COME rain or shine, Glasgow's parks, paths and walkways will always be full of a dedicated bunch of volunteers leading walks through the city.

And, while many people are staying indoors on the sofa, recovering from the season's excesses, these walkers will be taking in the sights and sounds and watching woodpeckers, herons and even a seal, going about their business in the most unexpected places.

The latest programme of Glasgow health walks features more than 35 routes criss-crossing the Dear Green Place all year.

These include the Alexandra Park walk, which meets at Whitehill Swimming Pool in Dennistoun, and three Bellahouston walks, meeting at Bellahouston Sports Centre.

Organised by award-winning Walk Glasgow co-ordinator, Heather Macleod, left, the free walks have attracted more than 600 new walkers in the past year.

Each walk lasts for about an hour, covering a maximum distance of two-and-a-half miles.

Around 10 or 12 people attend each walk, which are led by 120 volunteers in all the city's main green spaces and walkways including Tollcross Park, Victoria Park and the Forth and Clyde Canal. There are also walks designed for mothers with pushchairs.

On the Glasgow Green walk, ramblers might see a seal peeking its head out of the water underneath the Albert Bridge, and walkers across the city have spotted woodpeckers, herons and other birds, animals and insects.

However, Heather, 38, from the South Side, explains that the main attraction for most is the social side of exploring the city on foot: "Many walkers say they love the social side of it – making friends. They come back feel happier and smile a lot more.

"These walks could be very important to people who live alone because they might feel socially isolated and the walks are a good way to get out and make friends.

"A lot of the groups then go on to meet outwith the walking group: for instance, the Castlemilk group went out to see a tribute band recently.

"This social support is so important if you don't have a closeknit family group. It is very inclusive. All types of people go on the walks."

Heather has been in the job for the past four years, having previously been a countryside ranger for South Lanarkshire Council. Now she trains and supports the volunteers, promotes the walks, organises events and works with partners to get more people involved.

She is passionate about the health benefits of walking and added: "Keeping physically active can help manage your weight and your sleep patterns.

"People think exercise means going to the gym, but you can get the same benefits from a 30-minute walk.

"We are so lucky with the number of parks, green spaces and walkways.

"Because the city is criss-crossed by rivers, we have so many little loops and routes that take you away from the main roads to another side of the city.

"They call Glasgow the Dear Green Place and it is absolutely true."

Unless ice makes it too dangerous, many walkers venture out in all weather conditions.

Heather said: "We walk all year round, and it is amazing to get out in different seasons.

"It is really good for your immune system, boosts your energy levels and improves your mood and wellbeing."

Heather said her favourite walk, and one that she leads herself in the summer, is the Queen's Park route.

She said: "Although you are in the city centre, you get an amazing view from the top of Queen's Park to the Campsies and Eaglesham Moor."

In September, Heather won the Paths for All's National Volunteer Manager of the Year Award – Paths for All is a partnership committed to promoting walking and the development of path networks in Scotland.

Councillor Archie Graham, chairman of Glasgow Life, said: "Glasgow has more than 90 beautiful parks and formal gardens that are free to explore, and joining one of our walking groups is a great way to see everything the city has to offer.

"Walking gives you time, space and fresh air to clear the mind and ready the body for whatever lies ahead."


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