A NETWORK of off road cycling routes across Perthshire is to be created in a bid to boost tourism from both the UK and beyond.

The Perthshire Gravel Trails Project aims to increase awareness of the area as a holiday destination and encourage more cyclists to visit, boosting income for local businesses.

Community consultations and an online survey will form the first phase of the project which has secured funding from Rural Perth and Kinross Leader Programme and energy company SSE.

The plan is to create a network of gravel routes passing through the Highland Perthshire towns of Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl and Aberfeldy. The trails will be suitable for riders of different abilities and will be complemented and connected by a long-distance bikepacking route.

They will be designed by Markus Stitz of Bikepacking Scotland, who has developed a number of long-distance cycling routes including the Wild About Argyll Trail, Dunoon Dirt Dash and the Capital Trail.

Project leader Mike Stead said: “Highland Perthshire is criss-crossed with many estate roads and forestry trails of varying quality and length.

“Some are only suited for mountain bikes, whilst others are suited for gravel or all-road bikes with fat tyres, which are the sort of bike increasingly used for multi-day cycling.

“Worldwide the trend is for people to use wider-tyred gravel bikes for cycle touring, as they open up the possibility to use unpaved roads and paths, to get closer to nature and away from motorised traffic.

“This project will increase participation in off-road cycling opportunities, increase local business income and increase awareness of Highland Perthshire as a holiday destination.”

Jackie Brierton, Local Action Group chair, said she was “thrilled” the Rural Perth and Kinross Leader fund was able to support the plan.

She said: “This is an innovative project which will establish a network of off-road cycling routes across Highland Perthshire, for cyclists of all ages and abilities, “Making these areas accessible will encourage people to explore their local area with confidence and will have a positive impact on the wellbeing of the communities involved.

“The award of £9835.20 towards Perthshire Gravel Trails is one of a number of projects benefitting from the £3.8 million share of Leader and Government funds available for the development of rural communities and enterprise in Perthshire.”

While the concept of gravel riding originated on the dirt roads of the United States, exploring on bikes specifically designed to take riders off the beaten track is becoming increasingly popular across the world.

Stead said Scotland had the potential to attract enthusiasts from all parts of the UK and beyond.

He said: “You can get on the Caledonian Sleeper in London at 10pm, and by 10am the next morning be cycling in the wilderness at Dunkeld, “We have a fantastic resource here and we hope it will be the first of many, as it could work in places like Aberdeenshire and Aviemore.”

The Gravel Trails Project is scheduled to finish in September 2020.