Concept and aims
The Heart of Wales Line Development Company set out to create a long-distance walking trail linked to the line, known as one of the most scenic in Britain. Their three core aims were to;
- encourage sustainable tourism;
- encourage healthy outdoor activity and the use of public transport, particularly on the Heart of Wales Line;
- promote local produce and local businesses/accommodation such as B&Bs, camping, cafes and pubs as part of the visitor experience.
Having secured a £5,000 grant, the development company commissioned consultants to carry out a feasibility study for the trail and formed a working steering group. It was subsequently agreed that the 140-mile route would run between Craven Arms and Llanelli, and would be written from north to south.
The criteria used to choose the route included;
- choosing as enjoyable a route as possible with varied terrain and landscapes;
- making links to as many of Heart of Wales Line stations as possible;
- developing links to towns and stations, thus passing close to local and community-run businesses;
- highlighting links to historic sites and natural habitats;
- creating a journey that could be broken down into day sections.
The team consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, including four local authorities and Rights of Way teams, tourism and countryside bodies and local walking organisations. The route was initially researched on paper using Ordnance Survey maps and then walked on the ground using local knowledge.
Funds had to be raised for trail furniture including bridges, stiles, gates and waymarking, resulting in a successful crowdfunding campaign by the Heart of Wales Line Travellers Association entitled ‘A Trail in the Making’. To complement the efforts of volunteers, financial support was also provided by Arriva/Transport for Wales, Network Rail, local and national walking organisations, local businesses and a community wind farm.
The first part of the trail was completed back in 2017, and the launches of each subsequent section have all been accompanied by professionally led walks and talks from high-profile regional speakers. After further launches in 2018, the last Powys-based section of the route required further funds for significant new trail infrastructure. This final section, and therefore the full trail, was opened in March this year with a highly anticipated grand launch at Llandrindod Wells Station.
The steering group has liaised with the marketing and media team at Cyngor Sir Gar (Carmarthenshire County Council) throughout the project to coordinate trail walks for a number of journalists, and by late 2018 media interest in the route was high, with the Mirror, Guardian, Observer and Telegraph newspapers all publishing full colour spreads. Interest spread to Europe, and the trail featured in Conde Nast Traveller and Walk Magazine as well as being listed in The Guardian’s Best Travel Discoveries 2018. It is anticipated that this media exposure will translate into new visitors to the area, and the development company will be monitoring passenger footfall with the help of Transport for Wales.
A pilot project was run in Llandovery to connect local small and medium enterprises with the route, and explore how they could both benefit from and enhance the trail experience. A focus group discussed trail information packs for local tourist-related businesses to hand out to visitors and further information on the stations. There was also discussion around measuring impact, based on income generated per visitor per extra night spent in the town as a direct result of the trail. Tourist information packs – including a leaflet, local route descriptions and a train timetable – have now been produced and trail posters displayed on stations, with the pilot now set to be rolled out at other destinations along the line.