Everyone can now walk, or cycle, 500 miles more. A network of 30 long- distance trails are being created and upgraded in an effort to persuade more people outdoors.
Experts said Scotland had some of the best walking and cycling routes in the world and “absolutely” had the potential to become one of the most popular destinations in Europe.
The new routes include a Great Trossachs Path between Callander and Inversnaid, a Hebridean Way on Harris and Lewis and a Pilgrim’s Way across Scotland between St Andrews and Iona. The cycling revolution and the rising popularity of walking brought almost 80 per cent of Scottish adults into the outdoors in 2012, according to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and the numbers are believed to have remained the same ever since.
SNH, which designed the scheme alongside Sustrans, the transport charity, and Scottish Canals, said the project would extend more than 4,000 miles of existing outdoor tracks.
Many existing paths will be improved while others will be built from scratch in a move that is also hoped to attract wheelchair users and horse riders.
Ian Ross, chairman of SNH, 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 project will cost £25 million, with funding from public and private sources, and the first 30 routes will be in place by 2019. Upgrades will be made to the John Muir Way and Clyde coastal path as well as towpaths and cycle routes in Dundee, Ayrshire and Stirling.
Alex Neil, the planning secretary, launched the scheme on the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal yesterday.
He said: “Scotland’s extensive network of long-distance routes, national cycleways and canal towpaths is already much loved and well used.
“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.”
Another 16 routes have been designed and will be completed by 2034.
David Gibson, of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, welcomed the commitment to the natural environment and said he hoped it would be matched “by stronger protection for Scotland’s wild land which is threatened as never before by ill-considered large-scale developments”.