Cycling legend Chris Hoy, and his wife Sarra, have given their support to a project aiming to transform access at Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross, after being inspired by a local girl’s story.
The partnership project involves the building of a new accessible underpass at the southern end of the loch, which will link up miles of pathway, and replace an old tunnel with steep steps at each end.
The tunnel, which for years has been the only safe crossing point under the B9097, near the M90 motorway, has made access difficult for anyone with mobility issues, cyclists and families with young children, while creating a complete barrier for anyone using a wheelchair or mobility scooter.
A crowdfunding campaign is underway to raise £19,000 to help make the project a reality.
Chris Hoy said: “I am passionate about the need for new paths to connect us all together for walking, cycling and many other outdoor activities. This RSPB-led initiative is a superb response to a long standing problem at Loch Leven and it deserves a generous public response. Thousands of people of all ages and abilities are going to enjoy this connection between Fife’s path network and the Loch Leven Heritage Trail in Kinross-shire.”
Chris and Sarra visited the area in April 2013 to meet with Esme Macintyre, a local girl who suffered from significant mobility issues after developing a brain tumour at the age of 11. Esme died in July 2013 at the age of 18, but in her last few months had produced a ‘bucket list’ of places to go and people to meet, with Chris Hoy at the top of that list. On his first day of retirement from international cycling Chris and Sarra spent several hours with Esme at her home.
Esme’s father, Dave Morris, who is a local Community Councillor, said: “Esme enjoyed riding a tricycle around the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, but the steps in the old underpass made it impossible for us to reach the facilities available on the other side of the road. As her condition worsened, sometimes I would stand by the side of the road wondering if I could push her wheelchair across before the next large lorry appeared. We never summoned up enough courage to take the risk.
“Not surprisingly, when Esme was asked what she would like to see happen after she passed away, an all-abilities underpass was her first suggestion. The completion of this underpass by the RSPB and its partners will create one of the finest countryside access facilities in the UK. Everyone, of any age and ability, will be able to experience the spectacular wildlife and scenery of the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. For those exploring on foot, bicycle, buggy and wheelchair the underpass will open up miles of path network and provide hours of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.”
The Loch Leven Heritage Trail is an accessible, barrier free route which stretches for 13 miles, and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year. The RSPB Scotland reserve at Loch Leven hosts part of the trail, and its visitor centre and car park are key facilities for trail users, but are currently inaccessible to many.
Sarra Hoy said: “I am delighted that this project is going ahead, knowing how Esme with all her determination and good spirit was really keen to see a safe crossing point for everyone on this busy road. With a young family now we appreciate even more the need for facilities like this to enjoy nature and get out into the fresh air at every opportunity.”
RSPB Scotland Director, Anne McCall, said: “The new underpass at Loch Leven is a partnership project 20 years in the making. We’re very grateful for the generous funding we’ve already received from Sustrans, Scottish Natural Heritage, Perth and Kinross Council and others, and we’re hopeful that the crowdfunding campaign will help to find the last few thousand pounds needed to help pay for this huge construction project.
“Our hope is that when the new underpass is completed, it will transform access at Loch Leven, and allow everyone to get out and enjoy the wildlife and countryside, no matter what their abilities. A few steps shouldn’t deny anyone the pleasure of hearing lapwings calling in the spring, or watching huge flocks of geese overhead. Nature should be accessible for everyone.”
The crowdfunding campaign runs until June 12. If you are able to support the project, please visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/loch-leven-underpass.