By Zoë Keown
SCOTLAND is set to attract more hikers and ramblers than ever before, as the country has become recognised as the first European leg of the famous International Appalachian Trail.
Under an ambitious plan that aims to reconnect the mountain range that once ran all the way to Morocco, organisers of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) have listed the 96-mile West Highland Way – which runs from Milngavie to Fort William – as part of the route.
Stretching from Canada and Newfoundland, across the Atlantic into Greenland, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, and as far south as North Africa, the trail is part of an attempt to “reconnect” North America and Europe, which are believed to have once been a landmass before the Atlantic’s formation.
This move could only be the first footstep in putting Scotland onto the rambling hotspot map.
Keen to build other Scottish trails into the route, President of the IAT Paul Wylezol said: “We are very excited to have the West Highland Way on board and would love to see other Scottish trails such as the Ayrshire Coastal Path link-up with the renowned brand to provide opportunities for friendly ties between Scotland and North America and help renew and expand cultural links.”
The value to the Scottish walking holidays and recreation is thought to be up to £250m a year and it is hoped that this new link will attract more hikers and ramblers to Scotland and boost the local economy.
Mr Wylezol added: “IAT trails help expand local adventure tourism industries, and in particular to create employment and business opportunities in rural areas, including accommodation, transportation, guiding and interpretation, and retail sales, including local arts and crafts.”
Not only re-establishing the country’s rich historic and cultural ties with Canada, Scotland will also act as an imperative gateway to Europe for enthusiastic walkers.
Mr Wylezol explained: “The long-term goal of the IAT is to locate sections of the IAT in all the countries or regions that were once part of the ancient Caledonian – Appalachian Mountain range, from East Greenland to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Norway, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco.”
Manager of the West Highland Way Gordon Forrester said: “We are very proud to be the first European member of the IAT.
“We aim to build on shared cultural heritage and our love of the great outdoors. “
A spokesman for VisitScotland said: “We are delighted to hear that the West Highland Way, one of the most scenic walks in the world, has been named as the first European chapter of the IAT.
“This will further enhance Scotland’s growing reputation as the adventure capital of Europe.”
The walking group, Ramblers Scotland, has welcomed the move to link both trails.
A spokeswoman said: “The link is not taking anything away from the West Highland Way. In fact, it’s only adding to it.
“Anything that gives people that extra information in terms of the geology, history, and culture of a trail is a very good thing.
“People like the idea of walking on land that linked to somewhere like North America.
“The geology they share is important.
“When people come to the end of the line in Canada, they can move on to Scotland and Europe.”