Scotland’s Great Trails – The Cowal Way

Opened in 2000, the Cowal Way is arguably Scotland’s most diverse long-distance footpath. Stewart Miller is the project manager for this 57-mile-long trail and here he describes not only the beauty of the area, but also the recent improvements that are underway. As the name suggests the route is located in the Cowal Peninsula, and offers beautiful coastlines, dramatic scenery, engaging heritage and abundant wildlife.

Linking Portavadie (Port a Mhadeidh) in the south to Inveruglas on the banks of Loch Lomond, The Cowal Way passes from one end of this spectacular peninsular to the other. Along the way it runs through vibrant communities at Kames, Tighnabruaich, Glendaruel, Strachur, Lochgoilhead and Arrochar. It’s a quiet yet extremely varied route. There are coastal paths, beaches, forests, hills, historic sites, sea lochs, waterfalls and much more besides on the Cowal Way. But for all that it isn’t perhaps one of our better known trails.

Only half an hour as the crow flies from Greenock, the Cowal Way has a sense of remoteness about it. Yet it might not have been so had a bold industrial plan come to fruition. Portavadie almost became associated with the oil industry, but when that fell through it threatened to become an industrial ghost town; fortunately in 2009 it was transformed by the introduction of a highly successful marina. It’s as well that this about-turn took place and now it’s the stunning scenery at the likes of Loch Fyne and Loch Long, as well as the Arrochar Alps which helps define this area more than the built environment.

Fifteen years on from opening it is only natural that The Cowal Way needs some attention from time to time. The plans to keep the walk in ship-shape condition are as varied as the walking itself.

At the most basic level an order was recently placed for 175 new waymarkers, all made from home grown timber. These, along with new signs, are now being erected on the path. For many one of the most challenging parts of the way is at Ormidale Lodge on the section linking Tighabruaich and Glendaruel. Here vegetation has had to be cleared and new steps created as well as better drainage installed.

The improvements will be welcome and might entice some visitors back as well as encourage new visitors. Prior to the pathworks in one section, people had to use ropes to haul themselves up some rocky slopes and fight through dense patches of rhododendrons.

Marketing a route is in many ways the unsung yet vital element in a successful long distance route, but this is in hand for The Cowal Way, which was awarded £329,650 by the Coastal Communities Fun as recently as Spring 2015.

That money won’t just be spent on ‘fixtures and fittings’. A rebranding exercise was part of the marketing plan to promote one of Scotland’s ‘hidden’ trails. In order to spend money wisely and know which parts of the route are heaviest used – and perhaps in need of most attention – people-counters have been installed at nine locations along the way. The counters will also allow for better targeting of planned improvements and upgrades. Technology also lies at the heart of the new Cowal Way website. Mobile friendly, the improved features mapping, tourism information relating to accommodation and eating, and the promotion of local businesses.

Mind you the Way hasn’t always relied on technology for research. The founding father of this walk was James McLuckie – a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. His house is physically on the way and he is known to rush from his house to quiz walkers about their experience of the Cowal Way. “Our house is on the Cowal Way and from my office window I see walkers passing my gate,” he explains. “I frequently rush out and accost them – asking ‘how is the walk, where are you from, why did you choose the Cowal Way, how did you get here’, and so forth

“I like to try to get a picture of their experience and find out what they have enjoyed about the Way. I like to think they appreciate that the Way is different. I often hear them say it is so quiet and peaceful and indeed so very different from other routes. Although it is meant to be a tourist attraction, it was also conceived to link rural communities using old rights of way and public footpaths. In addition to the widely diverse scenery, flora, fauna and wildlife, it also links heritage sites in each of the communities. I’m really thrilled when I hear the appreciation of these aspects of the Way. I am also delighted at the spread of nationalities I meet on the Way. It appears to have a particular attraction for northern Europeans, who thankfully nearly always speak English.”

The Cowal Way clearly draws walkers from near and far, rather like Arran some view it as capturing ‘Scotland in miniature’. And with the impressive range of recent improvements it promises to be a walk that will only become more popular. With new marketing, path upgrades and clever use of new technology it could be that the Cowal Way will go from strength to strength.

Visit the new website to find out more and you can follow the Cowal Way on Facebook.

Scotland’s Great Trails

Scotland’s Great Trails (sometimes called SGTs) are nationally promoted trails for people-powered journeys. Each is distinctively waymarked, largely off-road and has a range of visitor services. At least 25 miles in length, they are suitable for multi-day outings as well as day trips. Collectively the 26 different routes provide over 1700 miles of well managed paths from the Borders to the Highlands, offering great opportunities to explore the best of Scotland’s nature and landscapes and to experience our amazing history and culture. Find out more on our website here.

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