Natural England - First stretch of England Coast Path opens in Weymouth

First stretch of England Coast Path opens in Weymouth

29 June 2012

New rights for people to enjoy 32 kilometres of coastline around Weymouth Bay in Dorset came into force today (29 June) as the first stretch of the new national Coast Path around the entire English coast was opened.

Natural England in partnership with Dorset County Council has moved the existing South West Coast Path from Rufus Castle on Portland to Lulworth Cove closer to the sea in several places. For the first time there are also access rights over beaches, cliffs and other suitable land beside the route, where walkers can leave the path to rest, picnic or admire the view. And crucially, the path will now be able to ‘roll back’ as the cliffs erode or slip, solving longstanding difficulties with maintaining a continuous route around the slumping cliffs on this stretch of coast,  The route opens  in time for walkers to enjoy stunning cliff top views of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games sailing events. 

Following detailed consultations with landowners and the public during 2010-11, approval for the Weymouth Bay stretch of the England Coast Path was given by Caroline Spelman, Defra’s Secretary of State, on the 26th January 2012.  Practical improvements, including signage and gates, were put in place where needed ahead of today’s commencement of the new access rights. 

Jim Smyllie, Natural England’s Executive Director said;
“These new public access rights are in place thanks to the close cooperation with, and the fantastic support of, Dorset County Council and the many landowners and local walkers involved.  The path will provide permanent, secure and improved rights for walkers to enjoy some of the most dramatic coastline in England.  We will start contacting land owners soon about the next stretch from Portland to Lyme Regis.”

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said;
“Opening up miles of English Coastline like this will allow thousands of people to better enjoy this spectacular natural environment and help support local economies by encouraging tourism. I want to see more people walking in and accessing our countryside as I know the value such activity has for our health, for our economy and for the spiritual uplift and well-being that comes from being out and about.  This will be the first stretch of England’s coastline to be improved under the new coastal access provisions and it is now ready in time for the 2012 Games so people will have greater opportunities to enjoy the coastline and see the sailing.”

County Council Leader Angus Campbell said;
“Dorset’s wonderful coast is one of its greatest assets. Dorset County Council has worked closely with Natural England to secure the extra benefits that the new coastal access rights will bring for residents, visitors and businesses. An improved alignment in places, coupled with the ability to roll back the path in response to erosion, will add to the recreational, economic and health benefits that the South West Coast Path already offers. We are delighted that this stretch has been established as the very first section of the England Coast Path.”

Celebration walks

To celebrate the opening, Dorset County Council’s Countryside Team will be leading walks along two sections of the coast path on Sunday 1 July:

  • East to West walk - Start at Osmington Mills, Smugglers Inn car park, meeting 11.15am for 11.30am start  - about 2.5-3 miles

  • West to East walk - Rufus Castle Church Ope viewpoint, meeting 9am for 9.15am start - about 9-10 miles.

Maps showing the route and other information will be on display in the Environment Marquee at the Bayside Festivalexternal link during the 2012 Games (27 July to 12 August): and on Natural England’s website.

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Notes to editors

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009external link places a duty on the Natural England and the Secretary of State to secure a long distance National Trail around the open coast of England, together with public access rights to a wider area of land along the way for people to enjoy. 

The England Coast Path is already being developed in five other locations – Somerset, Cumbria, Kent, Norfolk and the coast around DurhamSubsequent implementation stretches up to 2019: (557kb)pdf document.  

A study conducted by Southwest Tourism and the University of Exeter in 2003 for Natural England showed that the South West coastal path generates £307 million a year for the local economy and supports 7,500 jobs. 

More information about the Weymouth route

The following improvements have been made to the route, which will continue to be branded with the familiar National Trail acorn logo:

  • The existing South West Coast Path has moved closer to the sea in several places, including away from roads at Hamm Beach and Bowleaze.

  • For the first time the coastal path will be able to ‘roll back’ as the cliffs erode or slip, solving longstanding difficulties with maintaining a continuous route around the slumping cliffs between Weymouth and Lulworth Cove.

  • For the first time, there will be secure statutory rights of public access to world famous areas of beach, cliff and other coastal land adjacent to the trail on this part of the Dorset Coast.

  • View the Weymouth pages.

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