Off path destinations

One of the things I’ve been looking out for is how easy it is to know what is available just off the path.  Is there some interesting historical site, art gallery, craft shop, pub, cafe or toilet?

The answer is actually very simple, unless you have previously researched what is available nowhere is there any way to tell what is available.

Very occasionally an enterprising business will put a sign on the path (but to my memory, only on Offa’s Dyke), and the B&B at Nash was considering stapling plastic coated business cards to coast path signs.  However, I don’t recall any of these DIY signs saying how far off path they lie

Sometimes, for example in the stretch between Cardiff and Newport, you can see that there is something there (Church tower), but not what or whether it is open.

This is especially problematic as many traditional coastal villages are set back a half mile to a mile from the sea shore, and the coast path often skirts even major.

An example of the former is Tudweiliog on the north west coast of the Llynn Peninsular.  Although I knew I needed to get there as I was booked into a B&B, I had to be careful to turn inland at the rights spot.  The village also had a pub with good food, but a passing walker would have no idea if this even existed..  Similarly on the path east of Newport I was due to meet someone at Redwick, a village about 3/4 of a mile from the path.  I was late and so he came to try to find me in the car, but I had mistaken which point I was at on the coast.  This latter case was made worse by (a) lack of mobile signal, so I couldn’t tell him when I realised my mistake, and (b) the road into the village was blocked by a lake of slurry, with no attempt to clear it up.  An obstruction like this would be unthinkable on an inland route, but presumably the farmer did not worry because the path ‘only’ lead to the sea.

An example of a large town being bypassed is Fishguard.  The path skirts the town along a cliff top path, but there is no signage to say where a good place would be to head for the town centre if, for example, you wanted food or to get to the bust stop.

I recall very few examples of signs along the coast path that said where inland paths were going to, even fewer that gave any indication of distance, and none that gave any indication of the services that could be expected and certainly not of opening hours (where these were predictable).

For a car these issues would be frustrating, but not critical, you simply go through a village ‘on spec’, but, for a walker, diverting a mile inland to fruitlessly searching for a shop or cafe will eat up an hour of time.


There are probably five areas for improving access to off-site destinations:

  1. raising awareness of local businesses of the potential customers coming along the path
  2. improving pre-walk information, e.g. on WCP web site and download leaflets
  3. improving signage off the path to say where to leave to find particular places (that is simply having finger post with place name and , ideally, distance)
  4. improving signage to say what you might find in those places and when (food, shops, heritage, etc.)
  5. improving physical access (new or better paths)

Of these 1, 2 and 4 are relatively cheap, whereas both 3 and 5 are much more expensive.

Note that improving physical access (5) makes a destination a potential start point for short walks on the path, or over-night staging point for those on multi-stage walking holidays, both of which have high potential returns for the community.

1, 3 and 5 are ‘static’ they depend only on the existence of the path, whereas 2 and 4 may change over time as businesses open and close and maybe change opening and closing hours.  For pubs and cafes, it is also important to know what their serving hours are, for example, some cafes only serve hot meals at lunch and dinner time.

The more dynamic parts are where digital solutions seem most appropriate, allowing businesses to update information.  However, there are two main timescales to consider:

  • seasonal/weekly – updating what is open and when, including possibly shorter periods, but known a few days in advance
  • live – actual “open now” information

It is interesting that train and bus electronic signage differed in this dimension, the former showing whether a train was on time, the latter simply an electronic version of the timetable.

As part of Tiree Tech Wave we are beginning to experiment with a device made by Rory Gianni, which will detect when a shop ‘open’ sign is lit and relay this to the internet, where it could be used in various ways from historical “when is it likely to be open?” to real time “can I go now?”.

However, real live information is only useful where the walker has mobile signal, which is rare on the path.

The more seasonal information would be easier to capture in an off-line web site or native app.  One option would akin to a linear motorway map, where you see serial list of places on the way, what is at each, and distances between. GPS can then be used to tell you when you are at various access points for each.

Watch out for …

As well as things off path, there are some things that can only be seen when walking along the path, for example, St Gwenfaen’s Well on Holy Island or the Church in the Sea (see Day 42 – Rhosneigr to Malltraeth) south of Rhosneiger.  These are a USP for the path, and should be marketed as such, but also may be missed.  For example, another walker missed both the above because she was walking in the opposite direction along the path where they were less obvious (yes, you can miss a church on an island!).

Another use of a simple linear app would be to have simple ‘watch out for’ markers along the way.