Rishi Sunak: Coast to Coast walk deserves national status

IN my first year as MP I have clocked up thousands of miles criss-crossing my constituency, from the top of the Yorkshire Dales to the North York Moors.

However travelling the length of my constituency is not a pastime reserved for Richmond MPs alone.

For almost half a century, ramblers from across the world have been walking the Coast to Coast walk – a spectacular footpath stretching from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay via my Parliamentary constituency, which itself it is the longest in England.

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This might seem like local trivia, but to the people living in my area, the walk is of more than sentimental importance.

One spring day during the 2015 General Election campaign, I called into the White Swan at Danby Wiske, near Northallerton, to speak to the landlord Steve Knight.

He told me how important the walk was to the prosperity of his pub and bed and breakfast business and how, in the summer months, it brings hundreds of walkers through his doors in search of a well-earned pint, food and rest.

Steve isn’t alone. Speaking to hundreds of local businesses I soon discovered that the tourism benefits of the Coast to Coast are of vital importance to North Yorkshire’s economy.

Devised in 1973 by the legendary fell walker Alfred Wainwright, the route packs some of the most stunning and varied landscapes our country has to offer into 190 miles running across the roof of the North of England.

Wainwright, in his guide to the walk, is unequivocal: “Surely there cannot be a finer itinerary for a long-distance walk. For sustained beauty, variety and interest, it puts the Pennine Way to shame.”

Yet, despite its reputation and popularity, the Coast to Coast is not one of the 15 designated official National Trails in England and Wales which receive modest sums of public money for maintenance and promotion.

Designation matters because the Coast to Coast needs public support.

While it is generally in good order, there are parts suffering from severe erosion and they need to be fixed.

There are other issues too, like the crossing point of the A19 dual carriageway at Ingleby Arncliffe.

At the end of a hard day’s trekking with a heavy pack, walkers have to dodge traffic travelling at up to 70mph to get across.

National Trail status will help make the case for a footbridge to be built.

The route is certainly popular, possibly the most popular long distance path in the UK, but it could attract even more with just a little bit more care and attention, something that would also boost the fortunes of businesses along the route.

Steve Knight’s pub is just one example.

There are many others, like the Coast 2 Coast Packhorse company at Kirkby Stephen which transports walkers’ luggage for them from stopping point to stopping point.

We are not talking about huge amounts of money – about £100,000 a year if the Coast to Coast was made a National Trail.

Public money is tight, but I 
am convinced that this is an example of where a modest investment would be repaid many times over in the long-term economic benefits it would deliver in Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

Last month I launched a campaign to give the Coast to Coast the recognition it deserve.

We took to Surrender Bridge in Swaledale on one of those Dales days when four seasons’ worth of weather arrived within a couple of hours – horizontal driving snow showers followed by brilliant sunshine.

Despite the weather, it was gratifying to see so many supporters of the idea there including members of the Wainwright Society – custodians of the enigmatic walker’s legacy – representatives of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and local councillors.

I’ve had nothing but approval for the idea since the launch and I am currently building a coalition of support from every parish, district and county council along the route.

Support in Westminster is obviously crucial and before the recent Government changes, I had a very positive response from Rory Stewart, the then Defra minster responsible for national trails.

I’m very much looking forward to working with his successor Therese Coffey as the project moves forward.

Rory, of course, is also the MP for Penrith and the Border which the Coast to Coast passes through, and I’m also gratified that Jamie Reed, the Labour MP for Copeland at the western-most point of the route, has signalled his support for the campaign.

Like walking the Coast to Coast path, the task of getting the appropriate recognition, status and funding for this route it will not be something achieved overnight – but if we go the distance, the prize will be making this national treasure a National Trail.

Rishi Sunak is the Richmond MP.