This year's May Bank Holiday was very special weekend for everyone who enjoys the Cotswold Way because that is when the 102-mile walking route officially became a National Trail.

There were a number of festivities to mark this latest addition to the network of National Trails, which provide more than 2,500 miles of the nation's favourite rambles and rides, offering some of the best walking, horse riding and cycling experiences in the country.

During peak months more than 40,000 visitors and local people enjoy the stunning views from the Cotswolds route which follows the Cotswolds escarpment from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath Abbey in the south.

Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of Natural England, DEFRA's new delivery agency said:

"Natural England is delighted to have been involved in the creation of the Cotswold Way, England's newest National Trail. We gratefully acknowledge the hard work by many people over a number of years to realise this ambition.

"The Cotswold Way National Trail passes through a significant landscape of national importance and its completion provides a quality walking experience that will give pleasure to visitors from near and far.

"It will unlock, to many, a quintessential English landscape, passing through villages characteristic of the Cotswolds together with many sites of historical and wildlife interest."

Work has been going on for a number of years to prepare the route for National Trail status, including the introduction of new sections of route, safer road crossings, improved accessibility on the trail and many other first class improvements to meet the demanding National Trail Quality Standards.

Jo Ronald, the Cotswold Way National Trail Officer, said:

"Visitors will notice a number of obvious improvements, such as improved signage using the National Trail's acorn symbol and better access.

"And there are drainage improvements, safer road crossings, central road refuges and warning signs for motorists.

"Although we have carried out much work on the Cotswold Way, we have taken care to preserve its character and have made sure that materials we have used have been sympathetic to the local environment. We have been careful to restore and protect historical features such as stone stiles and stone bridges.

"In fact, at one location we even recovered coping stones from a river so that we could restore a bridge using its original material!"

Behind the scenes the National Trail team has been busy securing permanent rights of way along the trail from landowners who had previously granted 'permissive' rights for walkers.

A new set of trail information has been produced to help people plan their walks, including the Trail Guide which contains Ordnance Survey base maps (published by Autumn), and public transport information leaflets, Walk and explore The Cotswold Way National Trail by public transport (produced in partnership with the Cotswolds Conservation Board).

Information about accommodation and local services along the new trail, as well as how to plan walks, is contained in the Trail Companion and is also available on the official website (visit the website for full details of these publications and how to get hold of them as they become available).

Improved safety and a better experience

Route changes and new sections of route on the Cotswold Way National Trail include:

To secure safer road crossings:

Fish Hill, Broadway (A44)

Dowdeswell (A40)

Severn Springs (A435)

Edge (A4173)

Tormarton (M4/A46)

To reduce the amount of road walking or avoid sections of busy road:

Winchcombe to Belas Knap

Wistley Hill to Severn Springs, east of Cheltenham

Cam Long Down to Dursley

Frith Wood to the Somerset Monument at Hawkesbury Upton

Horton Court (east of) to Horton

Tormarton to Tormarton Picnic Area

Gorse Lane, south of Dyrham

Bath - Primrose Hill

To improve the quality of experience for walkers:

Belas Knap to Cleeve Hill - new route due to open during 2007

Ryeford to Middleyard via the Stroudwater Navigation and Selsley Common (near Kings Stanley), offering a choice of routes for walkers

Coaley Wood

Stinchcombe Hill

Bath Royal Victoria Park to Bath Abbey