Some of Cumbria’s most spectacular coastline will open to the public for the first time today (12 February) after Natural England unveiled 21 miles (33 km) of the England Coast Path on Walney Island near Barrow-in-Furness.
The new stretch, which encompasses glorious beaches, dunes and saltmarshes, wonderful wildlife and dramatic views, is now open to everyone via a single, circular route for the first time.
Walkers will be able to enjoy impressive views over the Irish Sea and Morecambe Bay, and across the Walney Channel and the Duddon Estuary to the Lake District fells. The route is exceptionally varied, with the island’s wild open spaces, supporting rare species such as the renowned Walney geranium and natterjack toad, providing a stark contrast to the industrial and maritime landscape of Barrow, and Walney’s main settlement, Vickerstown.
The path takes in the stunning North Walney National Nature Reserve (NNR), also running close to South Walney Nature Reserve, famous for its grey seals. These wildlife sanctuaries are fantastic places for bird watching, with highlights including breeding eider duck, great black-backed gull, oystercatcher, ringed plover and shelduck.
The stretch will be officially opened by the Mayor of Barrow Councillor Kevin Hamilton at a ceremony near Earnse Bay on its west shore this morning.
Natural England is currently establishing a 2,700-mile path around the entire English coastline, with today’s stretch the 13th to open. When completed, it will be the longest continuous coastal walking route in the world. It will also become a National Trail – the nation’s finest and most popular long-distance paths.
Mark Hesketh, Natural England’s Deputy Area Manager for Cumbria, said:
The England Coast Path route showcases the fabulous Walney coastline, from celebrating our industrial and wildlife heritage in the Walney Channel, to capturing local beauty spots such as the spectacular viewpoints from North Walney National Nature Reserve.
The route is a fantastic resource for local communities and visitors alike. We thank everyone for their time and input so far to help get this fantastic stretch open for the public to use and enjoy the many benefits it will provide.
The new route shows off the historic town of Barrow-in-Furness, which holds the accolade as the number one borough in England for the quality of its natural heritage, with sights including saltmarsh rich with wading birds such as curlew, redshank and little egret, and views of Piel Island and its castle. Walkers can head up to the west shore past Earnse Bay to Sandy Gap, the start of the popular Bay Cycle Way.
A brand new length of path has been created on a previously inaccessible route east of the airfield. This means that walkers can for the first time walk directly from North Scale village to the east end of North Walney NNR safe from tides and difficult terrain, without disturbing the important wildlife which roosts in Walney Channel.
Walney South councillor Helen Wall said:
Walney Island is such a special place, unique in England, and loved by so many people. Its size, shape and beautiful landscape make it the perfect place for coastal exploration or a complete round-the-island walk.
I am grateful to the staff of Natural England and partners for the work they have put in to include Walney in the National Trail. I am sure the path will become an important feature in people’s lives, whether they are keen walkers or otherwise. I am excited to try it out in all weathers!
Tompion Platt, director of advocacy and engagement, Ramblers:
It’s fantastic to see another beautiful new stretch of the England Coast Path opening today, giving walkers the chance to enjoy the spectacular views and wildlife the coast around Walney Island has to offer. We’re really proud of the role our volunteers continue to play in supporting Natural England’s important work.
We’re pleased that progress continues to be made towards the completion of this ambitious National Trail, enabling more people to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of walking our beautiful coastline, as well as the significant economic boost it brings to local communities.
Heather Cockett Phillips and John Phillips, owners of West Point House who are hosting the launch event, said:
West Point House is excited and honoured to be involved in the opening of the England Coast Path on Walney. The Cumbrian coast is a place of beauty and we hope that with the recognition this path offers we will be able to welcome many new visitors to our area.
This is the second England Coast Path stretch to be unveiled in Cumbria, following on from Allonby to Whitehaven, which opened in 2014.
Today’s announcement builds on figures recently released by Natural England which revealed the huge popularity of England’s coastal paths with 29.1 million walking trips made over a six-month period, boosting local economies and bringing health and wellbeing benefits to visitors. The data revealed that visits boosted the economy by £350 million in 2017, with 97% of people feeling refreshed and revitalised as a result of their visit.