Forestry body ‘keen’ to continue Glenfinnan overflow parking talks

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Although no formal plans have been put forward as yet, Forestry Land Scotland (FLS) says it is ‘keen’ to continue discussions about the possibility of overflow parking being created on its land at the edge of Glenfinnan.

The comments from FLS to the Lochaber Times came after last week’s January meeting of Glenfinnan Community Council at which the idea of a car park at nearby Callop to cater for a park and ride scheme was again discussed.

The famous Road to the Isles stretch between Glenfinnan and Mallaig is one of seven high priority areas being flagged up for action to tackle ever-increasing pressures from tourist numbers.

The identified hotspots are North West Highland (Ullapool northwards and the Isle of Skye), Fortrose, Rosemarkie, Chanonry Point, and the Road to the Isles.

And there are a number of varying pressure points in the 30-mile stretch from Glenfinnan to Mallaig. In Glenfinnan, the main issue is lack of toilets, whereas Morar has problems with wild camping.

Last week’s meeting – held virtually – was attended by Colin Simpson, principal officer for Europe, Tourism and Film, with Highland Council’s Transformation and Economy
Service.

Mr Simpson had agreed to join the meeting to give an update on the planning of future council tourism support in Lochaber.

Almost half a million visitors normally flock to Glenfinnan every year, drawn by the 1745 monument, the scenery and, of course, the famous local viaduct’s links to the Harry Potter movies.

A new community car park has taken much of the pressure off the adjacent small National Trust for Scotland (NTS) car park, as well as providing a welcome financial boost for the community.

However, last month, NTS, which looks after the 1745 monument site, revealed it had been in exploratory discussions with FLS about a proposal that could see additional off-site overflow parking and a park-and-ride scheme created at Callop.

The issue was on the agenda again at last week’s community council meeting. Asked by the Lochaber Times for FLS’ view on the matter,  regional visitor services manager, Robbie Layden, told us: ‘Although no formal plans have been presented or proposed, we are keen to continue discussing the idea of overflow parking at Callop with all the interested parties.

‘Visitor safety would need to be considered because anyone leaving the carpark on foot – or returning to it – would have to follow the forest road to and from the waymarked trail, but we would expect that this should not present any significant issues.

‘Linking this proposal with the boardwalk and bridge replacement might give access to more funding options for all of the works.

‘However, we are not fixed on the idea and if it does not fit with the car park we will schedule the boardwalk and bridge within our normal works programme.’

Mr Simpson told the meeting that most visitors were coming from further afield and that a park-and-ride facility in Fort William may be an answer rather than an overspill car park at Callop.

Highland Council member Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig) has previously  suggested looking at a much more radical solution which would see the NTS move its entire visitor centre operation at Glenfinnan to Callop which would provide ample parking and room for development.

Walks, cycle tracks and boats on the river could then bring visitors into Glenfinnan from a new NTS site with the old visitor centre being developed for crafts and local people’s small businesses.

Asked to comment after the meeting, a council spokesperson told us: ‘The Highland Council’s principal officer for Europe, Tourism and Film, attended this week’s online meeting of Glenfinnan Community Council to give an update on the work the council is undertaking to produce a Strategic Tourism Investment Plan and to gather more local information for inclusion in the plan.

‘Discussions around the pressures which also affect local landowners such as Forestry & Land Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland have also been held and the council has agreed to include proposals from these organisations in the plan where appropriate.’