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Anyone who hosts tourists in Argyll and Bute will be in no doubt about the rising number of visitors to the area who are now on walking holidays here.
Many of these people, both religious and non-religious, are following ancient pilgrim routes. With this in mind, a meeting in Oban earlier in the year brought together local member organisations of the Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum (SPRF).
At the meeting it was agreed to set up a steering group of volunteers to develop and promote pilgrimage walking routes linking the Christian heritage in all parts of Argyll.
This important step follows an earlier meeting hosted by SPRF in Dalmally last autumn, and is part of the forum’s expanding work across Scotland.
The steering group includes representatives of organisations representing faith tourism, heritage, churches, youth work and walking bodies.
Plans are now in hand to upgrade the status of existing routes such as the Kintyre and Cowal Ways for pilgrimage use and to create others using existing core paths where possible.
In time, this network will create a distinctive addition to the western section of the coast-to-coast Iona to St Andrews Pilgrim Way, which is a recognised priority of the National Walking and Cycling Network promoted by the Scottish Government.
Jonathan Sheldrick, chairman of the Heart of Argyll Tourism Association and convener of the steering group, said: ‘We are excited to be a partner of the broader Columba Way/Slìghe Chaluim Chille discussions along with partners Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Argyll and Bute Council, Argyll Long Distance Routes Forum and others which sets out to link communities in Ireland and Scotland, developing language and associated heritage as a basis for tourism, especially faith tourism, economic development and education.’
The steering group will operate under the auspices of SPRF in developing a website and literature for the Argyll routes and will help promote essential services such as accommodation, transport links and food.
Meetings will be held in different venues to engage with local people.
Nick Cooke, SPRF secretary, said: ‘Coming very soon after the Church of Scotland General Assembly’s welcome encouragement of local church support and hospitality to pilgrim travellers, this is an exciting opportunity to celebrate Argyll’s unique contribution to Scotland’s spiritual landscape for the benefit of walkers, cyclists and communities alike.’
John Henderson, SPRF trustee and treasurer, added: ‘The enthusiasm of individuals, churches and other organisations shown at both the earlier meeting held at Dalmally and this one in Oban confirms the desire and will to expand the opportunities for pilgrim walkers in Argyll.
‘The new Argyll steering group will help to be the catalyst to achieve these objectives and will hopefully maintain the pressure on the development of the across-Scotland pilgrim route linking Iona with St Andrews.’
More details on the plans for the Argyll steering group can be found at www.sprf.org.uk/news.html. Organisations wanting to find out more should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.