Footpath links Scotland to the Med

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S LONGEST footpath will be opened this week - 900 miles of hills and dales that link for the first time to Europe's extensive network of long-distance hiking trails.

Running from Stranraer in south-west Scotland to Dover on the south coast, the footpath goes by the unglamorous name of E2. Despite sounding like a food additive or an alien, it has a decidedly attractive character, and connects the Scottish borders to the Mediterranean via some of the loveliest scen-ery in England and France.

E2 is the first full link in Britain to be incorporated in the network of European Long Distance Paths. The longest of these 11 enormous walking trails is 4,500 miles long. The network crosses borders - even stretching into the former Eastern bloc - and ranges from Norway to Sicily, from Turkey to Spain, and from Portugal to the Crimea.

The network has been created over 30 years by the European Ramblers' Association, a German-based federation of national walkers' groups. Britain has been somewhat late in joining in. E8, the path from the Atlantic to Istanbul, is already projected to cross England, but that depends upon the Trans-Pennine Trail from Hull to Liverpool, which is not yet complete.

E2 is walkable in Britain now. On the Continent it runs from Nice in the South of France to Belgium and the Netherlands, and its extension into the UK will be formally opened on Wednesday at Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders, known to generations of British ramblers as the terminus of the Pennine Way.

Planned with the consent of the Countryside Agency by the Long Distance Walkers' Association (LDWA), a smaller and more specialised group than Britain's Ramblers' Association, E2 cleverly links Britain's existing network of long- distance paths: in England it follows, among others, the North Downs Way, the Thames Path, the Heart of England Way and the Pennine Way, while north of the border it follows St Cuthbert's Way and the Southern Upland Way.

Gaps between the established trails have been imaginatively filled: for example, the 17 miles between the North Downs and the Thames are linked by the Wey Navigation, a towpath beside a centuries-old Surrey canal.

Much of Britain's most beautiful scenery lies along the path, including the Chilterns, the Cotswolds and the Peak District, as well as Oxford and Lichfield.

There will also be another branch of E2 coming into Britain at Harwich and running up the eastern side of the country through the Lincolnshire Wolds and Teesdale. The path will eventually be extended via Belfast into Northern Ireland, before ending in Galway in the Republic.

Across the channel, E2 runs down through the Ardennes into Luxembourg, then crosses the Vosges mountains and the Jura massif before cutting across the Alps, using the Grande Traversee des Alpes, the French long-distance path, GR5. The route from the Channel to the Mediterranean is more than 1,600 miles long.

Peter Robins, of the LDWA, which has about 7,000 members in Britain, said: "Clearly, few people would walk all of such a path but there are many people who have walked significant stretches."

Sir John Johnson, the LDWA chairman, who will perform the opening ceremony next week, thinks the British E2 will immediately prove popular, especially with hikers from abroad. `There are hordes of Germans and Dutchmen who are dying to get on to this sort of path," he said.

E2 will eventually be visible in the countryside by way markings bearing the golden stars on a blue background of the European Union flag.