Cover of The Waled Coast Path- A Practical Guide for Walkers, reviewed here by Charles Hawes

The Wales Coast Path: A Practical Guide for Walkers

June 22, 2014 · 4 comments

 Authors: Christopher Goddard and Katherine Evans

Published by St David’s Press in  March 2014

ISBN 978-1902719-344

Paperback:208 pages

Size: 130mm x 228mm

Weight: 400 grammes (about 1 lb)

Price:  £14.99

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The Wales Coast Path was officially opened in May 2012. Most of the path follows established rights of way and much of it is very well-known.  Pocket guides already exist for the better known sections, The Pembrokeshire Coast Path, for instance. But some of the path is newly established or covers parts of the coast which have been relatively little walked. This is the first guide that covers all of  the path.

View east from Dinas Head: Image by the authors

View east from Dinas Head: Image by the authors

I understand from the publishers that this is because some are taken by the authors and some are bought in. I suspect the “in house” ones are the poorer and most would have benefited from better processing to reproduce well in print.

Any practical guide to walking needs to give some indication of the route to be taken. This invariably is a combination of maps and description. The guide makes a diagrammatic representation of the route, marking it as a red dotted line on a white background on 80 hand-drawn maps. The key place names and other features are shown as simple symbols and clear text. I very much like this approach with one caveat. They have adopted an inconsistent scale from one days walk to the next. Not dramatically, but enough to potentially throw you.  One can always add more information on maps and make them overcrowded but I also think it is a major oversight not to have shown public toilets.

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The diagrams are not a substitute for a proper map, though, and in order to get the most out of a walk and to give yourself the best chance of keeping to a route, you are best advised to obtain the relevant Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Explorer maps. But be warned – I have found even the latest OS maps show the wrong route at times so  check the route on the  Natural Resources Wales (NRW) website  for the path and mark the latest route on your OS map before you set out.

The official route of the Wales Coast Path starts in Chester and finishes in Chepstow and this is the direction that this guide assumes you will take. I think the Guide has done a good job of providing enough of a written description of the path, whilst not getting the reader bogged down with every gate and stile.

My problem with the description is that I have been walking the path in the opposite direction. The authors advise using “care”when using their directions in reverse. I find trying to make sense of reverse written instructions nigh on impossible so for those like me this signficantly compromises the guide’s usefulness. Overall, the path is pretty clear on the ground and is well waymarked by finger posts and friendly blue, yellow and white little plaques. Regular referencing back to  your map should keep you on the straight and narrow however un-straight and narrow it is.

The guide divides the path into one day walks of between 10 and 15 miles and to my mind this is just about right. Of course 15 miles is too far for some to walk in a day and for some it may feel too little, though if you want to take any time to sit or reflect on the sights along the way in my view if you do much more than 15 miles you are rushing it.

Apart from describing the route, what a guide-book should offer is some reference to points of particular interest on the way and some background and history. In a small book covering the whole path it is inevitable that not everything can be referenced and the amount of detail will be less than you will get in a guide to just part of the walk, but I think the authors have done a pretty good job. I have been surprised at how good the coverage has been for data-quality signals on my mobile network, so if you are carrying a smart phone there may be the internet to refer to.

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There are those who start the day with a packed lunch and a full water bottle and a car at either end of the walk and who go home at the end of the day. This book would serve them well. But for those who might like to enjoy whatever eateries are available on the route or who might want to stay the night somewhere and walk on the next day, its usefulness is more limited.  I have not done a thorough check on every days walk but from a casual perusal, there are some glaring omissions.

Llwyngwril lies half way between a 14 mile suggested walk between Barmouth and Tonfanau but the guide does not mention that it has a decent pub (that does Bed and Breakfast) and a shop and several other overnight possibilities (and it is out of date regards the route at the Tonfanu end).  In the 10 mile walk between Penrhyndeudraeth and Llandecwyn the Oakley Arms at the half way point at near Maentwrog gets a mention but the excellent pub, The Grapes in nearby Maentwrog is ignored as is  the excellent Bed and breakfast in the village.  Pennal between Machynlleth and Aberdovey is the only point in this 12 mile walk where you might get refreshments but there is no mention of this.

This is either poor research or poor decision-making. The few extra pages that inclusion of such important points in otherwise poorly serviced parts of the path would have required would have transformed this book to one of much more practical use than it is as it stands.  The publishers have suggested to me that inclusion of such information would soon get out of date but I am not persuaded by this argument. Yes, over time establishments might close (and others open) but the sensible walker would phone before setting off to check if it was important.

Ynys Lochtyn Peninsula: Image by the Authors

Ynys Lochtyn Peninsula: Image by the Authors

Regarding using public transport the authors have again had to make  compromises but the resulting information is patchy, and so, ultimately unhelpful, with some places served by buses not being identified.

If you are not a packed lunch day tripping car user, you are going to need a better source of advice than this guide.  Right now that alternative just isn’t there.  There are really good guides that cover some of the path where the information provided really is comprehensive and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path section stands out in this respect. NRW have commissioned a series of guides that cover other parts of the Path and these are beginning to come out. To date I have only seen the one covering the Lleyn Peninsula and I’m sorry to say that it is nowhere near as good as it needs to be and not much better than this guide.

NB the authors have a website which is referred to in the book that has a  listing of accommodations listed under places. This is much better than the official Wales Coast Path website but unfortunately it only gives the name and phone number of the establishments; there is no indication of how close to the path they are, what rooms they have or what they charge. It is also not comprehensive and therefore is unreliable. In recently planning a section on Anglesey I found 5 B&Bs on or very near the path that were not listed and which I had found easily on Google.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John June 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Such is the problem with guide books. And the web site “updates” are confusing. How would you interpret “Permanent route diversion due to flooding through Kenfig Burrows?” I’ll bet that you won’t think (before following the link) that this mentions a temporarily permanent diversion to the temporary route (hence the “temporarily permanent” as it’s only permanent in a sense that the temporary route has changed until the permanent route becomes available).

The lead time to publication means any hard copy thing like this will be unavoidably out of date by the time it hits the bookstands. To have any value, the year should be added to the title and it should be annually updated; which sorts of militates against its price.

Though given your propensity for deviation, especially when the route signage is unclear, I’m surprised that you “praise” the waymarking (which is not always blue, yellow and white!). And I do recognise that you have not even got to the third pic before you are referencing the relief needs of your (currently amiable) wife.

On the other hand, an entity like this blog can be updated continually “on-the-fly” if needs be. Any inaccuracies are corrected speedily and any informational changes can be accommodated simply. So power to the blog! (Especially if that Trecco Bay caravan site can really be shifted to the Scilly Isles!) The pics are always good too, because you put a lot of effort into making them so (and so can justify your comments on pics in the book), especially when you include some from a companion.

But I take comfort from the Guide mentioning a certain Grand Hotel (and it’s list of accommodation is promoted on the official site!!!!!!!).

Reply

Charles June 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Hi John
Anyone writing “temporarily permanent” needs a sharp word from their supervisor!
I take your point about guide books becoming out of date quickly but not to include much time sensitive information (which is most information) makes the book cease to be much worth other than for the route (and even then there are still lots of changes intended for the WCP route). What we really need is a decent Guide App for the path (the one that exists is rubbish)

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Tracy Burton July 19, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Charles, as always an excellent and very interesting review. In June, we walked the full length of Wales, including a large section of the Anglesey Coast Path. I suspect the reason the authors have not included details of public toilets in their guidebook is that all across the country they are disappearing at the speed of lightening. Anglesey had very few remaining public toilets along its coastline and in the Aber Valley the toilet block marked on our OS map (next to the car park) had been completely demolished. The toilets on the A470 at Cwmddu are have closed and in one north Wales village there was a plea on the (closed) toilet block ‘not to foul our village’. To add injury to insult, most closed toilet facilities have a sign on display stating ‘Sorry for any inconvenience’!

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Charles July 20, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Thanks Tracey. Yes I know that public toilets are closing but there are a lot on the path that are open and sometimes it is nice to know that at least there is a chance of a better option than the bushes. I am walking Holyhead to Menai Bridge (anti-clockwise) next week so do email me any pressing tips!

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