Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust

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Putting something back for great days on the hill!


Name of Access Authority: Cairngorms National Park Authority  
Name of group: Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust
Location: Cairngorms National Park area    
Project: Cairngorms Adopt A Path Scheme
Key points:

  • Adoption of remote paths away from settlements
  • Looking after recent investment in paths
  • Long term thinking
  •  ‘Cross-border’ co-operation

About the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust…

The Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust (COAT) is an environmental charity promoting sustainable access to the Cairngorms area. COAT came into existence in April 2008 after it evolved from the former Upper Deeside Access Trust. COAT now works throughout the Cairngorms National Park area.

Finding resources (people, money, tools and materials, training, time)

As part of the Cairngorms Mountain Heritage project,the Cairngorms Adopt-a-Path Scheme (CAPS) is a response to the need to maintain mountain paths in the Cairngorms. Finding funds for routine maintenance is particularly challenging for mountain paths so innovative ways of focussing resources are required. Volunteers are being recruited to assist in managing the paths and to ensure that money spent on maintenance is targeted and effective. A key aim of the scheme is to help ensure that people can continue to enjoy the hills with the minimum of impact on the fragile mountain environment.


Working with the North East Mountain Trust, COAT has developed a scheme that asks volunteers to inspect and report on the condition of their adopted paths.  

Over 60 paths are included in the scheme at present and paths can be adopted by individuals or groups such as hill walking clubs. The scheme is currently co-ordinated on behalf of COAT by an independent consultancy which specialises in outdoor access projects.


COAT is committed to managing the upland paths within the wider Cairngorms Mountain Heritage Project but has limited resources to do routine inspections and maintenance. The main focus of the project is to repair and restore paths that have deteriorated by the passing of many feet and the harsh environment of the Cairngorms. CAPS is a way of bridging the gap between the needs of the paths and the resources available with the contribution of volunteers vital to the projects success.

CAPS receives funding and other support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Tools and materials

Where necessary COAT will engage path contractors to repair damage and maintain paths. Volunteers are encouraged to undertake small scale tasks, and in some cases this will involve the use of spades.


Full training in inspecting a given path, health and safety issues and other support is provided through the scheme’s coordinators, freeing up COAT staff for other tasks. The volunteers are also trained to undertake minor maintenance on these adopted paths, helping to ensure that small problems are tackled quickly and minimise the need for larger scale repairs.


Given the remote location of many of the paths in the scheme it can take several hours just to walk the path route. When the time taken to complete the surveys and any minor maintenance is taken into account the voluntary time given to the scheme becomes significant.

Plans for the Future

The wider path regeneration work is necessary to tackle continued deterioration of some paths particularly with the predicted change to warmer, wetter winters with less snow cover.

COAT is also developing a community path monitoring and maintenance scheme to cover path networks within the National Park and is trialling the scheme in Tarland before approaching other communities.

Lessons Learned

The overall Cairngorms Mountain Heritage Project was launched in 2010 with the benefits of working in partnership already seen with successful bids to a number of major funders resulting in a four year £2.1 million upland path initiative. Other key lessons learned to date include:

  1. The pool of potential volunteers for this type of scheme is limited in that    it involves working in remote places and has limited opportunities for team working, but those who do join tend to be highly motivated and have provided quality information that is reliable.
  2. By targeting existing hillwalkers CAPS volunteers generally come with experience of weather and other conditions ‘on the hill’ and are comfortable working in bad weather. Wet weather is often better for spotting drainage problems.
  3. Using an outside co-ordinator helps the scheme to be ‘stand alone’ in terms of COAT staff and other partner resources.
  4. Making sure that everyone receives the same training means that path measurement and recording is done in a consistent way which is helpful to mange priorities.

Further information on the CAPS and wider Mountain Heritage Project is available from

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh