The many tributes to Rhodri Morgan, the former first minister of Wales who died suddenly on 17 May (aged only 77), have so far failed to mention his pioneering role in giving us the Wales Coast Path.
Rhodri had a caravan at Mwnt on the Ceredigion coast. He loved walking there with his wife Julie, who is the brilliant Labour Assembly Member for Cardiff North.
In 2007, Jane Davidson, then Rhodri’s environment minister (now vice-president of Ramblers Cymru), first discussed the idea of the Wales Coast Path with Rhodri in his kitchen. Rhodri was delighted with the proposal which he could see would be wonderful for Wales. He gave it his full backing and funding—a bold and confident move during the recession. It meant substantial new money for all the coastal authorities, via the Countryside Council for Wales, with match funding from Europe. It was a massive exercise, and it would never have happened without Rhodri’s energy and enthusiasm for the project.
And his confidence was more than justified. A year after the path was opened in 2012 it had brought £32 million to the Welsh economy, exceeding its costs many times over in one year alone.
The Wales Coast Path, enabling us to walk the shape of the nation, is one of Rhodri’s great legacies. He was a good friend to the Ramblers. It was a privilege to walk up Snowdon with him, and other Assembly Members past and present, on 12 June 2009 to celebrate the opening of Hafod Eyri on the summit.
And only a month ago he took the trouble to come, with Julie, to Ramblers Cymru’s council at Stackpole to engage in a lively conversation with Jane Davidson and answer questions from those present. We heard of his firm belief in the value of walking for health and well-being; he told us funny stories and he urged us to keep up the campaign for paths and access, to ensure that local authorities fulfil their statutory obligations.
It is a tragedy that he has died so prematurely; he should have enjoyed many more years of walking those paths which he helped to create and defend and which give us all so much pleasure.