Unbelievable: why our premier footpath is in tatters.

Got a nice byline in the i newspaper UK pages and website at the weekend, for my report suggesting upcoming problems in the Scottish countryside when lockdown ends.

I only have to look at my local paths and trails here in Stirlingshire, on the north side of Glasgow, to see the impact of increased footfall in the countryside.

The state of the West Highland Way

During the most recent lockdown this area was of course accessible from East Dunbartonshire, and also technically from West Dunbartonshire and Glasgow –bits of both borders are less than five miles away. Everyone wants to get out of the towns, everyone wants to get into the countryside, and in a pandemic, who can blame them?

Among the impacts I have seen is the awful state of the West Highland Way near here, between Dumgoyach and the Beech Tree.

I suspect it had been declining for quite some time,  but the number of folk walking it will likely have soared – you can go out on that, and back by the Loch Katrine water-pipe track from the distillery, to make a nice circuit – if other paths are anything to go by.

The aggregate infill for the path had all been washed out and the textile liner was exposed, water filled or ripped away, to make the path into a water-filled ditch.

I took some snaps, and contacted the West Highland Way management group, administered by the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority.

As this stretch is not in the national park they put me on to Stirling Council, which it seems is the organisation responsible for this bit of the path.

Council staff got in touch to say they were aware of the damage – and there, I’m afraid, my story kind of ends.

It’s terrible!

The council has just a tiny budget for paths and access infrastructure, which I suspect would probably be entirely be sucked up by repairing this stretch alone. Its staff told me they will have to apply for funding for repairs from other Government bodies, which could take many months.

Meanwhile, unless a miracle has happened in the three or four weeks since I last saw it, the path will continue to be used, and continue to deteriorate.

It’s not the council’s fault – local authorities are starved of funding on all fronts, and a footpath is unlikely to take priority over schools or bins.

But it shows what our national priorities are that the most important footpath in the country, the one aimed for by tens of thousands of foreign tourists, and tens of thousands more from Scotland and the rest of the UK, can’t  just get  repaired, no questions asked, when it’s broken.

Where all the path-gravel went, by the side of the way

It drives our vital tourist industry, as promoted by Government.  It’s used for vital exercise, as promoted by Government. It’s part of our national image, as promoted … you can fill that bit in yourself now.

So why is there not a pot of  cash to fix it? And how on earth can we expect other paths, without the West Highland Way cachet, to ever be repaired from the damage done by intensive use this year and last, if this can’t be fixed?

I’m so annoyed I’m going to have to go out for a walk to calm me down…