It was destroyed by fire in 2013…now work begins to replace “Harrods of the north” with new £1.4million visitor centre

Work has started on a project to rebuild a popular Sutherland visitor centre that was destroyed by fire more than three years ago.

The Falls of Shin site near Lairg – which was previously owned by businessman Mohammed Al Fayed – burned down in May 2013, leading to 19 staff being made redundant.

But a community working group was formed and The Kyle of Sutherland Trust led plans to build a new £1.4million facility.

It is expected to open to the public next spring.

Formerly referred to as “The Harrods of the North”, Falls of Shin was very popular with tourists and at its height attracted about 160,000 visitors a year.

And yesterday the local community – including guests from five local schools, the Bradbury Centre for elderly people and funders – marked the milestone with a “Rise and Shin” event which involved tasting local produce and a range of demonstrations and displays.

Valerie Houston, implementations manager on the Falls of Shin Community Project and the Kyle of Sutherland Trust, said: “The Falls of Shin Visitor Centre has always been a magnet for local, national and international visitors.

“They came to see salmon in the wild, enjoy wonderful forest walks, and experience stunning scenery. And they also came to eat and shop, stop for a rest, use the toilets and play in the children’s play area.

“Their presence has always helped to provide much needed income for our fragile rural economy.

“We know how disappointed people have been at the lack of facilities here in the last few years.

“You only needed to look at the busy car park over the summer to see there is still a strong demand for something here on site.

“We’ve been working hard since the fire to create an alternative attraction for the site and we’re delighted it’s paid off.”

The new centre has been designed by Sutherland-based CH Architecture in the shape of a salmon, with the salmon’s tail forming the entrance to an open trellis walkway and exhibition space, leading to the visitor centre at the head.

It will be built by William Gray Construction and will employ up to seven people in a cafe and shop.

The new attraction has been funded by a combination of Big Lottery Funding, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and money from the Lairg, Creich and Ardgay Community Council from their Achany windfarm community fund.