Author of a new guidebook to the Path Stephen Neale offers a taste of what’s in store next year
The Thames pilot steered the foot ferry out of Tilbury dock, Essex, towards Gravesend, in Kent. He told me some of his passengers only travel one way.
“Because they’re trying to walk the entire coast,” he said.
“How many people say that to you?”
“More than you think,” he replied.
It was 2018, and I was researching the England Coast Path for my book of the same name. When the route opens, hopefully next year, it will be the longest coast path in the world. And all those people who have tried, and failed, to walk the entire coast, without cutting miles inland, will now have a better chance to succeed.
The world’s greatest public right of way network
A monumental achievement. Not for the walker. But the landowners, volunteers and politicians, who across almost two decades, made it possible. The path will connect everyone of us to our salty waters via the world’s greatest public right of way network. A triumph of economic regeneration and mindful human experience in nature.
My own relationship to the coast is not associated with long walks. It’s linked to living in a seaside town at Southend, walking a little of the shore each week, crabbing as a kid and being mild ly obsessed with exploring new places that don’t involve tramping the coast every day for several years.
I like to walk, but I don’t think of myself as a walker. Any more than I considered myself a walker when I played golf.
The England Coast Path opens up a catalogue of mini adventures, sleeps, new foods and thirst quenching drinks like water, coffee and warm beer.
Cliffe Fort in Kent is one of my favourite mini adventures. I take my own water because there are no shops or cafes. Apart from that, the old ruin combines almost everything that’s good about our coast.
It was built in the 19th century at the mouth of the river Thames to guard London from French war ships. At one time it was fitted out with a launcher for the Brennan torpedo— the world’s first guided missile, until it accidentally sunk a Thames trawler [ . . . ]
The island isn’t only for summer holidays: the colder months are perfect for birding and walks along trails that will form part of the England Coast Path
The Isle of Wight is having a moment. That’s what conservationist Dave Fairlamb tells me as we eat homemade cake on a silver-grey afternoon, watching meadow pipits above Newtown’s salt marshes.
“From a nature perspective,” he says, “everything’s converging.”
Dave has just launched Natural Links, offering birdwatching breaks and courses on the island, which has been focusing on its natural assets in the past year. Two Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust projects – the Wilder strategy and Secrets of the Solent – launched in 2019; Visit Isle of Wight published a Slow Travel Guide; and the whole island was awarded Unesco Biosphere status. Last summer also saw the start of a white-tailed eagle reintroduction project, with six birds released on the island’s north coast.
We see no eagles but as we stroll along the harbour we spot a swirl of dunlins – “about 600,” Dave estimates in an instant – and thrill to a fly-by of overwintering Brent geese, [ . . . ] Continue reading →
Pubs and restaurants may be closed and dark, but all over the UK wildlife is bursting into the light of longer days and it’s never been more important to get some fresh air. Nature writers select their favourite seasonal destinations
Land of poems and stories: the Cotswolds
“If ever I heard blessing it is there. Where birds in trees that shoals and shadows are.” In April and May the Cotswold landscape still speaks in the soft, calm tones of Laurie Lee. For a first-time visitor it can take a while to tune into the hard, spare, wall-bound fields of the Cotswold plateau. Yet in the valleys and on the scarp edges, there are bluebells and wood anemones, clear spring-fed streams and a soundtrack of willow warblers and blackcaps, fresh back from their winter travels.
The deep valleys around Stroud hold hanging woods, filled in April with the scent of wild garlic. At the National Trust-maintained Woodchester Park, where the half-completed Victorian manor stands mysterious in the valley bottom, it feels as though the clock has stopped and no one has yet arrived to restart it.
Further north, in my home patch, the same timeless feel pervades Hailes Abbey, with, above it, a monument marking Thomas Cromwell’s seat, from which it is said he watched the Abbey burn almost 500 years ago. From here you can walk a couple of miles along the Cotswold Way to Winchcombe.
Spring is a wonderful time to explore smaller towns and villages, many of which are the subject of poems and stories. For me, each name conjures a memory: a village cricket match in April snow at Guiting Power; my childhood love of Bibury,