The new stretch of coastal access, 36 kilometres from Whitehaven north to Allonby in west Cumbria, is a good thing for many reasons. It will encourage people to visit this grand but unsung coast, bring important income to areas which suffer some deprivation; and it will provide a facility for local people.
It was splendid, in my role as Ramblers’ president, to join local Ramblers to celebrate the completion of this stretch. The coastal access is not just a new national trail, but has ‘spreading room’ stretching down to the sea and inland to a sensible boundary. Here one can roam freely or stop for a picnic. The legislation which led to the creation of this access, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, is an ingenious combination of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act’s long-distance paths (now known as national trails) and the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act’s right to roam.
We walked the path between Allonby and Maryport, in the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on a bright and breezy April morning, with views across the Solway to Criffel and right round to Mull of Galloway.
We were led by Ian Brodie, who has co-ordinated local Ramblers in defining the route for Natural England (the body which is responsible for creating the new access). Ian’s all-round knowledge of Cumbria and beyond is phenomenal. Without Ian, I doubt any of us would have noticed the meadow saxifrage which, he told us, is rare in Cumbria.
The route had already been created between Allonby and Marport as a cycle track, which is good for a range of users.
It has had its controversy; indeed I objected on behalf of the Open Spaces Society to Cumbria County Council’s application to site the cycle track on Crosscanonby Common (we lost).
Allonby is a fascinating place, a former resort for the people of Carlisle, with surprising architecture such as The Baths.
The town is strung out along the road, separated from the sea by a broad village green. Behind there are cobbled side-roads, and a farm in the town centre.
The idiosyncratic reading room has been renovated and is now a private house.
Unfortunately, the long village greens have been abused by car-parking and partly surfaced—I don’t know if they are registered greens but, if they are, this is particularly regrettable.
When we reached Maryport I cut a ribbon to mark the Ramblers’ opening of the path (the official opening, by Natural England, had been two days earlier).
Already work is well underway on the next stretch of coastal access south of Whitehaven, Ramblers are helping to identify the line of the coastal path and the extent of the spreading room.
All credit to Natural England, the Ramblers and other organisations who are making access right round our coast a reality.