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Issue 37 - X marks the spot

Scotland Magazine Issue 37
March 2008


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X marks the spot

Scotland's Treasure Trails are a great way of getting out and about discovering something new. Susan Nickalls reports.

There’s nothing quite so intriguing or exciting as coming across a crumpled map offering the prospect of a glittering treasure trove if you can only find that elusive ‘X’ which marks the spot. Although the days of ruthless pirates so colourfully evoked in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island are long gone, the thrill of a treasure hunt is possible today without having to take to the high seas.

Treasure Trails is an innovative and fun way to explore an area while solving a mystery and at the same time benefiting from the fresh air and exercise.

Indeed, these factors were what motivated former army officer Steve Ridd to set up his Cornwallbased company three years ago.

“As a boy I developed a burning love of treasure hunts after scouring the countryside for one of the five £10,000 Golden Eggs in a Cadbury’s competition. More recently in the army I thought up ideas to keep the soldiers fit and healthy so when I left the army I decided to set up a business that combines my two loves: health and treasure hunts.

It’s an obvious solution to get people out and about exploring.” The company now offers more than 120 Treasure Trails throughout the United Kingdom by way of nine licensees, four of whom are in Scotland which is proving to be a highly productive area. David and Petreena Wright, who are responsible for Treasure Trails Scotland Southeast, launched their first trails in Oban, Dunoon, Glasgow and Fort William last Easter and have already more than doubled the initial 10 trails.

David is delighted with the response so far, with hundreds of people, particularly families, getting out and about in the towns and the countryside searching for clues. As well as walking routes, there’s also a cycling trail on Great Cumbrae Island and driving ones on the Rhinns of Isla and North Mull. The latter two trails can be done over several days or a weekend and also involve having to get out in the countryside to look for clues.

David writes and tests the trails himself, and although each one is different, the trails stick to a route no longer than two miles and last around two hours – depending on the number of diversions made – to ensure everyone can take part.

“Treasure Trails are ideal for all ages from children up to pensioners and we’ve had great feedback from people. One woman in Dunoon said her mother initially balked at paying £5 for the trail but after it entertained the children all afternoon she totally changed her mind and thought it was great value.” With clues that incorporate interesting facts which lead to a mixture of famous and not so well-known landmarks, a Treasure Trail is a practical way to get a quick overview of a new place or discover something you hadn’t noticed before in a familiar haunt you pass every day. For instance on the Royal Mile murder mystery walking trail in Edinburgh, I came across a beautiful fountain designed by Patrick Geddes I’d never noticed before on Castle Esplanade and a sculpture of a parrot in a basket in a close next to the Writer’s Museum. This is dedicated to the work of Scottish writers, but in particular, Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, so it seemed appropriate to make a slight diversion here, another added bonus of the trail.

With many people becoming trail addicts, David is introducing another dozen trails this summer to meet demand in Glasgow, Ardnamurchan, Cowal, the Trossachs, South Mull, Paisley and Mallaig.

As well as the off-the-shelf routes, there’s an ever increasing demand from the corporate sector for bespoke trails and David is working closely with local businesses to develop certain themes like food and drink trails. He’s also excited about a murder mystery weekend he’s developing in conjunction with the Argyll Hotel and the Glendaruel-based Walking Theatre company which will involve writing live actors into the trail script.

Nationally, Ridd has ambitious plans which include writing trails for overseas locations, using the brand to produce games, puzzles and educational activities, setting up a Treasure Trail travel centre and ultimately a television station.

“We’re only scratching the surface at the moment and have ideas for curriculum based trails, cricket ground, canoeing and horse riding trails... the potential is endless. It all starts with the core product, the trail, which can be developed to provide people with healthy activities in the home and outside in the countryside. With a Treasure Trails Travel Centre able to offer a complete package of flights, accommodation and trails in various capital cities – the world is our playground.”

Treasure Trails are available from local tourist information offices and can be downloaded from

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