Are Welcome Towns family. But it is only the second in Hampshire, and we have relatively few towns in southern England. Now we need to encourage more towns to recognise the benefits to their local economy of achieving Walkers Are Welcome status.