A BILLION years ago, Scotland was part of a supercontinent. But as the Earth’s surface changed shape and land masses separated, with the Ice Age playing a major role, the whole structure of the world changed.
The famous Appalachian Mountains of North America, though, still have geological links with Europe.
And, as a result, Scotland will next year play host to the annual conference of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), with Inverness being favoured as the venue.
The IAT is an attempt to connect treks in the Appalachian Mountains with others in Europe and Africa. The areas share geology going back a billion years through a process of ancient supercontinents forming, breaking up and forming again.
In Scotland, the IAT can be followed using trails that stretch from Cape Wrath in Sutherland to the Mull of Galloway in the south.
The decision to stage the conference in Scotland means the annual IAT event will be held outside North America for only the second time in its history – it was held in Iceland this year – and it could provide a major tourism boost.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “The Highlands offer some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, with the West Highland Way recently named as one of the world’s best hikes by National Geographic.
“Being chosen to host the International Appalachian Trail conference for the first time will further cement this country’s reputation as somewhere to enjoy the great outdoors, especially taking place in the Year of Natural Scotland, a year-long programme of events which will celebrate our country’s unique natural environment.”
Mike Dale, of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “We are pleased to see the geological time travels of Scotland’s mountains being recognised in this way and it is great to see this prestigious event coming to Scotland.”
IAT volunteers in Scotland include the British Geological Survey. Spokesman Hugh Barron said: “This is a big tourism opportunity. In Canada, this really took off when the fishing industry took a dive. This is a perfect opportunity to have a trail network and encourage people to come here.”
Extensions of the Appalachian Trail into Scotland and Greenland were agreed in 2010.
Earlier this month, the IAT was included on a US magazine’s list of the world’s best hikes. National Geographic Traveler Magazine ranked it alongside 19 other trails, including the Santa Cruz Trek in Peru and Tibet’s Mount Kailash Pilgrimage.
The West Highland Way, which covers 96 miles from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William, was also on the list.