Ramblers Scotland mapping trial discovers huge volume of hidden paths

The eye-catching results of a year-long pilot project suggest there may be thousands of miles of unmapped ‘hidden paths’ on the ground in Scotland.

Following a successful regional trial, Ramblers Scotland now plans to vastly expand its Mapping Scotland’s Paths project, to create a free dataset of paths right across Scotland for the public to enjoy.

Since August 2019, Ramblers Scotland has been collecting information on paths in the west of the Central Belt, using data donated by 14 organisations who manage paths in the region. 

In West Dunbartonshire alone, early data from the trial suggests there is a potential path network of more than 300 miles, more than double the length currently shown on published Ordnance Survey maps. Work is ongoing to audit this data on the ground to ensure it is accurate and useful before publication.

Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said that improving public access to path information would boost the nation’s health and wellbeing – with two in five Scottish adults still not getting recommended levels of exercise. 

Mr Paddy said: “Scotland has world-class access rights, but we lack a national path network which appears on all maps.

“The trial has shown the huge potential to help many more people enjoy these hidden paths – offering better links between communities, new opportunities for fun days out, and more space for people to boost their health outdoors.”

The ‘hidden paths’ found during Ramblers Scotland’s trial include some popular routes, like Duncolm Hill - which at 401metres is the highest point in West Dunbartonshire and the Kilpatrick Hills.

Catherine Watt, a volunteer walk leader with Glasgow Ramblers, has experienced unmapped paths in her area – including much-loved trails at Cairnhill Woods in Westerton, East Dunbartonshire. 

Mrs Watt said: “Experienced walkers will already know that some Scottish paths aren’t shown on printed maps, but it’s fascinating to learn just how many exist here on our doorstep.  

“We look forward to Ramblers Scotland making this data freely available to the public  and I’m sure it’ll prompt many people – including me – to start planning new adventures on foot.”

During the next couple of years, Ramblers Scotland intends to publish easily-accessible data showing paths all across Scotland, including far more than the 13,000 miles of ‘core paths’. 

It is also working with many partner organisations to agree a definition of what standards a path should meet for it to be mapped – and it is also inviting any organisations with path datasets to get in touch about including them in the project.  

The trial region included North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park – as well as parts of Argyll & Bute and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Ramblers Scotland commissioned an independent survey in 2018 which showed that three-quarters of Scottish adults think that more paths on the ground and on maps would help people get active.

Path datasets have been provided by Argyll & Bute Council, Inverclyde Council, West Dunbartonshire Council, North Ayrshire Council, Renfrewshire Council, Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, RSPB Scotland, Green Action Trust, Woodland Trust Scotland, Scottish Forestry, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Paths for All, ScotWays and NatureScot.  

The Mapping Scotland’s Paths project has received generous funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.