Mission to find hidden country pathways through Scotland’s industrial heartlands

Kat and Dan found a cave and waterfall during their adventure
Kat and Dan found a cave and waterfall during their adventure -Credit:DAILY RECORD

Meet Kat Jones – the woman on a mission to flag up the hidden country pathways snaking their way through Scotland’s industrial heartlands.

I took a weekday morning out to join Kat on one of her epic walks, which took us from Loch Ardinning near Strathblane to Lennoxtown, in Dunbartonshire, and featured the iconic Campsie Fells as a backdrop. This is one of 25 hikes Kat has identified around Glasgow – all within striking distance of the city’s housing estates and surrounding towns.

She’s covered a huge 125-mile stretch, spanning all the linked green belts in the Greater Glasgow area and has covered areas including Dumbarton, Milngavie, Cumbernauld, Motherwell, Hamilton, East Kilbride, Newton Mearns, Bridge of Weir and more.

Kat’s voyage has seen her wading through wilderness and bogs, scaling deer fences and discovering unlikely hidden gems everywhere from Airdrie to Kilsyth to Port Glasgow. Green belts exist around Glasgow to ensure those in urban areas can access the countryside – and prevent cities sprawling into the rural environment.

And Kat has made it her mission to raise awareness of the beautiful trails that are close but often unknown to people living in busy urban streets. As we got our hike under way, Kat, 49, told me: “A lot of people don’t realise green belts exist – and also, there are green belts of a variety of different qualities.

Dan navigates some spruce trees
Dan navigates some spruce trees -Credit:Daily Record

“People often think of them as being around your well-off communities – Milngavie, Clarkston, Helensburgh – but I’ve also walked around Kilsyth, Airdrie, Coatbridge and towards Carfin and Wishaw. There are people living in ordinary towns and villages and bits of the city who are using the green belt on a daily basis for walking the dogs, taking the kids out and things.

“I’ve had some varied experiences. Sometimes I’m hacking through a wilderness of thistles around reclaimed coal mines and reclaimed landfills – a lot of those I found around Airdrie and Motherwell. The environment wasn’t great for walking, but I still found there were little paths that I could follow – and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Like many, I reconnected to walking in nature during the pandemic and that’s a trend Kat has seen too. She said: “It was really transformational for a lot of people – including myself – just every day having that walk, with it being quite a stressful time.

Dan climbs over bogland
Dan climbs over bogland -Credit:Daily Record

“After lockdown, people really wanted to get outdoors. They’d enjoyed their local walks but they started going out mainly to the beauty spots – Conic Hill, Glen Coe, Glen Etive – because they didn’t have information on where else to go.

“And who wouldn’t want to go to all these places that are on Instagram? They are beautiful – but on your doorstep, a little walk away, there are these amazing wild places.”

I’m an amateur hiker at best and didn’t know what to expect from this walk – but neither did Kat. That’s all part of the game. Things started well. From Loch Ardinning, we made it into some woodland. It was a lovely sunny day, and as a trained biologist and ornithologist, Kat marvelled at the nature around us, from giant Scots pine trees to the singing of grasshopper warblers.

But then the paths stopped behaving. Navigating a stretch through some spruce trees, it suddenly became really boggy. When I say boggy, I’m talking ‘goodbye world, the ground wants to eat me’ sort of boggy.

But Kat ploughed on fearlessly, so I stayed cool and followed. She had wisely brought wellies. I had walking boots on, but foolishly, also jeans. At one point, my leg plunged into swampland up to my lower thigh, making me regret my sartorial choices.

Other obstacles included a 200-metre stretch of felled trees, which we used to do precarious tightrope-walks over the bogland, and navigating a field of peat. But it was all worth it for a couple of amazing discoveries, including the Auld Wives Lift, an incredible prehistoric rock formation with faces carved into them, and a stunning waterfall and cave at Blairskath Linn near Torrance.

Kat, who is director of Action to Protect Rural Scotland, is doing the walks to raise money for the charity, and to find new paths and trails for local nature lovers. You can find out more by clicking here.

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