Championing Scotland’s Long Distance Routes

Long Distance Routes

Walking a long distance route is a great way to explore Scotland in a sustainable way, the epitome of slow tourism!  There are currently 29 ‘official’ long distance routes in Scotland, promoted as Scotland’s Great Trails, with many others developed as local initiatives which don’t yet fit the criteria for inclusion in the national programme.  We are passionate about the potential for such trails to boost health, tourism and local economies.  We continue to work to ensure that the Scottish Government invests in expanding and promoting our long distance path networks.

Ramblers Scotland’s position
Long distance paths contribute to national and local economies by attracting people to these areas.  The facilities available in communities - places to eat, drink and sleep as well as places of cultural interest to visit - make routes attractive to visitors.  Many long distance paths are used for day walks, or by local residents on regular walks, so it’s important that there are also local link paths to nearby settlements.  We will continue to work with local and national government and partners to promote long distance routes and to ensure there is sufficient investment to maintain, restore and develop these routes and associated link paths.

Government action
The Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework 3, published in 2014, lists a national long distance walking and cycling network as one of its national developments.  The National Walking and Cycling Network is made up of the National Cycle Network, Scotland’s Great Trails and canal towpaths. Since 2014, work has been underway with significant government investment to build on the existing networks by closing key gaps, upgrading connecting routes, encouraging shared use and linking with public transport.  

The process of developing the National Planning Framework 4 is now underway with publication due in 2022.  We submitted a joint proposal  for a national walking and cycling infrastructure project with Transform Scotland and Cycling UK in Scotland. This calls for the Scottish Government to expand the existing network and extend it over time to encompass the entire path network.  This would bring about a step-change in the way we think about paths, whether used for leisure or transport, but it’s important to make the necessary resources available.  This relatively modest funding should be seen as an investment in our health, environment and communities, as well as supporting local economies.

We continue to call on the Scottish Government to make the necessary resources available to deliver long distance routes, and other paths, as a way of encouraging people to be more active, particularly by walking more often

Paths are important ways for people to get outdoors and enjoy their access rights, and long distance routes are particularly vital for tourism, but we lag behind other countries in the provision of a coherent, well-signed, national network of walking routes. 

Ramblers Scotland has worked closely for many years with NatureScot and other partners to develop long distance routes.  There are currently 29 routes branded as Scotland’s Great Trails, totalling 1,900 miles (3,000km) in length.  To qualify as one of Scotland’s Great Trails, a route must be over 24 miles long, be signed and well managed.

There are plenty of other routes that could qualify as one of Scotland’s Great Trails if they were brought up to standard, signed on the ground or extended by a short distance.  Apart from the standard ‘thistle’ symbol used on the four, original long distance routes (The West Highland Way, The Great Glen Way, The Southern Upland Way and The Speyside Way) there is no standardised signage or branding for walking routes in Scotland. 

The official website for Scotland’s Great Trails links to the websites for individual routes, and while the route information is generally comprehensive and up-to-date, there isn’t a unified, national picture or standardised format.  This makes it more difficult for users to find and compare information on walking routes. 

By contrast, Switzerland has 6,000km of walking routes, with national, regional and local routes, including 67 fully accessible routes, identified and promoted by easily recognisable branding.

Useful links
2014 National Walking Strategy
Scotland’s Great Trails
Walk Highlands – comprehensive information on long distance walking routes in Scotland
Heritage Paths Project
Download Scotland on Foot, our guide to Scottish access rights and responsibilities for walkers

Page updated May 2021