How easy is it to walk around the coast?
NEW laws will create a footpath around the whole of Britain's coast - but it may not be as easy to do as it sounds. .
NEW laws will create a footpath around the whole of Britain's coast - but it may not be as easy to do as it sounds. RICHARD CORNWELL discovers a big obstacle in the way at Felixstowe, and is forced to take an interesting detour.
FELIXSTOWE: Imagine being able to walk around the whole of Britain's breathtaking coastline with nothing to bar your way.
More than 11,000 miles of beautiful beaches, windswept headlands, white sandy shores, quiet coves and towering cliffs, dunes and rocks, with some stunning sights to see.
From the imposing coastal castles of Northumberland to the bright lights of Blackpool, the amazing rock stacks of northern Scotland to Gormley's ghostly figures on Crosby beach, with no private shores, no fences, no signs saying “no public right of way”, always a path even where erosion has forced back the land.
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Until, that is, you reach Felixstowe.
For here is where Britain's biggest container port stands - blocking the way for walkers wanting to make their coastal trip go up and down the shores of the River Orwell to reach Shotley and continue around Harwich Harbour.
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Instead of being able stroll along the shore, it means a walk inland to follow a route through a grim industrial landscape, clocking up over four miles instead of the two miles if it was possible to amble along the port's quays.
Of course, at certain times of the year you could cheat and take the foot ferry - but where's the fun in that?
Thirty years ago, there were places you could walk inside the port complex, usually fenced walkways. Long before that people could go down to the old Dooley fort and the oyster beds below Fagbury cliffs - today all buried beneath Trinity Terminal.
It's now just, too, dangerous - and prohibited - to walk through the port, a busy and hazardous working environment with vast cranes and other heavy machinery with wheels taller than people.
So while the new Marine and Coastal Access Act dreams of a coastal path around Britain, the reality may be harder to achieve.
To get along the Orwell from Landguard to Trimley Marshes and around the port means an inland detour from the viewing area which is not all that straightforward.
It's quite a dull trek down Viewpoint Road - cutting through the nature reserve pleasanter - then down busy Langer Road to the traffic lights and left into Walton Avenue. By now the sea and river seem far behind.
Over the railway, past the sewage and gas works, and the boarded-up Routemaster complex, thousands of kaleidoscopic containers piled high, offices, warehouses, and haulage yards, the end of the A14 - all the places the resort would rather hide.
Having negotiated Dock Gate Two roundabout and inhaled the fumes of queuing lorries in Fagbury Road, the walker has to dodge lengthy freight trains before reaching Fagbury Cliff, a stiff walk to the top and an excellent view over the port and harbour activity.
After another lengthy leg alongside the tree bund created to hide Trinity Terminal, the end of the port arrives - and a lovely view of the river from the river wall, where in summer butterflies dance, and the lagoon brims with oystercatchers and avocets.
So getting around the port is possible, even if you cannot see any water for an hour.
It may not be ideal or pretty, but it's certainly one of the more different walks on our coast.
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IT'S also impossible to walk round another part of Felixstowe's coast - Cobbold's Point.
Sea changes over the years have meant the waves now wash right up against the cliffs at most states of the tide, making it very difficult to get along the narrow and rock-strewn beach.
Campaigners now hope it will be possible to extend the prom as part of new sea defences, leaving just another short gap at Brackenbury to be tackled.
This would create an almost continuous five-mile walkway from Felixstowe Ferry to Landguard.
Elsewhere along Suffolk's shoreline, there will be similar problems. Some walkers may enjoy lengthy detours up the Alde and Deben but will be able to take short-cut boat trips in season, while erosion will mean beach walking or cliff paths being constantly altered - sometimes moved quite a way in land - in other spots.
Nationally, 30 per cent of the coast is said to have no public access.
DOLPHINS, sharks, seahorses, turtles, jellyfish, commercially important fish stocks, and an amazing variety of plants are set to benefit from greater protection.
The seas around Britain's coast are teeming with life, an underwater haven for some stunning wildlife and habitats.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called the new Marine and Coastal Access Act “groundbreaking legislation” to manage the seas and improve the marine environment.
It will create a network of Marine Conservation Zones to protect rare and threatened species and habitats, and set up a new management organisation, planning rules, and reform fisheries management.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: “Our waters are some of the busiest in the world. The new marine planning system will ensure we make space in our seas for all its users and protect our underwater wildlife so that it will flourish in the years to come.
“Half of England's wildlife and habitats are found under the waters around our shores.
“We know that our blue spaces face the same pressures from climate change as our green spaces - we just can't see it.
“The Marine Conservation Zones will recognise that wildlife and habitats in our seas are just as important as those on land.”
A single coastal path around England will be established so people can enjoy the benefits of the coastline. The first section to be completed will be in Weymouth where the sailing events for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held.
David Norman, director of campaigns at WWF-UK, said: “This legislation will bring together the many rules and regulations that currently govern our seas to ensure our seas are used sustainably, and provide long-term benefits to many people who rely on healthy, well-managed seas - from fishermen to tourist operators.
“We now have the tools to protect our marine species and habitats but we cannot rest on our laurels. We must ensure that political momentum is not lost and both current and future government's are held to account on delivering the intentions behind this Act.”
Parts of the coast are owned by the National Trust, private individuals, the Ministry of Defence for firing ranges, leased by holiday companies, ports and marinas.
According to the Ordnance Survey, Britain's mainland coast - including the main islands, such as the Isle of Wight, Lundy, Scilly Isles, Hebrides and Anglesey - is 11,072.76 miles.
The UK is made up of over 6,000 islands, some of the little more than rocky outposts.
Beaches can be used for all kinds of informal recreation - sandcastles, sunbathing, swimming, picnics - as long as they have been reached by a legal route.
Under the new legislation, Natural England will powers to extend the coast path up estuaries as far as the first public foot crossing - a bridge or a tunnel - and so the path may go up the Orwell to the Orwell Bridge.
Coton in the Elms, Derbyshire, is reckoned to be the place furthest from the sea in the UK �- 73 miles from the nearest coast.