Thirty new long distance routes equalling 500 miles are to be added to Scotland’s network of trails, cycleways and canal towpaths.
The plan is part of a national project to give people more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and travel sustainably.
The National Walking and Cycling project was launched today by Cabinet Secretary for Planning Alex Neil near the Falkirk Wheel. It will extend the network by 500 miles over the next five years, joining up and improving existing routes.
Scottish Natural Heritage, Sustrans and Scottish Canals, who are behind the initiative, want Scotland to develop a strategic path network on a par with the best in Europe, making it easier for people of all ages and abilities to get to and enjoy.
The paths will offer something for everyone, from walkers, cyclists and horse riders to people using wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The project is one of a number of key developments highlighted in the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework.
Mr Neil stepped out on the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal to see some of the benefits for himself and meet the project partners and representatives from Falkirk Council. The canal towpath is part of the new John Muir Way, a national cycle route and links to a network of local paths round Falkirk.
Mr Neil said: “Scotland’s extensive network of long distance routes, national cycleways and canal towpaths is already much loved and well used.
“Encouraging more people to enjoy the natural environment is important for the environment, tourism and boosting the economy – that’s why the National Long Distance Cycling and Walking Network is designated as a national development in Scotland’s National Planning Framework.
“The Plan will extend the network of connected, accessible paths and tracks for visitors of all ages and abilities to walk and cycle, encouraging even more people and visitors to enjoy the outdoors and to become more active.”
Feasibility studies are already underway for a North Solway coastal path, parts of a ‘Pilgrim’s Way’ across Scotland between St Andrews and Iona, and to extend the Clyde walkway in Lanarkshire.
Major improvements on canal towpaths have begun and there are also plans to improve existing long distance routes such as the Cowal Way and the Clyde Coast path. While work will be carried out over the next five years, the national development is also long term, with the project plan setting out a strategy for the network over the next 20 years.
Ian Ross, Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage said: “We want to make sure that the network offers something for everyone, with rural routes offering peace and quiet, great views and the chance to get close to nature; paths between settlements to help local people commute away from traffic; high spec surfaces in places for people in wheelchairs and cyclists and more varied paths for walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.
“The most important thing is to give people the chance to access and enjoy the outdoors close to where they live – irrespective of their age or mobility. And on the back of that we hope that people will embrace healthier, more active and sustainable lifestyles.”