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A new 21st-century visitor centre on the outskirts of Glenfinnan, combined with a park-and-ride shuttle bus service may be the key to more sustainable tourism for the village and which could bring long-term ‘green’ benefits for the whole area.
That is the view of local Highland Council ward member, Councillor Allan Henderson, who was giving his thoughts to the Lochaber Times following a recent meeting of the local community council.
Outwith a Covid-impacted year, Glenfinnan can expect to welcome more than 400,000 visitors annually, many desperate to see the Jacobite steam train cross the viaduct as immortalised in the Harry Potter films.
Along with the large numbers visiting the iconic 1745 Rising monument on the nearby shores of Loch Shiel, it means Glenfinnan can often feel like a village under siege in the summer.
A new community car park has taken much of the pressure off the adjacent National Trust for Scotland (NTS) car park, as well as providing a welcome financial boost for the community.
However, at this month’s community council meeting, NTS, which looks after the 1745 monument site and has a small visitor centre nearby, revealed it has been in discussions with Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) about a proposal that would see additional off-site overflow parking created to cope with the huge number of visitors wanting to stop at Glenfinnan.
The two organisations have been liaising over the currently closed Callop bridge and boardwalk – these are in need of repairs. It now emerges they have also been discussing expanding off-site overflow parking at the nearby FLS Callop car park site, plus the erection of a message sign to display ‘full car parks in Glenfinnan’ information and a park and ride shuttle bus service.
It has been suggested the park-and-ride shuttle bus service could stop at the NTS visitor centre and link with Glenfinnan Station.
Once the Callop Bridge and boardwalk are reopened, the proposed scheme would create an option of walking or cycling from the Callop car park, along the off-road tracks, to the Callop Bridge and into Glenfinnan.
NTS site manager Emily Bryce said she has been in discussion with Colin Simpson, principal officer (Europe, Tourism and Film), from the Transformation and Economy Service in Highland Council, about visitor infrastructure improvements required in high tourist areas in Glenfinnan, Glencoe and Torridon.
And Ms Bryce suggested that the Callop car park expansion and shuttle service could be included in the next round of the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (February 2022).
Highland Council has trialled shuttle buses at Glen Nevis and these could be extended to include Glenfinnan.
Ms Bryce said NTS is anticipating a resumption of, and an increase in, bus tours in 2022 and is trying to find ways to accommodate the growing demand.
Councillor Henderson, who knows the area and its issues well, told us that the recent virtual consultation night staged by NTS and the problem-solving idea for coaches floated at the community council meeting, had made him think.
‘It really made me think that there are opportunities for change – change to a greener, slower approach while taking the opportunity to capitalise on the popularity of the Glenfinnan area. It may just be that Harry has sprinkled a little fresh magic dust on the slightly dusty old NTS,’ he said.
‘Using the Callop site while working with Forestry Land Scotland there is an opportunity to build a 21st-century visitor centre able to convey the full Jacobite history to visitors before sailing them along the Callop river, or walk/cycle for the more active along the forestry track to a reconstructed FLS bridge, opening up the full view of Glenfinnan and the Jacobite rising monument – jobs and tourism working in harmony with less disruption to the actual village.
‘The current visitor centre could be leased to the community, capitalising on the Harry Potter phenomenon whether that be small pop-up cafes, or an enlarged restaurant with local arts and crafts at the centre, to try to slow down the frantic pace of Harry Potter magic.
‘Combining all this with Glenfinnan’s desire to create an active travel route from Fort William really would be a win for all. Green tourism and a far better experience for all visitors and locals.’