D&S column: how a pub conversation inspired my Coast to Coast campaign

A YEAR ago this week, the General Election was looming and I was on the campaign trail criss-crossing the vast Richmond constituency trying to meet as many people as I could.

One thing I kept on coming across on my travels was the Coast to Coast trail, the long distance footpath which runs right through the middle of the patch from east to west.

One day, I called into the White Swan at Danby Wiske, near Northallerton, and spoke to the landlord Steve Knight who told me how important the trail was to his business. In the summer months it brought hundreds of the walkers to his pub and bed and breakfast.

During our chat, Steve mentioned that the route, despite its beauty and popularity, did not enjoy the status of being one of this country’s National Trails.

We agreed that it was very odd and I began to do some research about the Coast to Coast.

I found that it is a truly amazing path, covering three of our great national parks and an area of outstanding natural beauty to boot. Devised by the great Alfred Wainwright, the doyen of fell walking authors, it packs some of the most stunning and varied landscapes into 190 miles running across the roof of the North of England.

It is widely recognised as one of the best long distance walks anywhere. Just a few years ago it was voted number two in a list of the 50 best walks in the world by a panel of walking experts.

And yet, despite its reputation and popularity, it is not one of the 15 designated 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 and deserves 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 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 in the UK, but it could attract even more with a little bit more care and attention which would 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 which transports walkers’ luggage for them from stopping point to stopping point.

We are not talking about huge amounts of money – about £100-150,000 a year – if the Coast to Coast was made a National Trail. Public money is tight but I believe this modest investment would be repaid many times in terms of the long-term economic benefits for the tourism industry – typically made up of small businesses – in Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

Following the launch of the campaign at Surrender Bridge and Reeth in Swaledale on Wednesday I will be gathering the support needed locally, and nationally at Westminster, to make it happen. Like tackling the Coast to Coast, it will not be something achieved overnight but I’m committed to making this national treasure a National Trail.