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Councillor Ron Simon – pictured left – launched yesterday evening (5th March) the latest stage in years of work at Argyll and Bute Council in working with landowners, residents, local and visiting walkers to plan a network of paths across Argyll and Bute.
The draft Consultative Plan was launched at Ardrishaig Hall to an audience which included community representatives, landowners, walkers and members of Argyll Outdoor Access Forum, holding its AGM immediately after the event.
In his opening address Councillor Simon noted that, according to research at Aberdeen University, the average Scot walks 900 miles a year – and drinks 41 gallons of alcohol in the same period. Work it out. Ron Simon did – 22 miles to the gallon. Some walkers in the audience began absent-mindedly to pat their back pockets for the reassuring presence of the hip flask.
Councillor Simon then changed gear to a thoughtful and imaginative conjuring of what people’s core paths would once have been – the track’s in the grass between family crofts, between friend and friend and from township to township. Suddenly something solidly practical began to take on another dimension – our imprint on time.
Ron Simon paid tribute to the consistent work done on this project by Douglas Grierson from Argyll and Bute Council. He described Mr Grierson as having spent so many years with bundles of maps under his arm that people wondered why on earth he didn’t simply get Sat Nav if he couldn’t find his way around.
John Auld from the Outdoor Access Forum then spoke, reminding the audience that the development of the plan for the network of long distance trails – and shorter paths – through Argyll was born from Scotland’s Land Reform Act.
Mr Auld handed over to Jolyon Gritten, Access Manager for Argyll and Bute Councl and responsibe for steering this development. Mr Gritten underlined the fact that the plan has been concerned to link the core paths with water-based activities, supporting access for water craft to Argyll’s inland lochs, sea lochs and coastal waters. The draft plan identifies no fewer than 1547 launching points from the core paths. These will support the great interest in dinghy sailing, sea kayaking and canoeing, among other water-based activities.
Other key points were that 43% of the existing long-distance trails are on minor roads. These are part of the National Cycle Network developed by Sustrans. 57% of the trails are off-road – some are simple ‘trodden’ paths on grass, some are level and gravelled. (Not all trails will be accessible to everyone although many support disabled acess and use.) 28% of these off-road trails are in the forest estate and will be maintained by Forestry Commission Scotland. The remainder are on privately owned land.
Jolyon Gritten pointed out that this development of paths, by agreement and consultation, has the advatage to landowners of largely controlling the routes taken through their land by walkers; and to landowners, residents and businesses alike, of being able to gauge in advance when, in the year, there will be larger numbers of walkers coming through.
The existing main walking trails, including one in preparation, are:
- The Cowal Way
- The Kintyre Way
- The West Island Way (Bute)
- The West Highand Way
- The Three Lochs Way (in process)
Then there are the cycle tracks:
- The Argyll and Bute Council cycle network from Loch Long through to Loch Lomond
- The Campbeltown to Oban link in the National Cycle Network (NCN)
- The new 53 mile extension to this, from Oban to Fort William (in construction)
Beyond all thse resources, there are, as Ron Simon and Jolyon Gritten repeated, 353 miles of ‘aspirational’ paths – our collective wish-list. These miles represent work long into the future.
Then it was question time – with, among others, Jolyon Small from the audience making two key points. (No, this is not an error. Jolyon Gritten was presenting the plan. Jolyon Small from Ardrishaig was in the audience. From a position where the only previously known Jolyon was in The Forsyte Saga, suddenly here were a live brace of them.)
Mr Small’s first question focused on the signage for the trails which is still to be developed. Essentially he lobbied for a European or International Standard of signage to be adopted which, among other features, displays distances and times and has coloured bands on waymarks indicating information not dependant on any language. Others agreed. Mr Gritten is interested in the proposition and invited particiopation in the development of the signage system.
The choice, as Mr Small made clear, is between usability and the ‘charm’ of a plethora of local variations.
Jolyon Small’s other point was that, with the development of the core paths being a part of Argyll’s economic development plan, there is a problem in creating a magnetic attraction for walkers from elsewhere to come here. The current state of the roads by which they will cross Argyll to get to the trails is so very poor. Mr Small understood that this was not within the remit of the Council’s PUtdoor Access Team working on the core paths but – rightly – felt that the issue should be addressed nationally as part of the nexus of developments.
There will be a follow up feature on Argyll’s core paths quite soon and we will shortly add to the foot of this article a list of the venues and dates for the series of local consultations that begin on Cove on 16th March. Each of these will also be entered in the For Argyll Events Calendar on the appropriate date.