Summer travel 2022: Green and serene destinations

Families of all ages are now better equipped than ever to explore Scotland’s rich landscape, rugged countryside and quaint villages in active and sustainable ways.

Whether it is hopping on a bike or exploring new walkways, families can make the most of the many projects that have been designed to encourage people to travel better and reconnect with nature.

Scotland’s national walking charity Paths For All has been supporting such initiatives for five years, providing £9.3 million of funding.

“Families in Scotland are really lucky,” says Kevin Lafferty, the organisation’s chief executive.

Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group

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“Where we live is unique and so are the types of natural environments and landscapes we have, either on our doorstep or for if we are having a staycation.

“From my own experience, going out on foot or by bike means you see a lot more of this country and the amazing locations that we have.”

There is an abundance of pathways for walking and cycling that showcase Scotland’s stunning scenery, rich history and wildlife thanks to the charity’s Community Paths team.

Lafferty points to a volunteer-led project supported by the team that brought Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter poem to life in South Ayrshire. The self-guided Blue Bonnet Trails allows visitors to follow the footsteps of Burns’ famous character.

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Kevin Lafferty. Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group

There are 23 Blue Bonnet signs over 31 locations, providing a route from the seaside resort town of Ayr to the leafy village of Alloway, where the Bard was born.

Visitors can walk or cycle the three-mile Tam O’Shanter Trail or the 1.5-mile Alloway Trail and admire the dramatic view from Brig O’Doon, the ruins of the 16th-Century Alloway Auld Kirk and discover the poet’s cottage.

Also in the south-west is Climate Action Strathaven (CAS), which received a £41,000 grant from Paths For All’s Smarter Choices, Smarter Places Programme (SCSP) to create a hub in the historic town.

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CAS runs a car club allowing people to hire a car via the Karshare UK app for an unlimited time. Project worker Arthur Potter says: “The benefit of a car club is that you can use the car as and when you need it so you can blend your car use with other sustainable modes of transport, like cycling and public transport.”

The scheme enables families to explore the area around Strathaven and to locations further afield.

“Strathaven is a fantastic place to visit with lots of beautiful surrounding countryside and attractions,” Potter says. “It is a very attractive market town, with an array of independent shops, cafés and restaurants, including multiple eateries with national award recognition.

“There are stunning walking routes including around an ancient castle, the Spectacle E’e Falls between Strathaven and Sandford, as well as the Nether Lethame Farm cafe and duck pond.”

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CAS is now offering free week-long electric bike hire – including child seating, trikes and lighter fold-up bikes – which are ideal for elderly family members or those seeking some assistance on trickier climbs.

They can pedal at their leisure to nearby attractions, such as Calderglen Country Park, Chatelherault Country Park, and Strathaven Castle.

The SCSP programme has also funded six new chargers for e-bikes around Stirlingshire.

They are an extension of a scheme already in place across Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, supported by Forth Environment Link, Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Countryside Trust.

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The chargers provide peace of mind for those with e-bikes on longer journeys, and for families who are new to the park, the trust has created Cycling Meander routes around the gateway villages of Aberfoyle, Drymen and Callander.

Jim Riach, an active travel officer for Trossachs Countryside Trust, says: “They are used to explore around those towns and further into the park, so people can go for a gentle cycle around those areas.

“Aberfoyle is one of those key gateways where there is a lot to explore, especially for families.

“Cycling allows you to reconnect with nature, and from Aberfoyle there is a cycle path which is nice and gentle. That is useful for people starting to cycle and it goes along the old railway line so it is nice and flat. It follows the river and is nice and secluded.”

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Popular points of interest include Faerie Hill, Achray Farm, Buchanan Castle and Broch Cafe for refreshments.

Details of the Meander routes can be found throughout the villages and online at trustinthepark.org.

Also encouraging people to get out on their bikes around the Forth Valley is a new Couch to Cycle app, made available by Forth Environment Link and NHS Forth Valley, which helps people to build up their stamina over eight weeks.

And there is good reason to do so with fantastic cycle paths throughout the region, which includes attractions such as the Falkirk Wheel, Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle.

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Meanwhile, those in Fort William should visit the Lochaber Environment Group’s Bike Kitchen where they can borrow e-bikes with child carriers to discover the wonderful sights across the Scottish Highlands.

Emma Walters of the Bike Kitchen says: “Glen Nevis is a beautiful and accessible ride. Not only are there amazing views of the UK’s highest mountain, but you can also see where they filmed some scenes from Harry Potter.

“There are also lots of lovely footpaths to explore further once you are up the glen with great swim and picnic spots. Glenfinnan has an amazing single track road that is accessible to pedestrians and cyclists only.”

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Families preferring to spend time walking also have plenty of options. The Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust (ELGT) was awarded £12,000 from Paths For All to promote a new network of walkways and cycling routes at Little France Park in the south of the Capital.

“Little France Park provides a great day out for families as it has many different layers,” says Richard Drake, of ELGT. “There are many different places that children can explore through walking or wheeling on the park’s many paths. It has open grassland where children can play in the wildflower meadow. There are also great views across the city and out to the Forth.”

Families can spot bees from the bee bank, butterflies from planters, newts and toads in the park’s wetland areas and various birds.

In West Lothian, a new pathway network is under way to connect the village of Stoneyburn with Whiteburn and Armadale – it is the start of a campaign to provide safe spaces for dog walkers, the elderly and families.

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Kevin Lafferty explains: “This involves path routes to give better access to the spanning woodlands, and helps build a sense of community and collected spirit. Frequently, the path network has been used by dog walkers, joggers, children playing and people just enjoying a leisurely walk.”

In Aberdeenshire, Aboyne Paths and Track Group has created a leaflet with a map of the area detailing six walks for all abilities. They feature Cambus O’May, Glen Tanar, and the four-star Douneside House hotel and are available online at www.mid-deeside.org.uk

“The nature connection is something that has really grown in terms of interest,” adds Kevin. “During the lockdowns, a lot of families were seeking ways to entertain the kids in restrictions and the walking to a local path, green space or woodland, that was accessible and doable.

“A lot of people have continued that behaviour and are now looking to explore other locations that are nearby on foot or by cycling.

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“There are loads of opportunities across the summer for families to engage with nature.”