STAFFIN’S new viewing platform at Lealt Gorge, which is a key attraction in a major community-led heritage development, is now open to the public.
The timber and steel walkway is the first structure of this type in Skye and provides heightened views of two waterfalls, the Trotternish Ridge and across to Wester Ross. It represents a significant infrastructure investment secured by the local community in north-east Trotternish. A new car park and paths have also been built at Lealt and comes as the island has recorded an unprecedented rise in the number of visitors in recent years, putting scenic spots under serious pressure.
Staffin is one of the most popular communities in Skye for visitors and an array of locations such as the Storr, Rigg, Kilt Rock, Brothers Point, Staffin Beach and Slipway are experiencing heavy congestion and footfall which impacts on the district.
The Lealt capitalworks are part of the Staffin Community Trust’s (SCT) Skye Ecomuseum project, which first opened 10 years ago, and is an outdoor museum with no walls. This new phase will also include new interpretation and a wide-ranging events programme involving island schools, older residents, families and visitors.
SCT is hopeful that the increased parking, improved amenities – and safety – at Lealt will help spread the visitors and lessen the impact on the local landscape, which has a range of top tier heritage designations. New interpretation providing the story of Lealt’s industrial heritage – including the quarry operations, diatomite and salmon fishing stations – will be installed at a later date
The development cost more than £100,000, with grants from the Coastal Communities Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund. But that return will be more than paid back by the all-year round attraction. Highland economist Steve Westbrook has estimated that the Staffin economy, which is classed as ‘fragile’ by the Scottish Government and is heavily dependent on tourism, will be boosted by an additional visitor spend of £165,000 in the first year of the ecomuseum project’s delivery.
This was an ambitious development for a community organisation and involved a lot of hours and work behind the scenes by the volunteer board of directors in the last few years. SCT also wants to highlight the role played by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). SCT’s project work is strongly supported and its development officer post is funded by HIE’s Capacity Building Programme for fragile communities.
SCT chairman Sandy Ogilvie said: “A significant Isle of Skye attraction has been created by a very dedicated group of local residents and contractors. The new platform and car park sit harmoniously in the landscape enhancing the experience of all visitors to the location. The folk of Staffin are rightly proud of this fine achievement. I would like to add my personal thank you to all who have contributed to this significant achievement.”
Philip McCaherty, HIE account manager, said: “Staffin Community Trust has been actively developing a range of projects on behalf of the community and we are pleased to see developments like the Lealt gorge platform come to fruition. We are delighted to have supported the trust to develop projects which recognise the assets of the Staffin area, such as the slipway project and the housing and business developments, which will all improve the area’s economic prospects and increase social and cultural activities.”
The viewing platform is not just an attraction solely for visitors however, and SCT anticipates it will be well used and enjoyed by everybody in the local community. The development’s two main contractors were Inverness-based company MacDonald Contracting Ltd and local firm, Staffin Groundworks. The platform was designed by the award-winning engineer Geoff Freedman, who is based in Lothian.
SCT would also like to thank the Lealt Township and Kilmuir Estate (SGRPID) for its permission and support. The estate as landowner also permitted SCT to access spoil from the Lealt Quarry and has installed new wooden fencing as an increased safety feature on an existing path. Highland Council’s planners, community services and transport planning officials were all helpful and provided good professional guidance throughout, as were SNH.
SCT would also like to express its gratitude to a number of local contractors for their work/and or supply development so far, including engineer Eric Faulds, Jock Gordon Design & Planning, the main fencing contractors Iain MacLeod and Dougie Ross, fencer Sandy MacLeod, tree surgeon Alex MacLeod, welder DL Mackenzie, Craik & MacRae, Eyre Plant Hire, Sconser Quarry and the digger operator John Gillies.
An official opening event will be organised by SCT later this year.
IMPORTANT – NEW PARKING AREA LAYOUT
The platform is accessible by wheelchair users and disabled parking spaces have been marked out very close to the entrance of the ‘old’ parking area. There are also designated spaces for buses and coaches.
The new upper car park is designed solely for cars and motorcycles with a height barrier to be installed soon.
New signage has been installed and the existing car park layout has been altered to improve traffic flow when entering the site from the A855 Staffin to Portree road. It is now a one-way system with vehicles entering from the southern end of the car park and exiting by the north. As with all driving, motorists at Lealt are asked to be polite and courteous in charge of their vehicle, give way and always give priority to pedestrians.