A Brief History of the Association
The Association was officially formed at a public meeting held in Newton Abbot on the 5th May 1973 and we were called the South West Way Association. We were registered as a charity in 1974.
During this inaugural period we were mainly engaged in campaigning for a complete Coast Path. During the 70s the Path was created in stages and we attended the official openings; Cornwall (1973), South Devon and Dorset Paths (1974), Exmoor Coast (1975) and the final section through Somerset & North Devon (1978).
As a mark of our growing standing, we entered a dialogue with the Countryside Commission in 1980 over the deficiencies with the Path at that time.
Improvements followed thick and fast in the 80s, many following the Association's campaigns.
Notable successes in this decade were a Public Enquiry at Bude to prevent development adjacent to the footpath (1987); Branscombe Public Enquiry for a true Coast Path (1987) and at Wembury where the Royal Navy proposed to erect locked gates across the Coast Path (1989).
By the end of the 80s the Coast Path as we now see it existed, although it was far from ideal.
It was during the 90s that we came of age. Our growing standing with local authorities and the National Trust meant that our suggestions for alternate routes and other improvements were often adopted.
As 1998 was our Silver Jubilee year, the Association set up a fund to raise money for markers at Minehead and South Haven Point.
As early as 1994 we were invited by Countryside Commission to become a member of the South West Coast Path Steering Group and to review the management of the Path. This was final recognition that we were an important supporter of the Path. At the end of the decade, at our AGM in Dorchester, our members voted in favour of adopting the name we have today, in recognition of the official name for the Path.
In 1994 our first Chairman and founder, Philip Carter, stepped down and Brian Panton became Chairman. Philip's contribution both to the Association and the Path cannot be underestimated. In another sign of changing times, the Path and Association were put on the Internet by Andrew Lack, a member from London who was looking to learn more about web-site creation.
The first decade of the 21st century saw us build an impressive number of members to over 5,000. During this period we started to fund improvement works for the first time, thanks largely to the income we were receiving from our members. In 2007 we pledged a substantial amount (£30,000) to move the Path off a busy road at Watermouth in North Devon.
We continued to press the local authorities and National Trust for changes to the route. Notable improvements secured in the millennium were at Crock Pits where the Exmoor National Park installed our recommended coastal route (2000); at Chynhalls Cliff (2003); Tregantle Cliff where the MoD created a permissive path (2003), and at Thatcher Point where our requested realignments were adopted (2007).
The Path Markers, which were an idea to celebrate our 25th anniversary, were finally installed at Minehead in 2001 and at South Haven Point in 2002. The mid-way marker at Porthallow was installed in 2009.
In 2003 the Isle of Portland was added to the official route, making the Path 630 miles in total, plus the 18 miles of the "inland route" between West Bexington and Osmington Mills.
To celebrate the re-opening of the Coast Path in 2001 after the Foot and Mouth outbreak, we organised the first of two "walk the whole path in a day" events. The second such walk took place in 2003 to celebrate 25 years since the completion of the Coast Path in 1978 when the Somerset and North Devon sections were opened.
Eric Wallis, who became our Hon. Secretary in 1986 was recognised for his contribution to the Association by being awarded an MBE in 2009.
The decade opened with the very sad news of the death of Eric Wallis in 2010 after a short illness. Eric's contribution to the Path and Association was formally recognised in 2013 with the opening of Eric's Memorial Steps at the Royal William Yard in Plymouth.
We stepped up our funding of Path improvements in 2012 with twelve projects funded.
To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we organised the Great South West Walk in 2013. This consisted of two relays of walkers, one starting from Minehead and the other from South Haven Point, meeting at Land's End on 11th May. We raised £250,000 towards further improvement projects.
In January 2014 the South West Coast Path won South West Tourism's award for the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism 2013–14. Members of the Association and Team were at the ceremony in Plymouth to collect the award.
In August 2014 our bid for £1m to the Government's Coastal Communities Fund was successful. The bid, submitted in partnership with the South West Coast Path Team, but with us leading, provided roughly £0.5m for 38 Path improvement projects, plus £0.5m to build the capacity of the Association.
Following requests from members to be more involved with practical help with the Path, Trustees established over 50 Local Reps to assist with the reporting the condition of the Path. In 2015 the Association equipped the Local Reps with tablet computers to allow them to carry out the first detailed survey of the whole path by volunteers.
Following legal advice, our Trustees agreed to change the Association from an unincorporated charity to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation(CIO). A resolution proposing the change was approved by our members at the AGM held in Ilfracombe in March 2015.