Some have walked the path for the challenge or the adventure while others tackled it in search of beautiful vistas and amazing history. Those who have completed the whole route slip off their walking boots or training shoes and speak of feeling refreshed, inspired, consoled.
The Wales Coast Path is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week and is being heralded by walkers, nature lovers, thrill-seekers and politicians as a triumph.
“It’s a wonderful trail,” said keen walker Deiniol Tegid, the author of 20 new itineraries created to mark the birthday of the 870-mile path. “For me, it’s a combination of things. You are alone with nature, there are stunning views and so much heritage.
“At the abbey at St Dogmaels in Pembrokeshire you can imagine what it was like to be a monk going about your daily chores. A little further along you are on clifftops with amazing wildflowers and eye to eye with birds or prey. There are castles, standing stones, lighthouses.” Above all, for Tegid a Welsh phrase sums it up – Lle i enaid gael llonydd – a place for the soul to find peace.
The path, which opened in May 2012, is one of the few in the world to take in a country’s whole coast. Completing the route, between Chepstow in the south to near Chester in the north, in one go is not for the faint-hearted, involving a rise and fall nearly three times the height of Everest. It takes on average three months.
But many dip in and out and some sections are suitable for cyclists, families with pushchairs, people with limited mobility and horse riders.
Back in 2012, Arry Cain was the first to complete the route, running the coast path – and for good measure also did the 176-mile Offa’s Dyke Path, which tracks along the Welsh-English border. It took her just 41 days.
“I feel so nostalgic this week,” she said. “I met so many kind and supportive people, many of whom were local to the path who were had a real sense of pride about it. I’m glad a woman was the first person to complete the path. I’d like to think it’s inspired others”
Currently walking the path is Sarah Williams, the host of the Tough Girl podcast and a veteran of routes such as the Appalachian Trail in the US and the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara. She is planning to complete the path in 50 days.
Speaking from the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales, Williams said: “It’s beautiful today but I’ve also had an 11-hour stretch of non-stop torrential rain. That’s the reality but it’s a brilliant experience.”
For some it has led to careers. Lucy O’Donnell walked the path after being made redundant. “It helped me clarify my thoughts, shape my future and gave me the confidence to tackle anything. Since completing the path I have worked as a tour manager in Spain, qualified to be a professional tourist guide in Wales and set up a guided walks business.”
Will Renwick walked it when he was 22 and went on to edit the online magazine Outdoors Magic. “I’m back on the path regularly and I love the memories each visit conjures up. Revisiting it with friends or family I’m regularly blurting out things like: ‘Oh, I remember when I camped behind that bush there,’ or ‘the landlord of this place gave me a pint on the house.”
The Welsh government gives Natural Resources Wales an annual budget to maintain, improve and promote the path, in close partnership with local coastal authorities.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, said the path was “one of the crowning glories of Wales” – and a proud achievements of devolution.
“If I had to choose just one stretch, then the portion between Pendine and Amroth would be a candidate: starting in my home county of Carmarthenshire, and ending in Pembrokeshire,” he said.
“It offers huge variety: challenging climbs, outstanding variety of flowers, secret coves, historical interest – there’s even said to be a naturist section for those who believe that an exposed coast should mean more than the sun, the wind and the sea.”