The plan is to invest £25m over the next five years to extend the existing network

The plan is to invest £25m over the next five years to extend the existing network

The Scottish Government has announced ambitious plans to add 30 new long-distance routes to its network of trails in a bid to equal the best in Europe.

The proposals will see an extra 500 miles (800km) added to Scotland’s walking trails, cycleways and canal towpaths.

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil is today unveiling the plans, devised by Scottish Natural Heritage, Sustrans and Scottish Canals, in an effort to give people more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and travel sustainably. Mr Neil is visiting the Forth and Clyde Canal near the Falkirk Wheel. The towpath is included in the new John Muir Way and also has links to local paths.

Scottish Natural Heritage said: “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.”

Feasibility studies are 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.”

The new routes will add to Scotland’s existing Great Trails, 26 routes totalling 2,770km (1,720 miles), the canals network of 220km (170 miles) and the national cycle network of 3,460km (2,150 miles). When complete, the network will stretch to 7,000km (4,500 miles).

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.”

Among priorities in the next five years are improvements to the Arran Coastal Way, sections of the Great Trossachs Path, the Hebridean Way on Harris and Lewis and an extension of the Speyside Way between Aviemore and Newtonmore. The cost of the work on priority routes is estimated at £25m.

John Lauder, national director of Sustrans Scotland, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with SNH and Scottish Canals to ensure the successful delivery of a National Long Distance Cycling and Walking Network.

“Sustrans wants to see as many people as possible choosing to walk and cycle more on a daily basis. In order to achieve this aim we need to continue to develop high quality facilities for people to use.

“It is fantastic to think that the network will be extended even further and more people than ever before will have the opportunity to use it.”

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