Ahead of the official opening of the Wales Coast Path on Saturday, we have a guest post from Jane Davidson, President of Ramblers Cymru, explaining how the Wales Coast Path came into being…
Dylan Thomas’ most famous poem, ‘Under Milk Wood’, starts, ‘To begin at the beginning’. Somehow, it’s a lot easier to say than do. I have been asked many times about when I first had the idea for a Welsh coast path. It would be great to be able to trace it back to one moment, but life isn’t like that; like many ideas, it took years in gestation, although it was helped by two critical events on the way – first, at the age of 16, walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with schoolfriends and seeing my first dolphins; the second was the brilliant decision of two Cardiff youth clubs to walk around Wales for International Youth Year in 1985.
Ideas, brilliant or otherwise, get nowhere without a plan, and the plan did leap forward quite suddenly in 2006. I was in the kitchen of Rhodri Morgan, the then First Minister of Wales, a keen walker and dolphin watcher. We were debating what to put in the manifesto for the next elections. Ramblers Cymru were calling for greater access to the coast so my suggestion of an ‘all Wales coastpath’ was a logical extension of that. What I didn’t know on that day was that Rhodri would then ask me to deliver on it.
The benefits of our new coast path will be enormous; indeed we can be confident about its economic and health contribution from the coast paths we have already. Research has identified a £57 return for every £1 spent on maintaining a coast path – and that’s money into our local economies. Healthwise, new research out in the last fortnight has identified the positive health benefits of being by the sea. Environmentally, the coastline of Wales would be hard to beat anywhere in the world – which is why there is global interest from the National Geographic and Lonely Planet.
The Ramblers and others continue to campaign, negotiate and undertake practical work in advance of the opening. On 5 Mayitself, our Big Welsh Coastal Walk will see 1000s of people out on the coast and in the three launch locations of Flint Castle, Aberystwyth Prom and Cardiff Bay. The full potential of the Wales Coast Path to have an enormously positive impact on coastal communities and visitors has yet to be realised and we hope that the innovative GeoVation Challenge will demonstrate real benefits to coastal communities on the way.
Walking costs nothing, so is open to all. You can walk the path north or walk it south for completely different experiences; you can take the 1027 mile challenge if you include Offa’s Dyke or the 870 mile challenge of the Welsh coast. You can go on horseback for some parts, on a bike for others or just amble to the nearest viewpoint. The path is there for all people of all ages, so it is there for you. Welcome to Wales, the only country I know where you can ‘discover the shape of our nation’ under your own steam.