Some of Cumbria’s most spectacular coastline will open to the public for the first time today after Natural England unveiled 21 miles of the England Coast Path on Walney Island.

The new stretch, which encompasses glorious beaches, dunes and saltmarshes, wonderful wildlife and dramatic views, is now open to everyone via a single, circular route for the first time.

Walkers will be able to enjoy impressive views over the Irish Sea and Morecambe Bay, and across the Walney Channel and the Duddon Estuary to the Lake District fells.

The route is exceptionally varied, with the island’s wild open spaces, supporting rare species such as the renowned Walney geranium and natterjack toad, providing a stark contrast to the industrial and maritime landscape of Barrow, and Walney’s main settlement, Vickerstown.

The path takes in the North Walney National Nature Reserve (NNR), also running close to South Walney Nature Reserve, famous for its grey seals.

These wildlife sanctuaries are fantastic places for bird watching, with highlights including breeding eider duck, great black-backed gull, oystercatcher, ringed plover and shelduck.

Natural England is currently establishing a 2,700-mile path around the entire English coastline, with today’s stretch the 13th to open.

When completed, it will be the longest continuous coastal walking route in the world. It will also become a National Trail – the nation’s finest and most popular long-distance paths.

Mark Hesketh, Natural England’s deputy area manager for Cumbria, said: “The England Coast Path route showcases the fabulous Walney coastline, from celebrating our industrial and wildlife heritage in the Walney Channel, to capturing local beauty spots such as the spectacular viewpoints from North Walney National Nature Reserve.

“The route is a fantastic resource for local communities and visitors alike. We thank everyone for their time and input so far to help get this fantastic stretch open for the public to use and enjoy the many benefits it will provide.”

A new length of path has been created on a previously inaccessible route east of the airfield.

This means that walkers can for the first time walk directly from North Scale village to the east end of North Walney NNR safe from tides and difficult terrain, without disturbing the important wildlife which roosts in Walney Channel.

Walney South councillor Helen Wall said: “Walney Island is such a special place, unique in England, and loved by so many people. Its size, shape and beautiful landscape make it the perfect place for coastal exploration or a complete round-the-island walk."