MY campaign to have the famous Coast to Coast Walk made a National Trail has passed a significant milestone.

Natural England – the Government’s advisor on the natural environment – has started work on a formal proposal for designation. That is fantastic news for walkers and the communities the walk passes through.

It is five years since I launched the campaign on the green at Reeth in Swaledale – just one of the hundreds of communities that will ultimately benefit.

I set out to persuade people that the walk’s lack of official status was an opportunity to make the best of this glorious 190-mile trek across the North of England.

National Trail designation matters because while the Coast to Coast is an established walk it needs maintenance, improvement and, in some places, better signposting. Some stretches, like Nine Standards Rigg between Kirkby Stephen and Keld, have been damaged by erosion and can become extremely boggy in wet weather. They need to be fixed.

There are other issues like the crossing of the A19 dual carriageway at Ingleby Arncliffe. At the end of a hard day’s trekking with a heavy pack, walkers have to dodge traffic travelling at up to 70mph to get across. To meet National Trail quality standards that issue will have to be addressed to ensure walkers’ safety.

Support for the Coast to Coast – Make It National campaign came thick and fast after the initial launch – starting with the Wainwright Society, the organisation that honours the work of Alf Wainwright, the fell-walking legend who created the Coast to Walk 50 years ago.

I then wrote to more than 70 parish, district and county councils and three national parks and they backed the campaign enthusiastically. As did all the other MPs whose constituencies the route crosses.

There was also support from Julia Bradbury, the BBC Countryfile presenter, and Eric Robson, the former long-running presenter of Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time.

Securing a debate in Parliament in 2017 was another important step in making the case for the walk and I was delighted that National Trail designation of the Coast to Coast was included in my party’s manifesto for the 2019 General Election with funding allocated to the project in last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Improvements to the path to meet the standard for designation will make it even more attractive, bringing more walkers to businesses like the Burgoyne Hotel in Reeth where a group of campaign supporters met me recently to celebrate this milestone.

Burgoyne Hotel owner Ian Hewitt is a massive Coast to Coast fan. It was when he was tackling the walk that he came across the hotel, heard it was for sale, and after finishing the walk bought it!

Ian’s proud to employ local people in looking after his “Coast to Coasters” and is typical of all the pubs, restaurants, B&Bs, campsites and shops along the route for whom the path, which in normal times attracts walkers from all around the world not just the UK, is an economic lifeline.

The start of work on the Coast to Coast is a giant step forward in the campaign. I’m really looking forward to seeing Natural England’s report presented to the Government early next year and this national treasure being accorded the National Trail status it so richly deserves.