Work to start on new Trotternish viewing platform and car park

A MAJOR community-led heritage development will take a big step forward next week when work commences on a new viewing platform and car park at Lealt gorge, Staffin.

The scheme represents a significant infrastructure investment for the island, which has seen an unprecedented rise in the number of visitors in recent years putting scenic spots under serious pressure.  

The capital works is a new phase of Staffin Community Trust’s (SCT) Skye Ecomuseum project which also includes new interpretation and a wide ranging events programme involving schools, older residents, families and visitors. 

Contractors are due on site at Lealt gorge from Monday, May 28 onwards.

It means access to the popular site and existing car park, off the main Staffin-Portree A855 road, will be closed to the public for approximately four weeks on safety grounds. SCT cannot allow visitors in to the area because of the danger posed by heavy plant and equipment. The SCT fully appreciates that these works are occurring in the visitor season but the nature of the platform work in particular meant the current drier and warmer conditions are preferable. While it is undeniably busy already in Skye, the construction stage will avoid the peak months of July and August. 

There will be short-term inconvenience but clear longer-term benefits for Staffin, Trotternish and the wider island. An economic report has estimated that the Staffin economy, which is classed as fragile by the Scottish Government, would be boosted by an additional visitor spend of £165,000 in the first year of the ecomuseum project’s delivery. The viewing platform will provide commanding views of two waterfalls, the Trotternish Ridge and across to Wester Ross. A new car park, north of the existing facility, will also be built. Geoff Freedman, an award-winning engineer, has designed the steel and timber platform. Mr Freedman, who is based in Lothian, is the former head of design for buildings and bridges at the Forestry Commission.

MacDonald Contracting Ltd was recently awarded the contract after a tendering process. The Inverness firm owned by Scott MacDonald, is a specialist in erecting timber and steel structures and bridges and has worked across Scotland in other sensitive locations, including nature reserves, the Cairngorms National Park and woodlands. 

Lealt gorge, Staffin.

The ecomuseum was first opened in Staffin a decade ago. It is an outdoor museum with ‘no walls and a roofless sky’ and includes a footpath network across Staffin, interpretation and parking. SCT believes the sensitively designed attraction will showcase Trotternish’s landscape all-year round and help local businesses. Scottish Natural Heritage is supportive of the platform as it will increase access and public appreciation of the Valtos Special Site of Scientific Interest. Later this year SCT intends to install new interpretation highlighting Lealt’s rich industrial story including the diatomite works, the salmon fishing station and the quarry. 

SCT will also build a new 20-space car park to cater for the expected public demand to visit the platform. SCT progressed the car park plans after Highland Council advised that permission for the platform would not be forthcoming unless more spaces were created.

Following a separate tendering process, Ian MacDonald of Staffin Groundworks was awarded the contract, which will be supervised by experienced engineer Eric Faulds. The family firm is well known in Skye having worked on housing and other key infrastructure projects.

SCT chairman Sandy Ogilvie said: “The construction of the new platform and car park at Lealt Falls places this project and the wider developments of the Skye Ecomuseum firmly on the map as both a site and physical experience of national significance.”

SCT would like to thank the Lealt township and the Kilmuir Estate (Scottish Ministers), the site owner, for their permission with this community development. The project has been backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Coastal Communities Fund and SSE Sustainable Development. 

If there are any further questions about the works, or the project in general, please contact SCT’s development officer Hugh Ross on 01470 562 464 or staffin.ldo@gmail.com 

Test holes at the platform site in February.

SCT would also like to acknowledge the support of Staffin Community Council, local crofting townships, residents and businesses, including Staffin Primary School, Staffin Hall, The Wee Quilter, Skyelight Candles, Bealach Uige B&B, Quiraing View, B&B, Columba 1400, Dun Flodigarry Youth Hostel and Portree Youth Hostel, for their input and support during the development phase of the project.  SCT is also grateful for the input and advice from its former development officer Marion Beaton prior the first round funding application and to Highland Council’s access officer Donald Kennedy, Alan Melrose of Walk Deeside Ltd, Arwell Jones, Einir Young, Gwenan Jones of the Llyn Ecomuseum in north Wales; Phil McCaherty at HIE; Scottish Natural Heritage’s Alex Turner; Ruth Meekings; Jock Gordon Design Services; Fred McIntosh and Donnie MacLeod at the council’s community services and transport planning department; Alison Harvey and Erica McCarthur at the council’s planning service and David MacVicar and Ewen MacPherson at the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division. It would also like to thank the consultant teams for the reports submitted including Chris York of Walking the Talk Ltd; Geoff Freedman; Muir Associates, Ross and Cromarty Archaeological Services, Steve Westbrook and MacDonald Orr Design. Thanks also go to John Gillies, Sartle, for the test holes and lowering of the site’s level earlier this year.