A groundswell of local support is building credibility and momentum behind a campaign to win national trail designation for one of the county’s most iconic and spectacular long distance hiking routes.
Richmond MP Rishi Sunak has received a series of enthusiastic responses after writing to every local authority along the 190-mile Coast to Coast route, a journey that was originally documented by pioneering fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright.
Although it is a reknowned hiking path, the scenic route between Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire and St Bees Head in Cumbria is not currently afforded official status by Natural England.
Conservative MP Mr Sunak believes the national trail tag would bring with it a host of benefits, not least protection for the route’s maintainence and an economic boost for the businesses that line it.
In a bid to add weight to his proposal, Mr Sunak has written to more than 70 parish, district and county councils, the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national parks and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - all of which the walk traverses or whose areas are nearby.
The MP said: “The response has been tremendous. More than 25 positive replies have been received and they are coming in thick and fast.”
One of the first local authorities to respond to Mr Sunak’s letter was Danby Wiske Parish Council. The Coast to Coast walk runs through the heart of Danby Wiske, near Northallerton.
Councillor Margaret Goldie, chairman of the parish council, presented the council’s response to Mr Sunak outside the village’s White Swan pub - the same venue that during a 2015 General Election campaign visit the politician was told by landlord Steve Knight about the importance of Coast to Coast walkers to his business.
Coun Goldie said: “The Coast to Coast is very important to the economy of the local area and we are keen to see its status recognised.”
The proposal was also backed by Richard Gunton, director of park services at the North York Moors National Park, although he said he was concerned about the future of national trail funding given the continued pressure on public spending.
Mr Gunton said: “National trails are fantastic, they bring all sorts of value to local businesses, improve the health of the nation and offer the best walking routes through the most spectacular landscapes. It makes absolute sense for the Coast to Coast to be a national trail, but we require resources and we wouln’t want to see it done at the expense of the existing family of national trails.”
Mr Sunak’s campaign was launched earlier this year with support from The Wainwright Society, custodian’s of the late fellwalker’s legacy.
Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, and Jamie Reed, the Labour MP for Copeland, have also backed the proposal.
NO QUICK WIN LIKELY
The Coast to Coast walking route was devised by the legendary fellwalker Alfred Wainwright and published as a book in 1973.
Despite its scenic route and longstanding popularity it is not among the 15 long distance routes in England and Wales that do currently have official status as national trails.
Such designation sees those responsible for the upkeep of national trail routes receive modest amounts of public funding for path maintenance, signposting and promotion.
Rishi Sunak MP and The Wainwright Society are canvassing both local business and political support for recognition of the Coast to Coast route in the hope that Natural England will agree to provide funding for a feasibility study after it has completed delivery of the England Coast Path.
The new national trail around the country’s coastline is due to be completed by 2020.