PUBLISHED: 05:15 01 December 2014 | UPDATED: 07:42 01 December 2014
Slowly, surely, step-by-step, our island is being embraced.
From the wild cliffs of Cornwall to the tidal creeks of Essex, and from miles of rolling dunes in Northumberland to the seaside resorts of Sussex, coastal footpaths are being fused into a single new trail.
All around the country paths are being plotted, extended and joined together so that eventually they will meet the long distance trails which already line the entire coastline of Wales and Scotland, to create one of the longest and loveliest footpaths in the world.
The new England Coast Path, hugging the whole of the country’s coastline, will be 2,795-miles long, and part of a remarkable round Britain tour.
Here in Norfolk the existing coastal path linking Hunstanton and Sheringham is being improved and extended and will eventually run from beyond King’s Lynn in the north west to Hopton in the south east.
Early next month Norfolk’s first stretch of the new England Coast Path opens, from Weybourne to Sea Palling, with unprecedented access to 25 miles of beaches, dunes and cliffs.
It will be the latest link in more than 5,600 miles of footpath, circling our entire island.
This autumn, proposals for the section of path between Sea Palling and Hopton were submitted to the secretary of state for the environment. People can make formal representations until November 24, after which the exact route will be decided.
The creation of the England Coast Path is being overseen by Natural England and next year staff will begin working on the section from Hunstanton, through King’s Lynn, and up into Lincolnshire as far as Skegness.
Then comes the route between Weybourne and Hunstanton, which is already covered by the Norfolk Coast Path, but will benefit from the additional protection of the new national legislation.
Legislation passed five years ago meant that, for the first time, there should be a right of access along almost all our coast, with “spreading room” where possible, to enable people to relax in spectacular scenery. And if a section of the footpath is claimed by the sea, then it will be replaced to retain a continuous route around the country.
This autumn the deputy prime minister announced more funding to ensure the entire England Coast Path should be open by 2020.
The Norfolk coastline has been divided into four sections, which could all be open to walkers by 2018.
Sally Fishwick is the officer in charge of the Norfolk section for Natural England and says: “You have only got to look at the Welsh coastal path and what it’s done for Wales to realise how important it’s going to be for us in Norfolk. It will bring lots of people to our beautiful coastline, but it’s low impact tourism. People will be walking and spending their money in local pubs and shops and bed and breakfasts. It’s just the kind of tourism we need.”
And she says it will encourage Norfolk people to explore more of the coast too.
“People will now be able to move beyond the honeypot sites and discover new places,” she says.
The process has to take the views of landowners along the route into account, but Sally says it has all-party political support.
“In areas like Happisburgh there is quite rapid erosion and we have got to future-proof the path,” she adds. “The new “roll-back” provision is brilliant. In the past, if we lost a section of a public right of way it was gone, now if we lose a section of path it can be replaced.”
As she works around the entire coast of Norfolk she is uniquely placed to have a view on the very best bit, but insists: “Each new section we work on is my favourite section, and anywhere along it that people didn’t have the right to walk and now will, because I see the beautiful views that are going to be opened up.”
Tim Lidstone-Scott has just set up Walk Norfolk, a business designing bespoke walk routes for customers, but used to manage the Norfolk Coastal Path. “For 30 years we have been able to walk along the north coast,” he says, “But knowing that we will be able to do that around the whole coast of England, and of Norfolk in particular, is incredibly exciting. We live on an island and we can now get right to the edge of it.”