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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 20:28 GMT 21:28 UK
Two steps forward, one back
By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News

Strete to Stoke Fleming coastal path
Walkers take a stretch along Sir Geoffrey's coast
Despite its name, the South West Coast Path veers off in parts onto busy A roads. Will proposals to make the English coast access all areas make a difference?

The South Devon coastline is a rambler's dream... well almost.

It is one of spectacular contrasts, where wave-battered sandstone cliffs and rugged headlands give way to tranquil wooded estuaries and rolling hills.

But usually when ramblers dream, it is of paths as far as the eye can see. Such scenes are mere flights of fancy and, very often, walkers find themselves amid cars rather than coast.

At 630 miles, the South West Coast Path is the longest national trail in Britain, running from Minehead, Somerset, to Poole in Dorset. Yet due to problems with landowners, lack of paths and coastal erosion, those out for a walk can be forced to leave the sea behind in sections.

A case in point is the five-mile stretch encompassing beautiful beaches and sheer cliffs between Strete Gate to Warren Point, near Dartmouth in Devon. Walkers can enjoy the middle two-and-a-half miles thanks to Sir Geoffrey Newman, who allowed the trail to be re-routed along his estate's dramatic coastline.

It cannot be right to open up someone's private land and for them to have no say - there are security and privacy issues
Andrew Pound, local resident

Opening the path in 2005, he said: "I am delighted that we have found a solution that meets the needs of walkers, wildlife and farming and merges so well into the landscape of this beautiful part of Devon."

But the coast on either side remains off-limits, belonging to 11 separate landowners, among them farmers and those whose houses back onto the coast. In these sections walkers take a detour that includes a busy A road with no pavement.

And so they vote with their feet - usage is one quarter of the footfall on adjacent stretches of the trail, according to the Ramblers Association.

Ros Love, the South West Coast Path co-ordinator, says there is huge demand to open up access in this part of the trail and so make the path truly coastal.

"If Natural England's proposal becomes law, one would assume it may cover some of this section - the scrubby coastal slope and open headlands for instance - but not necessarily the whole stretch because of the essence of some of the landholdings."

Garden path

The Strete Gate to Warren Point section has been an issue since the 1950s.

Devon County Council and Natural England have been keen to undertake work but there have been various obstacles, including landowner opposition and potential costs of compensation.

Talks are ongoing with the 11 landowners with stakes in the two no-go sections, near the villages of Strete and Stoke Fleming.

Andrew Pound, Strete's postmaster, says a "good deal" of progress has been made to open up the section around his village but there are more problems in Stoke Fleming, where the planned path would cut into someone's garden.

"It is better to reach a local compromise than have a continuous coastal path enforced. Everybody is outraged by that idea. It cannot be right to open up someone's private land and for them to have no say. There are security and privacy issues. Plus the cliff edge is constantly moving and it's dangerous to have a path running along it."

Ramblers' dreams may take some time to become a reality.


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