Work on the Lewis and Harris section of the Hebridean Way, which could become Scotland’s next major walking trail, has now begun.
The long distance path, which will run for 180 miles from Vatersay to Stornoway with plans for an extension to the Butt of Lewis, is starting to take shape.
Construction of the route in the Uists is already well underway and now with the appointment of Chris Harris to oversee the development of the northern phase, the next stage of this ambitious project is also making headway. “There have been some preliminary works done, route planning for Harris and Lewis,” explained Chris, who has been in the project officer post for more than a month.
“We make land at Leverburgh in Harris. From there it’s just trying to determine the best route through South and North Harris and then Lewis into Stornoway. The proposal is to stop in Stornoway for phase two with the hope that we will get the funding for a further phase that will take us from Stornoway to the Butt of Lewis.”
The process of designing and constructing a long distance walking route requires careful planning and consultation with land managers, landowners and crofters. Because of this the path evolves and develops as time goes on.
Chris explained: “There’s been some initial survey work done looking at scoping out the route in Harris and Lewis
“It looks like there are two options when we reach to Bowglass. There is an option to go west through to Voshmid and Morsgail and then out towards Callanish and Carloway before returning to Stornoway via the Pentland Road or we could continue up the eastern seaboard so we would be going up to Balallan via Arivruaich and then on from Balallanto Achmore and picking up the Pentland Road to come into town that way.
“So there are two options and they’re running in parallel just now. A decision won’t be made on which way we’ll be going until we’ve discussed it with the landowners and interested parties.”
Existing paths such as the Harris Walk Way and Coffin Trail between Seilebost and Stockinish will help form parts of the route, which will run as much as possible off road.
“What we’re keen to do with the walking route is to avoid public roads were possible, for safety reasons and also for the enjoyment factor of the people making the walk,” Chris explained.
It will be another year before the pathway, which is being funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Scottish Natural Heritage, is completed. The official opening is planned for summer 2016.
“The path has been an aspiration of the Comhairle from an economic development point of view for a number of years now,” said Chris. “So it’s good that it’s coming to fruition.”