An online walking group that was set up for people to make the most out of Ayrshire’s beauty has amassed over 19,000 members and is helping to forge long-lasting connections between communities.

Ayrshire Walks was created last year as a space to share hidden gems, scenic routes and trustworthy advice on how to make the most out of your adventures.

After lockdown hit, it became a real lifeline for many who sought comfort and escapism, so much so that the page has become “a window to the world” for those who cannot leave their house.

Cumnock Chronicle: Photo credit: Melissa Rarity Photo credit: Melissa Rarity

Founder of the group Marla Baird believes that the potential is there for the page’s success to grow even stronger.

She said: “You can drive people to visit a new coffee shop or to support a local business on route. To influence people in that way can be quite powerful. People have started walking for the first time to places in the local area that they’ve never even heard of.

“I’ve been approached by the Active Travel Hub to do a podcast on the group and have been in talks with The Coig, which is Ayrshire’s answer to the North Coast 500, who are looking at ways to encourage people to walk.

Cumnock Chronicle: Photo credit: Sharon BlackmorePhoto credit: Sharon Blackmore

“I’ve been looking into making it a social enterprise so we can develop it with a website and proper walking routes. There has also been talk of a virtual walking festival or walking challenge where people can record their steps. There’s real potential for it to grow.

“Even for people who can’t get out and about or elderly people, they’re using the page as a window to the world.”

Marla says the page addresses issues like littering and fly-tipping and also helps to shine a light on local talent.

She continued: “The page aims to support what’s happening locally so anything that will help others, I share it. We want to help local businesses and promote Ayrshire history, too.

Cumnock Chronicle: Photo credit: Anne Welsh McKinlay JonesPhoto credit: Anne Welsh McKinlay Jones

“We’ve discovered photographer Lyle Dornan, for example. The page has given him a platform to showcase some of his great work. It gives people a bit of exposure.”

Member Anne Welsh McKinlay Jones, from Cumnock, said: ”It’s been life changing. I’m an Ayrshire lassie born and bred and yet on days off I’d pack up the car and travel miles for a day out.

“Last year I could hardly walk the length of myself, now I am walking for miles to get to beautiful places posted on the page like the beautiful Tibbie’s Brig in Muirkirk.

Cumnock Chronicle: Photo credit: Audrey McClean Photo credit: Audrey McClean

“Sharing my photos within the group also rekindled my love of photography.”

Margaret Black from Canada said: “I was born in Ayrshire and now live in Canada, however I love reading about the walks, and it brings back happy memories.”