All around Wales: Colourful maritime wildflowers enliven the Wales Coast Path in spring and summer
Where did the idea of a continuous path around the coast of Wales originate?
Jane Davidson, President of Ramblers’ Cymru and previously Minister for Environment and Sustainability in the Welsh Assembly Government 2007-2011, explains how it all came about.
Walk around Wales?
Dylan Thomas’ most famous poem, ‘Under Milk Wood’, starts, ‘To begin at the beginning’. Somehow, it’s a lot easier to say than do. I have been asked many times about when I first had the idea for a Welsh coast path. It would be great to be able to trace it back to one moment, but life isn’t like that; like many ideas, it took years in gestation, although it was helped by two critical events on the way – first, at the age of 16, walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with schoolfriends and seeing my first dolphins; the second was the brilliant decision of two Cardiff youth clubs to walk around Wales for International Youth Year in 1985.
Ideas, brilliant or otherwise, get nowhere without a plan, and the plan didn’t take shape until 2006. I was in the kitchen of Rhodri Morgan, the then First Minister of Wales, another keen walker and dolphin watcher. We were debating what to put in the manifesto for the next elections. Ramblers Cymru were calling for greater access to the coast so my suggestion of an ‘all Wales coastpath’ was a logical extension of that. What I didn’t know on that day was that Rhodri would then ask me to deliver on it when he asked me to take on the Environment and Sustainability portfolio in his government in 2007.
Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion Coast Paths
Interestingly, the next legislative stage came about by luck. I was privileged to be asked to join the venerable poet Dic Jones to open the Ceredigion coast path in July 2008. Dic, who sadly died the following year, wrote poems described as “the song of the soil, a celebration of the rituals and rigours of rural life, and of the ties that bind man to both his environment and to his fellow man”. It is his poem walkers can read on the coast at Llangranog overlooking Ynys Lochtyn, and with that extraordinary link between culture, heritage, environment and challenge that is somehow so peculiarly Welsh, the Ceredigion Coast Path added another 60 hard won exhilarating miles to the 186 of the existing Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
The creation of this path was not without its difficulties. In some places, years of negotiations took place between the Council and landowners and in one specific place where no agreement could be reached, the Council carved a striking new path in the cliff to Cwmtydu. The path had been proposed in 1983, but not delivered till 2008. Every inch was hard won and it became clear to me that although working with landowners to identify optimum routes was paramount – and should always be the preferred way of working – there needed to be legislation in the Government’s back pocket which could be used when a greater public good was being derailed by individual landowners. I wrote to Hilary Benn, then UK Environment Minister, supporting the Ramblers’ campaign that the Marine Bill proposed at that time, could also look at coastal access and thus open up the opportunity for a coastal path round Wales and England. The Marine and Coastal Access Act was duly passed, and although the Wales Coast Path has not been created using this new legislation, there is now legislation in place for future governments to ensure the best route. What the Act did was to make it clear to all in Wales that the government was completely serious about creating the all Wales coast path.
Joining the dots
Wales has a host of long distance trails but often no connection between them. It has been tremendously exciting watching the paths along the Welsh coast start to fill in; the 95 mile Lleyn Coast Walk, the 75 mile Meirionydd Coast Walk, the 125 mile Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path are all now connected by the Wales Coast Path. Local authorities created new routes on