Newton Stewart Walking Festival review by Bill Mitchell

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<KENOX S630 / Samsung S630>

Organisers have hailed the ninth Newton Stewart Walking Festival as a success.

The festival, which included a programme of 30 walks and other events, kicked off on Friday, May 6, with a programme of three guided walks, with walkers also enjoying a social evening at the House O’Hill, Bargrennan. The final walk of the festival, on Thursday, May 12, was an ascent of Merrick, the highest hill in the south of Scotland.

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The changeable weather meant that walkers had to be prepared for everything from warm sunshine and blue skies, to blustery showers and longer periods of rain. Those who braved the weather, however, were able to experience the Galloway landscape at its most dramatic, from waves crashing against the coastal cliffs to the mists dancing across the hill tops and through the glens before clearing to provide stunning, ever-changing views.

An addition to this year’s programme included an evening walk which saw a group climb Cairnsmore of Fleet and enjoy the sunset as they descended back to Muirfad. Another group took part in the WalkFest Challenge – a 21-mile full day hike through the high hills of Galloway.

Chair of the festival committee Joan Mitchell said: “We were delighted to welcome many new faces to the festival this year, along with those who return year after year to support the event.”

“From the enthusiasm for the area shown by those who have not visited before, it’s clear that many will return to Galloway again.”

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“We’re more convinced than ever that the festival is playing an important part in putting Newton Stewart on the walking map, and bringing walkers to the area throughout the year – not just during the festival week. We are aware of hundreds of bed nights which have been filled by walkers over the past year who have come to the town thanks to awareness of the festival and the area’s walking opportunities. Talking to several of visitors over the past week, we are hopeful we can attract several more walking groups to the area over the coming year.”

Joan added: “The festival takes a lot of organising by the group of enthusiastic volunteers who co-ordinate everything. However, we also have to thank the many organisations, public agencies and businesses who help to fund and otherwise support the festival and ensure its continued success. These include Galloway Mountain Rescue Team, WRDC Enterprise Trust, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Stagecoach, Stewart R Cunningham Outdoor Centres, Newton Stewart Business Association, Galloway Association of Glasgow, Forestry Commission Scotland plus all the local experts who provide interpretation on our walks or present evening talks.

A selection of photos of WalkFest 2011 can now be viewed at www.newtonstewartwalkfest.com.

Next year the festival will be celebrating its tenth anniversary. Anyone who would like to know more about how they can become involved with WalkFest 2012, which will run from May 11-17, 2012, should contact the chair, Joan Mitchell, on joan@bagbie.co.uk or call 01671 820 223.

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