Where in the world can you explore 630 miles of continuous coastline, discovering its wildlife and breath-taking scenery? The answer is the South West Coast Path, which is the longest of the country's 15 National Trails.
From locals to visitors, dog walkers to family outings, hill climbers to gentle strollers – it is enjoyed by many. It is used for recreation and business, is vital for the economy, whilst providing a tool for a range of charities to raise funds.
It is a unique part of our heritage and it needs help.
The South West Coast Path is estimated to generate over £300 million for the regional economy each year, with walking being one of the most popular activities undertaken by visitors. Yet funding from Natural England and Local Authorities, who are responsible for maintaining the route, is shrinking. There is a great deal of concern over how costs for general maintenance will be met, let alone improvements and upgrading to make the path more accessible, attractive to different users and of a surface that is safe to walk on all year round.
Enter the South West Coast Path Association (SWCPA) and its Great South West Walk. SWCPA is a charitable body that represents those who enjoy the path. Through its membership of over 5,000 people, it campaigns for the best possible standards for the route and its immediate corridor, providing help and information for walkers and assisting financially where appropriate, to ensure the best experience for those using the path.
With its 40th anniversary in 2013, the SWCPA is celebrating this milestone by organising the Great South West Walk, raising funds to give the path some much needed tender loving care. With the ethos of "putting 40 years of love back into the Coast Path", the event aims to encourage at least 50 walkers each day across a series of sponsored walks. These walks will be done in relay and cover the entire 630-mile path around Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and the Exmoor coast through Somerset.
Walkers are asked to raise £50 of sponsorship each, so that further funding can be levered from relevant organisations via matched giving. Added to corporate sponsorship and funding from grant making bodies, the target is to raise £250,000. With this funding, SWCPA will deliver improvement projects along the route of the entire path, so that every section receives some attention.
Brian Panton, chairman of the South West Coast Path Association said: "We are offering walkers the opportunity to specify which project their sponsorship supports, providing there is enough funding for that project to take place – otherwise it will be used for the project most in need.
"We hope that this will be more meaningful, and people can find out more about each leg of the walk and the corresponding improvement project on our website.
"We want to encourage as many people as possible to take part for a half day or full day walk, through to a number of legs over several days, building a walking holiday. Whether people are walking long or short distances, coming from near or far, we hope that thousands of people will take part to support this spectacular coast line."
The 630 miles has been broken down into 56 legs along the north and south coastlines, with both meeting with a birthday party at Land's End on May 7, 2013. The north coast series starts at Minehead on April 16, with the south coast series starting at Poole, on April 3. Each leg or walk will be guided by local experts, rangers and path wardens, who are all assisting SWCPA with this event.
The South West Coast Path team, the National Trust, county councils and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty teams, along with local walking groups and numerous tourism businesses, are all supporting the project.
Robin Toogood, manager of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said: "I always think of the coast path as the jewel in the crown of the South West. It's a walk through Britain's most stunning coastal landscapes and has got to be one of the best long distance trails in the world. Like so many other people, I never grow tired of it!
"This major South West Coast Path event celebrates how thousands of people have contributed to the path over the last 40 years. But keeping the path in tip-top condition is an unending task, involving many different organisations.
"So what I really welcome is how this event will bring together walkers, sponsors, community groups, businesses and management organisations, in a big push to raise funds to improve the path and keep it in the best condition ever".
So, whether you're a walker, a businesses or an organisation that benefits from thecoast path and the people that it attracts, please get involved with the Great South West Walk and help put some love back into the Coast Path!