Break out the hiking boots: The England Coast Path will soon allow you to walk along the entire coast of England, including areas previously inaccessible to the public. The trail, due to be completed next year, will stretch 2,800 miles along cliffs and beaches and through seaside towns and major cities, making it the longest marked oceanside path in the world. Hikers will be able to tackle sections at a time, but those attempting to conquer the whole thing should expect to be plodding along for more than five months. Two slightly shorter routes, the iconic Pacific Crest (2,653 miles) and the Appalachian (2,200 miles) Trails, both take between five and seven months to complete.
The path has been in the making for over a decade. In 2009, the United Kingdom’s Marine and Coastal Access Act first made provisions for the long-distance route, stipulating that the public would also have access to the land between the path and the shoreline, an area now referred to as the “coastal margin.” During 2013, the U.K. secretary of state approved the plans for the current route, most of which will be unpaved, except for sections that pass through villages, towns, and cities. Since then, Natural England, the governmental organization responsible for the trail, has developed the route, which is a mix of existing seaside walkways and new trails all marked with the distinctive National Trail acorn graphic. With luck, the complete path will open in 2021, which has been designated the Year of the English Coast and will be celebrated with events in oceanside communities.
The route is split into four sections, some portions of which are already open.
- The north-east portion starts at the border with Scotland and continues along the rocky North Sea coastline to Wash Bay, where it meets up with the coastal part of the existing Cleveland Way National Trail and wanders through resort towns, including Skegness and Mablethorpe, and past historic sites, such as Tynemouth Castle and Priory and St. Mary’s Lighthouse.
- The south-east section connects at Wash Bay then continues west to Southampton, passing long stretches of sandy beach, wildlife reserves, and England’s famous White Cliffs, with their views of France.
- Much of the south-west section follows the existing South West Coast Path, which runs along the English Channel and features the dramatic Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage site.
- On the west coast of England, the path jumps the Welsh border and picks up again just south of Liverpool then continues north toward Scotland. This north-west portion of the trail cuts through Lake District National Park. Hikers can also explore one of the largest Roman sites in northern Britain near Maryport as well as sites that show the region’s industrial history.
The National Trails website offers interactive maps with detailed information about the parts of each section that are currently accessible. Mud and Routes, a website for hiking enthusiasts in the United Kingdom, also maintains a guide to the English Coast Path that includes photos and video overviews of the open sections, downloadable maps, paper map recommendations, suggested gear lists, and path statistics, including altitude changes.