Saturday, 30 October 2010

A coastal footpath for England - part 2

My previous post about a coastal footpath that had been in my 'draft' folder for a few months. I decided to finally publish it when the proposals for the first section of new English coastal path - from the Isle of Portland to Lulworth Cove- were published on the NaturalEnglland website.

Since I was negative about the legislation, I thought I would take a detailed look at the proposals. The first thing to note is that they have sensibly split this stretch of coast under consideration into different sections.

My first comment is about the odd start-point of the area - Rufus Castle, which is halfway down the eastern coast of the Isle of Portland. Many of the documents state that follow-on work such as realigning the South West Coast Path national trail would only occur when the rest of the island was completed, but surely it would have made sense to do the whole of the island, instead of just the part immediately nearest the Olympic sailing locations? This decision seems exceptionally odd, and makes this look all like an attempt at creating an Olympic legacy.

Perhaps the best improvements will be made on the northerneastern side of the Isle of Portland. New footpaths will allow access to the low ground on the northern side of the island, an ex-military area. It is undoubtedly a good addition, and includes the Merchants Incline (an old railway line). This change enables a circumnavigation of the island without having to retrace your steps down to Chesil Cove and Chiswell. There are some downsides; some fine views over Chesil Beach shall be lost from the high points at Verne Yeates.

Other changes are generally positive: converting the old railway trackbed that runs alongside the A354 and Chesil Beach will provide a slightly quieter route than the existing route along the road. However, the trackbed is currently walkable for much of the route, and could lose a great deal of its character if surfaced over - after all, there is a road and pavement just a few yards away. Fortunately it looks as though this will not happen (see in the documents.

However, it does seem that most of the route further east just comprise detail changes to the existing South West Coast Path. Indeed, some of their changes actually mark my GPS logs recorded from walking on the ground, showing that these alterations are already in common usage. The formalisation of the footpath may be necessary, but is expensive new legislation required for it?

Another point I like is that in places they are not going to show a defined path on the ground in some places (e.g. WBY-SO71 above Furzy Cliff), but just waymarkers pointing you in the direction. I was fearful that they were going to turn this stretch into something akin to a motorway, but that does not appear to be the case.

So, all in all it is not as bad as I feared. However, neither do the proposed changes really set my world alight. The changes off the Isle of Portland are basically very minor, and nothing that could not be achieved by other means. The only great advantage of the legislation seems to be the 'spreading room', and this is an area of coast where it could really be useful due to the high rate of erosion. Again, though, is it worth the cost? It should be noted that the Scottish and Welsh governments have not gone for this gold-plated approach.

The latest edition of 'Trail' magazine has an article stating that much of the open access land is not being walked as much as expected. If so, then this is a real shame, especially given the cost. Many beautiful areas of the country have been made accessible by the open access legislation, and that is a good thing. Unfortunately this initial stretch of coastline does not give the public access to any new scenic areas.

It is well worth having a look at the documents on the NaturalEngland website. The real test of the usefulness of this legislation will be in the next stretches of the coast to be looked at:
  • Whitehaven to Allonby in Cumbria;
  • Durham, including Sunderland and Hartlepool;
  • Sheringham to Happisborough Common in Norfolk;
  • Dover to Ramsgate in Kent;
  • Minehead to Stert Point in Somerset
I shall wait and see, with hope.

No comments: