It’s the newest long distance path, and when completed it will be the longest coastal path in the world. But the first in a series of definitive walkers’ guidebooks to the England Coast Path has just been produced by a man living as far from the sea as you can get – Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.
Chris Goddard’s Book 1: The South Coast is a remarkable and detailed route description which covers the 706 miles from the River Thames at Woolwich to the River Exe at Exmouth, with more than 350 pages featuring hand drawn maps, colour photos, and accessible alternatives in the few places where the route is not yet officially open. There’s also a wealth of additional information on public transport, parking, accommodation, campsites, refreshments, and local history.
It’s taken him ten years to complete, and he’s already working on the second volume, the South West Coast, before he tackles Mag North territory in the North Coasts, and finally the East Coast. So yes, the coasts of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, Lancashire and Cumbria, will all be in one magnum opus, and all should be available by 2024.
And what Mag North really loves is that Chris has produced a series of playlists to entertain readers, and walkers, as every section of the route also has an accompanying Song for the Day, by a local artist or a song inspired by this part of the route, with a soundtrack playlist available on YouTube (www.youtube.com/@englandcoastpath). More of Chris and his music later, but first, his maps.
Chris is an accomplished cartographer, writer and artist who has also produced a guidebook to the Wales Coast Path, so his readers will ultimately be able to follow his directions all the way around our coastline south of the Scottish border. But here on home territory he’s already well known for his exquisitely illustrated guidebooks to areas of Yorkshire. The West Yorkshire Woods, parts 1 and 2, cover the Calder Valley and the Aire Valley. Then there’s guides to the South Yorkshire Moors and the West Yorkshire Moors, all of them published by Gritstone Publishing Co-op, of which Chris is a key member.
He grew up in Sheffield and has been drawing maps for as long as he can remember. The Bradfield moors on the edge of the Peak District were just a short walk away from his childhood home: “Wharncliffe and Beeley Woods were mapped and remapped many times over the years, with more detail being added as I honed my youthful craft. My brother and I gave names to every lost quarry and mine-working, like the great basin of Ngorongoro in the middle of Great Hollins Wood, inspired by a David Attenborough wildlife programme. On holidays in Greece, I was appalled at the standard of the maps and worked to create a decent plan of Kassiopi and its surrounding coastline. Some of these I still treasure, others are sadly lost.”
He adds: “My mother said I was born a good century too late and should have been out exploring and mapping the world in the age of empire. Yet the exploring I like to do need not be particularly exotic, rather it just has to be somewhere new – and you can discover new things around the corner from your house every day. Exploring is also not linear, but nearly always leads me round in circles as I am desperate not to miss anything. Indeed this is the only way to make a good map.”
After leaving Sheffield and going to university, he stopped making maps for a number of years, instead using maps in his work as a Rights of Way and National Trails surveyor, first at the Lake District National Park and later as a freelance contractor, working all over the country. “I was delighted to be paid to explore places like Cornwall, mid-Wales, the Gower, Berkshire, Cheshire, and the Cambrian Mountains, but there was no need for me to draw maps. Everything I needed was provided, and instead it was left for me to find mapped routes on the ground.”
When he moved to Hebden Bridge with his partner Caroline in 2006, one of the first things he did was to yomp up the nearest hills. “So I could look out over the valley and get a sense of where I was; first High Brown Knoll, then Stoodley Pike. It has always been the way I get to know a new place, but is particularly necessary in the claustrophobic narrows of the Upper Calder Valley.
“What I found remarkable on both Midgley Moor and Erringden Moor, though, was the failure of the map to convey the paths across these moors. For anyone who holds Ordnance Survey maps in as high esteem as I do, it is a shock when they let you down. The map shows public footpaths where there are just swathes of heather and bog, and then you stumble across a fine path (like the one along Sheep Stones Edge) that is not shown at all. Although there is little the OS can do about the vagaries of the historical network of Public Rights of Way, I found the usually reliable black dashed lines letting me down as well. The consequence was that in many places you are forced to navigate by base geographical features (contours, watercourses, crags, etc) alone. While this may be a good navigational exercise, I felt there was an opportunity to map these moors more accurately.”
So after years of amateur map-making, Chris hit upon a project to which he could dedicate his passion for exploring the minutiae of the world outside his door. “I squeezed in time between jobs surveying Public Rights of Way and National Trails, though there were many occasions when it felt like a busman’s holiday. I was lucky, though, that my work included walking each of the 2500km of paths in both Kirklees and Calderdale during this period, and slowly a fuller picture of West Yorkshire’s moorland landscape emerged.”
Aware that comparisons would be made with Wainwright’s style, Chris never looked at those Lakeland books while producing his maps. “When I finally did I was surprised at some similarities of phrase and style, but almost more so by how much more I was cramming on every page, some suggesting a free magnifying glass should be provided with every copy of the book.”
The latest project took him a long way from home to a new and unfamiliar landscape. “I particularly enjoyed the south coast as it was so beautiful and varied. I was familiar with parts of Dorset, but other parts of the coast were a complete surprise and far less built up than I expected.” He walked the first section of the route between Lulworth and Weymouth in 2013, so it has taken nearly 10 years to complete the south coast part of the book, “though this is because new sections of the route have been slow to open - and a pandemic didn’t help”.
He travelled in his camper-van, using public transport to return each day, and greatly enjoying spending time in a very different part of the country. “As well as a great ramble, walking the coast of England is a great way to connect with its maritime past and consider its particular outlook as an island nation.”
The whole England Coast Path will be around 2,800 miles when it is completed. Even though large parts of the England Coast Path are still not officially open, the route across the south of England is largely accessible, even if all the signage is not yet in place. New sections of the route should open up with regularity over the next couple of years. 2023 is the Year of the Coast, marking the opening of this new route, which will be the longest coastal path in the world.
And those playlists? “I'm not someone who likes to listen to music when I'm walking, I prefer to enjoy the sounds around me. However, I find music can transport you back to a place or time and it's very important to me. I’m a DJ, playing a predictably eclectic mix of world, folk and dance music, and started doing it because no-one else (apart from perhaps John Peel) was playing the variety of music I wanted to hear.” So no surprises that Chris’s choice is a diverse one, ranging from The Albion Dance Band Hopping Down in Kent, to Chas and Dave’s Margate, by way of, among others the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Vaughn Williams, Queen, The Jam, and Iron Maiden.
About the First Book
The England Coast Path - Book 1: The South Coast
Start: Woolwich (River Thames)
Finish: Exmouth (River Exe)
Total Distance: 1136.9km (706 miles)
Total Ascent: 11,240m (36,880ft)
Total Days: 54
Counties covered: Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Dorset
Author: Christopher Goddard
Publisher: Gritstone Publishing
Publication date: March 2023