Monmouthshire 'made for walking'
BOOTS are made for walking and Monmouthshire is made for walkers, that’s according to the volunteers that have helped their towns to gain national ‘Walkers are Welcome’ status.
Kath Skellon takes a look at what the county has to offer walkers.
MONMOUTHSHIRE has secured its place on the map as a walking destination after four of its town’s and a village gained the national Walkers are Welcome status.
The initiative was launched three years ago to help strengthen a town’s reputation as a place for visitors to enjoy the outdoors and to raise the profile of local footpaths and facilities for walkers.
Described by television presenter, Julia Bradbury as a simple concept that has led to ‘jaw-dropping success,’ the initiative was launched in 2007. Abergavenny, Tintern, Monmouth and Chepstow are among the latest to join more than 100 towns and villages across Britain in signing up to the community-led scheme.
The status is given to destinations that not only offer something special to walkers, but also strive to improve what they offer visitors as well as locals.
Before a place can become accredited, it must have the support of the community and meet certain criteria such as forming a steering group, encourage people to use public transport and maintaining the footpath network.
Residents and business owners in the village are encouraged to get together to step up their promotion of the village as a must-visit venue for walkers.
The groups have been supported by adventa, part of the county’s rural development programme, which is able to make some small capital grants available to accommodation providers who wish to improve facilities for walkers as part of the initiative.
Chepstow, which is long-thought to be the birthplace of tourism, became the first in the county to achieve the Walkers are Welcome status last year.
The area was already an established destination for walkers but the status is helping the town to develop plans that will benefit everyone, providing extra facilities for walkers.
Helen Kenneally, secretary of the group, said: “ This has reinforced its reputation as a place for walkers to come and visit and our launch coincided with the opening of the start of the Wales Coastal Path.”
“We have all the ingredients, with four long distance walks all starting either in or near Chepstow- the Wales Coastal Path, the Offas Dyke Path National Trail, the Wye Valley Walk and the Gloucestershire Way. Chepstow really is an ideal base from which to explore the beautiful Wye Valley and the stunning Monmouthshire countryside.”
Ms Kenneally, who runs Claire’s Cottage holiday accommodation in Itton, near Chepstow, said it’s an exciting time for the group with planned walking events and several schemes in the pipeline, one of which is to offer lockers for walkers at the Tourist Information Centre.
“Cardiff is the only other place to offer somewhere for walkers to store their belongings while they are visiting the area. We hope it will encourage people to walk around the town.”
The committee has also launched a website at www.walksinchepstow.co.uk which provides a comprehensive guide for the area. It is producing a newsletter and has held a range of walks, including a bi-lingual Welsh speaking guide. The next guided walk is a blackberry picking walk around Sudbrook on September 7 from Black Rock picnic site, Portskewett.
Future plans include issuing participating businesses with stickers to put in their windows promoting the initiative and working with Monmouthshire council to have signs put up in the town to let visitors know of the town’s status.
“We are constantly developing as a group and coming up with ideas to promote walking in Chepstow and have around 470 followers on Twitter.”
The group recently won the bid to host the national conference for the Walkers are Welcome towns next year.
The event will bring 200 delegates from other Walkers are Welcome towns and villages to Chepstow for a weekend, providing the opportunity to show all the area has to offer.
Keen ramblers, Hilary and David Phillips, of Chepstow are among the 14-strong committee.
Mrs Phillips said: “ Monmouthshire has a lot to offer and a variety of walks that are very accessible.”
“Our aim is to help regenerate our local economy through a love of walking for not just visitors but local people as well. We hope that once people visit they will want to return.”
“We are keen to recruit more volunteers who share our passion and want to get involved.”
Earlier this year Abergavenny became the 100th town to gain the status and its patron is wildlife television presenter Kate Humble.
The group's chairwoman, Ruth Coulthard, said: “ Abergavenny is a perfect destination for walkers, having lots of different types of routes in the mountains, as well as along the valleys and canals.”
“We recognise the town already had a lot to attract walkers, including a large network of footpaths and areas to walk in, a range of publications and many high quality shops and businesses that cater for them. Our action plan has been designed to build on this and bring it all together to maximise the opportunities for the local economy and make it easier for people to enjoy what there is.”
Miss Humble said: “Abergavenny is a pretty market town, surrounded by spectacular countryside. The gateway to the Black Mountains, it is the perfect base for walkers who appreciate glorious, diverse scenery and want somewhere to come back to that offers great local food and lovely places to stay.
Projects the groups hope to develop include creating an online resource for walking and a new range of simple walks from the town centre and working with the council to improve the rights of way network.
In the Wye Valley Village of Tintern, which is spoilt for walks, including the Devil’s Pulpit above Tintern Abbey, the woodland and riverside strolls, gained its status in July.
John Sterry, chairman of the group, said: “It’s really a positive step for businesses and for walkers.”
“I think we have done remarkably well for a village of just under 3,000. It is a status which a village like Tintern should have.”
“The village is in the middle of a wealth of walks and our businesses need to be promoting that and providing walks for the walkers.”
“We want to try and encourage walkers to stay longer in Tintern, rather than heading down the Wye Valley Walk without stopping.”
“It’s all about encouraging businesses such as accommodation providers to get involved and keep walkers in one place for a little bit longer.”
Mr Sterry said a launch event is being planned for the autumn.
Zara Bligh, research and marketing co-ordinator for adventa, who has helped all four locations put their best foot forward for walkers, said: “ With the Walkers are Welcome towns of Monmouth and Chepstow at each end and the village of Tintern in the middle, the Lower Wye is now firmly on the map as a wonderful and welcoming year-round walking destination.”
“Gaining this accreditation will help the local economy by encouraging visitors to use Tintern as a base for walking breaks.
The Monmouth Walkers are Welcome group, won accreditation in October and held two successful guided walks over the May Day Bank Holiday.
Monmouth became the second town to acquire the status and is an historic town surrounded by walks ranging from Offa’s Dyke to the Wye Valley Walk.
Committee member, Tristan Blanchard said they have produced information leaflets with maps on four circular walks for visitors.
The walking leaflet, put together by the members, is available from the Tourist Information Centre at the Shire Hall for 50p.
Mr Blanchard said: “Monmouth is ideally based for walks along Offa’s Dyke and the Wye Valley walk. It’s a great walking destination and the businesses in the town have got behind the initiative.”
“We give stickers to those cafe’s and accommodation providers who accept walkers with muddy boots and rucksack’s to put in their windows and are forming a good network.”
The group is developing a website and future plans including organising walking festivals.
For more information visit www.walkersarewelcome.org.uk
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