A major improvement on the Speyside Way coupled with the coronavirus lockdown has led to a huge surge in numbers on the route.
A £343,000 funding boost for the popular walking and cycling trail was announced more than two years ago to make it more durable to weather damage.
Now work on the six-mile section between Craigellachie and Aberlour has been completed – with four timber bridges replaced, new tunnel lighting installed and improved drainage.
Statistics published by Moray Council show the average number of cyclists using the Speyside Way on a daily basis has surged from six to 40 when compared to July last year, before the improvement works were completed.
Meanwhile, the average daily number of walkers at Fiddich Park in Craigellachie has more than doubled from 67 in 2019 to 183 this year.
Yesterday, tourism representatives welcomed the investment in what is one of Scotland’s most popular walking trails.
Sandy Henderson, chairman of the Speyside Area Forum, said the improvements had enabled residents and visitors to use their bikes and walk more freely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “We are delighted to have been able to work with Moray Council to support the creation of the Speyside low carbon hub and it is hugely encouraging to see that the number of people accessing the Speyside Way has increased.
“We look forward to seeing further improvements being carried out next year as this will not only provide increased connectivity and access to our more rural communities within Speyside but also generate support for the local businesses along the route.”
The project has also included bike repair stations being installed at strategic locations on the route between Aberlour and Craigellachie.
Two electric bikes have also been made available to hire from near the Speyside Visitor Centre in Aberlour, with a hybrid electric car also made accessible by Findhorn-based Moray Carshare.
Another two bikes have been made available to hire from the Fiddich Park car park in Craigellachie.
The surge in users of the Speyside Way from the most recent project has also helped Moray Council secure further funding of £635,000 for a similar improvement at Carron and Cragganmore.
Work is due to begin early next year to upgrade the existing surface, make bridge repairs, improve drainage and replace information boards and way markers.
Moray Council has secured funding for the project by accessing grants from Transport Scotland and the European Regional Development Fund.
Laurie Piper, chief executive of Visit Moray Speyside, said: “The Speyside Way is one of Scotland’s key long-distance routes, so it is really good to see Moray Council responding not just to the need for major upgrades to the route, but doing so in a year which saw significant increases in the number of cyclists using it – both visitors and locals alike.
“Adding bike repair stations, bridges and better lighting means more people can use the route all year round and will surely contribute to an improved experience for thousands of users every year.”