Paved with gold, the coastal path pumping £300m into local coffers

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It appears to be a path that's paved with gold. The South-West Coast Path, Britain's longest national trail, is now generating about £300m a year for the economy of its region, according to new research released yesterday.

The 630-mile walking route, which follows the coast from Minehead in Somerset to the shores of Poole Harbour in Dorset via Land's End in Cornwall, passing through some of Britain's finest coastal scenery, supports more than 7,500 jobs along its length and is now one of the most important drivers of the South-West's economy, the Countryside Agency says.

Its worth has been revealed by a study which examined spending by holiday-makers and day-visitors using the path, and the takings of hotels, B&Bs and self-catering venues within a mile of it.

The researchers found that over a quarter of visitors, 27.6 per cent, are drawn to the area purely because of the SWCP, and these visitors alone spend around £136m a year.

The study also looked at the income generated when local people and their visiting friends and relatives use the route. This revealed that residents of the four counties crossed by the route take some 23 million walks along the SWCP each year, spending £116m, and local people often take their visiting friends and relatives for Coast Path walks, bringing in a further £48m.

The study was commissioned by the Countryside Agency and the South West of England Regional Development Agency to mark the Silver Jubilee of the path, whose final section opened in 1978.

Commenting on the report's findings, the Countryside Agency's chairman, Sir Ewen Cameron said: "This research confirms what we have always believed about the crucial importance of the South West Coast Path to the region's economy, and demonstrates just how much a national trail can contribute to the regeneration of an area, while providing an excellent resource for boosting health and fitness and people's sheer enjoyment of the countryside. It's official - national trails provide an excellent return on investment and are a real magnet for attracting visitors to an area."

Jeremy Pope, deputy chairman of the South West of England Regional Development Agency, was also very enthusiastic and gave a warm welcome to the research.

"This research identifies the huge economic benefits the South West Coast Path already brings to the region. We will build on the successful partnership with the South West Coast Path, South West Tourism and other stake-holders in the region, to develop the economic opportunities offered by the coast path whilst also continuing to protect its unique environmental character," he said.