European status for pilgrim trail

The trail will pass Crossraguel Abbey near Maybole.
The trail will pass Crossraguel Abbey near Maybole.

A group planning the revival of an ancient pilgrim trail through Ayrshire are celebrating a major boost from Holyrood.

The trail, which stretches from Glasgow to Galloway, will guide 21st-century pilgrims in the footsteps of celebrity penitents such as Robert the Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Now the Scottish Government has committed practical help towards earning it the coveted status of a European Culture Route.

This week, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop pledged that her officials will commence work on assessing the feasibility of creating a European Cultural Route to Whithorn, Scotland’s acknowledged Cradle of Christianity.

She was responding on behalf of the Scottish Government to MSP Aileen McLeod’s member’s business debate on the proposal to make a network of pilgrim routes to Whithorn worthy of European Cultural Route status.

Historian and heritage tourism consultant James Brown first proposed that the St Ninian Ways – including the Ayrshire route ‑ should be candidates to become a European Cultural Route.

James said: “This accolade is held by only two dozen routes Europe-wide, so it is a massive vote of confidence from the Scottish Government.

“The desire to experience the spiritual benefits of pilgrimage is clearly growing, and it is equally shared by people with no faith background. As in ancient times, these routes promise a much-needed economic boost to local communities.

“For example, hundreds of thousands of people each year now travel the world-famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the first trail to win European Cultural Route status.”

Dr McLeod, SNP MSP for South Scotland, said: “This is a great step forward for this big idea. Although there will be a great deal of hard work to come, I am very pleased that we have started off in the right way, with cross-party support from the Parliament and the Scottish Government.

“I am delighted that the Cabinet Secretary undertook that her officials will start work with all of the groups which will need to be brought together in order to make a bid for European Cultural Route status possible and also that she will ask the Environment Minister to assist with land and transportation issues.”