In Scotland, the IAT follows several existing trails from south to north. These include the Mull of Galloway Trail and the Ayrshire Coastal Path – both of which make up the Firth O Clyde Rotary Trail (FoCRT). Here’s their latest news.
Mull of Galloway Trail
The Mull of Galloway Trail (MoG) makes up the southern-most section of the IAT in Scotland. Opened in 2012, the trail runs from the Mull to Stranraer and continues north as the Loch Ryan Coastal Path for a total distance of 37 miles to Glenapp in South Ayrshire where it links with the Ayrshire Coastal Path. The trail was created and is maintained on an entirely voluntary basis by the Rotary Club of Stranraer.
Tom Stevenson, manager for MoG, reports that 2020 was quite different from previous years. With the many restrictions as result of the coronavirus, most trail activities and maintenance tasks were postponed or cancelled. For example, it wasn’t possible to hold a Marathon Trail Race planned for June covering the 26 miles from the Mull of Galloway to Stranraer. In addition, help with cutting back vegetation through the local Community Payback Scheme was also not available.
Despite these limitations, Tom and his crew took advantage of grant funding to begin work to improve trail safety and make it easier for walkers in wet areas. While progress was been a bit slow due to the pandemic, new steps and handrails were installed at the March Burn at Glenapp, making it much easier for walkers on the steep banks on either side of the burn. A new bench was erected by the local Men’s Shed Association above East Tarbet Bay where walkers can rest and enjoy the stunning views towards the Mull of Galloway.
In June, 2020 contractors were engaged to cut back overgrown parts of the trail and, during the summer months, the MoG began to see an influx of visitors with the result that the trail was busier than ever. Many of the visitors would have taken holidays abroad but 2020 was a year of staycations.
With the continuing restrictions in 2021 there are still not a lot of planned activities apart from some trail work where the path was being undermined by tides over the winter. However, with COVID vaccines becoming more widely available Tom hopes that it will not be too long before normal activities return to the Mull of Galloway Trail.
Ayrshire Coastal Path
North of the Mull of Galloway Trail, the IAT follows the Ayrshire Coastal Path (ACP) for ~100 miles from Glenapp to Skelmorlie. With a superb backdrop of the ever-changing profile of the mountains of Arran across the Firth of Clyde, this coastline is steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. It has been called one of the finest panoramic coastlines in the British Isles.
ACP Management Board member, Ron Ireland, reports that the Spring 2020 lockdown curtailed maintenance activities for a few weeks but ACP’s 50 strong band of “Pathminders” more than made up for that during the summer months with the vegetation-control work parties and some helpful handrail additions to a couple of their excellently built bridges. ACP carried out some important way-marking and signing improvements at various points along the trail which has now been accurately measured at 107 miles.
Ron reports “We know this from the efforts of one of our Rotarian colleagues who ran its full length in one go thus setting the Fastest Known Time (FKT) of 23h 38m 40s for the ACP.”
In association with Scottish Wildlife Trust, ACP has also identified and planted two wildflower meadows as part of a bigger effort to create a “Nectar Network” or pollinator corridor between Girvan in the south and Irvine in the north. The ACP are eagerly anticipating the arrival of summer to see the initial success of this although it will take a couple of years more for the sites to become fully established. On the same Scottish Wildlife Trust ecological theme and with financial support from NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), eight attractive information panels were constructed and sited at various important wildlife locations along the trail to highlight the fascinating biodiversity on the ACP.
Given the varied environmental settings through which the ACP passes (from remote clifftops to town esplanades) it has always been impractical to obtain reliable data on numbers of walkers and their reasons for using the trail. However, there is little doubt that, like the Mull of Galloway Trail, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased numbers using sections of the path for short constitutional walks, whilst more adventurous, long-distance hikers, both local and international, continue to be evident in healthy numbers.
The ACP is run entirely by volunteers and relies on grants and donations to fund essential maintenance and upgrade schemes. Recently they benefited from a very successful on-line fundraising initiative which provided a welcome boost to their dwindling reserves.
As the 2021 lockdown measures are hopefully eased in the coming months, the ACP anticipates that weekly Pathminders work will restart and with the spring weather now not far away the numbers of local (UK) path users should return at least to normal levels although we are probably unlikely to see any foreign visitors for some time to come.
To the North
Elsewhere in Scotland, soon to be retired British Geological Survey geologist and IAT European Chair Hugh Barron reports that recent activity on the West Highland Way has been fairly quiet due to the pandemic lockdown and inability travel outside of local authority areas. That said, the winter of 2021 has been anything but quiet in northern Scotland. “In Edinburgh we have had the most snow we have had for a decade, with snow on the ground in the city for much of January and February and temperatures down to -9 centrigrade in the City, which is the lowest for 25 years!”
Hugh also reports that planning continues for the tercentennial celebration of the birth of James Hutton in 2026 with the potential to add the Berwickshire Coastal path (“which passes by Siccar Point, the most important geological locality in the world!”) to the IAT.