A community group has bought a travel firm to help its drive to establish a tourism and transport centre at Loch Ness.
A share issue last year raised £110,000 for the Loch Ness Hub in Drumnadrochit, which will be a tourism information and travel centre as well as a base for baggage transfers.
The project was set up by the Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association (Gurca) following a successful bid for a community buy-out of the former Tourism Information Centre in the village.
It has now taken over Loch Ness Travel, which was founded 30 years ago and has long-established relationships with walking agencies and accommodation providers on the routes it services.
Founder George Simpson, who will be a consultant during the hand-over, said: “It gives me great satisfaction in transferring my business into the safe and capable hands of Loch Ness Hub Ltd.
“I will be acting as a consultant in their new venture for the forthcoming 2021 walking season, and perhaps beyond, in order to maintain continuity during this challenging change-over period and to assist in the logistics of this long-standing trail business.”
Mr Simpson has been involved in a number of long-distance trails for many years.
He set up the Great Glen Way baggage shuttle and support service during 2002 and other trails currently serviced include Walk Loch Ness 360, the South Loch Ness Trail, Affric-Kintail Way, East Highland Way and the Coast2Coast trail from Fort William to Montrose via Aviemore for mountain bikers.
He added: “I am delighted that all the services will remain in place going forward and it will be business as usual, with no interruptions to services currently provided to both trail walkers and bikers.”
Loch Ness Hub chair Tish Fearn said: “We are delighted to complete the transfer of Loch Ness Travel.
“We strive to deliver a world class service for the walking agencies and all their customers.
“Having George and his long experience available to advise us on a consultancy basis through the handover period will allow us to provide continuity of service, while we invest in new digital platforms to ensure the best customer-friendly experience we can provide.”
The Loch Ness Hub project, which had been delayed by the Covid pandemic, reached its share issue target within four weeks.
It will also promote and provide information and ticket sales for businesses and attractions within the Glen Urquhart and wider Loch Ness area, creating local employment and channelling surplus profits back into community projects.
Gurca launched the project after VisitScotland vacated the building in 2018, with a community asset transfer widely supported.
A transport feasibility study by Gurca partner Soirbheas highlighted some key challenges locally, including commuting to and from Drumnadrochit and taking children to school without using fossil fuel cars.
Solutions included establishing a transport hub, improving public transport, expanding the charging network for electric vehicles, a care share scheme and introducing e-bike hire and a community transport scheme in the area.