A NEW walking route of Scotland, which it is hoped will rival the Tour du Mont Blanc or America’s Appalachian Trail, has been officially launched.
The 470-mile Scottish National Trail, which runs from Kirk Yetholm in the Borders to Cape Wrath in Sutherland, becomes the first ever walk from one end of the country to another.
The route, which links up a series of existing paths and trails, was unveiled in Edinburgh yesterday by First Minister Alex Salmond alongside writer and broadcaster Cameron McNeish, who came up with the idea.
It is hoped the route could boost the Scottish economy by £20 million a year as ramblers travel from abroad to walk it.
Mr McNeish, a presenter of BBC Scotland’s Adventure Show who has co-written a book about the route entitled Scotland End to End, said: “We’ve got some of the best walking routes in the world here in Scotland, but they’re all reasonably short. I thought it would be nice if you had one that went from one end of the country to the other.
“The fantastic thing about the route is its variety. The message that we’re trying to get across is that while 470 miles is a long way, it can be broken down into bite-size chunks.
“There will be people who see it as another of the world’s long walks, such as the Tour du Mont Blanc or the Appalachian Trail, and I hope that in years to come it will become one of the most iconic long-distance walks in Europe.”
He said he expected serious walkers to take about a month to complete the route, admitting it was “challenging in parts”.
Initially, the route will only be signposted at its beginning and end, with another marker at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre in Edinburgh, where the route was officially launched. However, it is hoped it will eventually be marked along its length.
The First Minister used the opening of the route to pay tribute to his late mother, Mary, a keen Munro-bagger who died in May 2003 near Glenmore in the Highlands while walking with her local walking group, Linlithgow Ramblers.
Mr Salmond said: “I just love this concept. I’m not the world’s greatest rambler, but my mother certainly was.
“She was somebody who could perhaps have out-rambled Cameron McNeish and would be delighted looking down on today’s event.
“What’s happening here is of fundamental importance to our country. We’re talking about something which improves the health, the economy, but also the morale of the country.”
The route will run from the northern end of the Pennine Way in the Borders to Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point on the British mainland, where visitors must take a boat and short bus ride to reach the remote lighthouse that overlooks the rocks below.
David Thomson, convener of Ramblers Scotland, said: “This trail, running the length of Scotland through highlands and lowlands, from wild country to town and city, will encourage everyone to appreciate the value of physical exercise and the enjoyment of being out and about in the great outdoors.”