SCOTLAND’S 4,000-mile network of walking trails, cycleways and towpaths is to be extended by around 500 miles over the next five years.
The £25 million project has earmarked 30 new long-distance routes to be completed across the country by 2019, including a North Solway coastal path, parts of a Pilgrim’s Way between St Andrews and Iona and a Hebridean Way in Harris and Lewis.
Other priority routes are a Great Trossachs Path from Callander to Inversnaid and a Clyde Coastal Path.
Improvements to existing long-distance routes such as the Cowal Way and the Clyde Coast path have also been scheduled.
The aim of scheme, part of the new National Walking and Cycling plan, is to make it easier for people to experience the outdoors and travel sustainably by joining up and improving existing routes cross the country.
Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Canals and the walking and cycling campaign group Sustrans Scotland are behind the initiative, which they hope will put Scotland’s path network on a par with the best in Europe and make it more accessible for people of all ages and abilities.
They say the routes will offer something for everyone, from walkers, cyclists and horse riders to people using wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
Long-term plans will see further expansion of the network over the next two decades, including coastal paths in Angus and Aberdeenshire – scheduled for completion by 2034.
The new plan builds on a long history of route developments in Scotland, with the West Highland Way opening as the nation’s first long-distance trail in 1980. It was closely followed by the Speyside Way in 1981 and the Southern Upland Way in 1984.
Work began on the national cycle network in the 1980s, though its official launch was in 2000. Scotland’s Great Trails walking routes went live in 2012.
The current network comprises some 2,150 miles of cycleways, 137 miles of canal paths and 1,720 of walking trails.
SNH chairman Ian Ross said: “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.”
The project is one of the key developments in the Scottish Government’s national planning framework.
Planning minister Alex Neil unveiled the scheme, saying it will benefit public health, the environment and the economy.
He said: “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.”
More than 100 million trips were made on the National Cycle Network in Scotland in 2013, with biking estimated to be worth around £298m a year to the economy.
Towpaths attract more than 22 million visitors annually and play a “vital role” in connecting communities, according to Scottish Canals chair Andrew Thin.
“We hope this project will encourage even more people to leave the couch and car behind, get outdoors and enjoy the rich heritage, wildlife and green space offered by the nation’s waterways and the wider path network,” he added.
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