Each local authority and national park in Scotland has identified a network of 'core paths' through a process of public consultation, providing a framework for local access.
Core paths are key routes that are part of the wider path network of long distance walking and cycling routes, and local and community paths. As a requirement of the Land Reform Scotland Act 2003, core path plans were drawn up by local authorities and national park authorities after consultation with communities, land managers and path users. Now all plans have been adopted and they have been designed to reflect local priorities and provide for the main needs of users, with the aim of giving the public reasonable access throughout their area.
Around 20,000km of existing paths have been recorded as core paths, but many paths are no more than isolated fragments and often include minor roads. Under 5% of core paths are newly created, so there has been little growth in the overall path network and little done to redress the lack of paths around and between communities in particular. Ramblers Scotland would like to see local authorities use the core path plans to not only record existing routes, but to assert their ambitions to create new paths so that communities are once again linked on foot. We continue to call for more investment in extending this path infrastructure.
Core paths are not currently attributed on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, with some important, popular core paths routes not shown at all - for example at Maspie Den in Fife. Historically the Scottish path network hasn’t appeared on maps in its entirety, unlike in England and Wales, although some paths are shown as geographical features. We think core paths should all be attributed on OS maps as they have a specific status in law and worked through the National Access Forum to persuade OS to do this, without success. However, as a result of these efforts, NatureScot now has an online portal showing all core paths.
Check out Nature Scot's core paths online portal
This lack of progress in the core paths campaign led to us setting up our Mapping Scotland’s Paths project which is creating a digital dataset of all the paths in Scotland that we have been able to identify. In time, we will be making this dataset publicly available for free.
Find out about our Mapping Scotland's Paths project
Ramblers Scotland is calling for an increase in government investment in infrastructure for outdoor recreation. This includes funding for paths to extend and improve the network, encourage more use of paths and help to make the countryside more accessible and welcoming for all. We would also like to see the Scottish Government provide strategic direction to local authorities and national parks to help establish priorities and expectations for core paths as part of the wider path network.
Our statutory right of access to most land (and inland water) is highly valued but connections into and between communities are vital to sustainability and to the health and well-being of local people. Likewise, paths which help us to explore Scotland’s fantastic landscape play an important role in supporting active lives and also tourism, since walking is one of the most popular activities that tourists enjoy in Scotland. Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 Scottish access authorities (local authorities and national park authorities) were obliged to develop Core Path Plans to form a framework for local path networks in their area. Core paths are the principal legally-definitive and designated system of paths in Scotland.
A key value of core paths is that they allow both visitors and locals find out about useful and interesting routes, benefiting from the combined knowledge of local communities, user groups, land managers, access staff and local access forums.
Core paths should be signposted and are likely to be the most popular paths. The core paths network is legally available to all types of users and the network as a whole will be suitable for all abilities, even if individual paths may not be usable for everyone. Core paths also include routes on inland water for paddlers and other water users.
Access authorities have a legal duty and powers to keep paths, including core paths free from obstruction. They also have powers to maintain and promote core paths, but no duty to do so. However, clearly there is an expectation that core paths are signed and kept open as a priority.
Scottish Outdoor Access Code – core path plans
Updated June 2021