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National trail could allow cycling and horse riding

Defra and Natural England are to reconsult on plans for the new National Trail, the Coast to Coast Wainwright trail, which could make it accessible for people cycling and horse-riding after Cycling UK and The British Horse Society (BHS) threatened legal action.

Previous proposals for the popular trail which stretches from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North York Moors National Park used a combination of footpaths, which horse riders and cyclists cannot use, and bridleways, which they can.

This would have created dead end sections along the route for anyone on a horse or bike, effectively preventing people from riding its length.

The two organisations believe a “braided” route, which would divert horse riders and cyclists from the main walking route where suitable, can be achieved for minimal cost, and await clarification from Defra and Natural England about timescales and processes for the new consultation. This has been possible on other popular national trails such as the North Downs Way’s riders’ route launched in 2018 with the support of Cycling UK and the BHS.

Natural England and Defra failed to consult with Cycling UK and the BHS during the initial consultation phase of the new National Trail. This is despite both organisations being prescribed outdoor user groups which should be consulted on changes to rights of way.

On this basis, the two organisations wrote to the previous Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Rt Hon Ranil Jawawardena MP calling on the government to reconsider the proposals for the route as Natural England had failed to consult appropriately.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:

“Cycling UK and the BHS are relieved the government has now recognised the concerns our organisations raised about the exclusion of outdoor enthusiasts we represent from a new national trail.

“The Wainwright path is a fantastic attraction for the north of England, and as a National Trail its benefit will be felt by all the rural communities it passes through. Making it accessible to cycling and horse riding enthusiasts will mean it’s open to more visitors.

“If you ride a bike or a horse, you can use only 22% of England’s rights of way network or ride two out of 16 of our National Trails. We need to do more to increase access, not limit it. The benefits are real for rural hospitality businesses, which will see increased trade from a more diverse group of visitors.”

Research by Cycling UK has found cycle tourism in the UK generates £520m per year with 1.23 million overnight trips each year. A recent survey of riders of King Alfred’s Way, a route starting in Winchester that Cycling UK launched in 2020, showed that on average cyclists spent £83.60 per day on food and accommodation.

The Trans Pennine Trail 2022 visitor survey also found that while the daily spend of trail users was £44.41 per person, for horse riders it was £84.98.

Mark Weston, the BHS’ Director of Access said:

“As vulnerable road users, horse riders face considerable dangers on our roads and the need for safer off-road riding opportunities has never been greater. The British Horse Society and Cycling UK look forward to working with Defra and Natural England to make the trail useable for horse riders and cyclists in its entirety.’

Defra announced on 12 August 2022 that £5.6 million would be allocated to improve the 197-mile Wainwright Coast to Coast route, ahead of it becoming a National Trail in 2025.

View more on our Access work