Gillian Craig from Kilmarnock joined Ayrshire Coastal Path volunteering team almost three years ago after walking the route regularly and realising the team was on the lookout for new recruits.
She quickly upped the profile of the path through social media, helped to increase the number of volunteers from 25 to 50, started her own anti-litter campaign and became a Path Warden for 20 miles of the 100-mile trail from Glenapp to Skelmorlie.
Last week, Gillian was recognised as Community Path Volunteer of the Year by Scotland’s walking charity, Paths for All, at its annual Volunteer Awards at the Scottish Parliament.
For me, as a keen walker, I can’t think of anything better than protecting the future of a local long-distance path. It’s a walking route that can attract visitors to the area and gives local people a place to walk.
Ayrshire Coastal Path was created by the Rotary Club of Ayr and previously the volunteers were retired men. I think me joining – as a woman in her 30s – was seen as a positive change. It also encouraged other people, and in particular more women, to volunteer.
Two years later, I was invited onto the management team which was great because, although I was young and new, it showed they really trusted and respected what I was doing.
It’s very nice to win this award, and especially as I was nominated by other volunteers in the team.
A trained Walk Leader, Gillian is one of three officers at Kilmarnock Active Travel Hub and leads regular guided walks in the area.
The mum-of-two is also behind Gillian’s Walks, a blog which has become a popular online walking resource, attracting an average of 20,000 views a month.
She added: “Gillian’s Walks has become a bit of brand and has grown arms and legs in the past two years. I have 180 walking routes on the website which are mostly in Ayrshire but I have others from all over the country.
“I think people have developed a trust in me as a go-to person for advice and inspiration on walking routes, and as a result over 3,500 people currently follow my Facebook page.”
Supported by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Paths for All’s Community Paths programme provides training, funding and advice to local groups looking to enhance, maintain or promote local paths.
Caroline Fyfe, SNH Strategic Paths and Funding Officer, said: “We know the many health benefits that getting outside can bring and having good quality, accessible paths is so important for encouraging people to be more active and connect with nature in their local communities.
“The Ayrshire Coastal Path is one of Scotland’s Great Trails, and one of several long-distance routes that has been developed and maintained by Rotary Clubs along the Firth o’ Clyde. We’re really pleased that Gillian has helped to more than double the number of volunteers and particularly encouraged more women and younger people, to help look after this trail, and she’s also inspiring more people to use this path to explore Ayrshire’s fascinating coastline. Congratulations to Gillian for her fantastic achievement.”
Ian Findlay CBE, Chief Officer at Paths for All, said: “Getting outside and going for a walk is so valuable for our own personal health and for the health of our planet, so it’s very important to take the time to thank volunteers like Gillian, whose selfless efforts are making a huge difference to the lives of others around her.”
To find Health Walks in Ayrshire, visit: www.pathsforall.org.uk/healthwalkfinder