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Crown Estate funds could help transform iconic Lochaber lighthouse into ‘world-class visitor attraction’

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

A community trust in the far west of Lochaber is preparing to bid for a “significant” slice of newly announced Scottish Crown Estate funding to turn a historic landmark into a world-class visitor attraction.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Trust will be asking for £100,000 to progress ambitious work to develop the lighthouse complex.

Lochaber has an allocation of  more than £400,00 from the £3m pot to be shared across Highland next year.

Standing 180ft above the treacherous waters of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, on the most westerly point of the UK mainland, the Stevenson lighthouse has been guiding vessels for more than 170 years – and is beginning to show its age.

The lighthouse is unique in the world for its “Egyptian” style and its fiercely proud local fanbase want to see it brought up to a standard that befits its significance.

The lighthouse complex, with its former keepers’ cottages and outbuildings, have been operated by the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Trust since 1996 as a visitor centre.

Some 20,000 people a year typically make their way to the lighthouse which employs two full-time and a handful of seasonal staff.

But the trust hopes all this is about to expand.

They now have full ownership after persuading the previous owners, Highland Council, to transfer the asset to them this summer.

Stephanie Cope, the trust’s project manager, said their bid would be for a significant part of Lochaber’s £462,000 allocation.

She said: “We already have a £210,000 bid from a separate fund to improve our worn parking areas, improve the footpath network around the site, improve accessibility and improve the decorative state of our heritage foghorn.

“After that, if we are successful with that bid, we want to bid for around £100,000 from the Crown Estate funds to turn our attention to the principal keeper’s building which presently has quite a low key exhibition in it.

“What we would really like to do is enhance and extend that building and turn it into a world-class visitor attraction, hopefully starting to look at this next year.

“We think it’s a very good fit, being a coastal location, a very important part of the coastal community and now under community ownership.

“It’s a huge project and, without doubt, we’ll have to have match-funding coming in, but it always helps to get that first brick in place to attract other funders on board.”

Miss Cope said the benefits from the investment would be both social and economic.

She added: “The social benefit would be about getting people more engaged with the site and creating a better experience.

“The economic benefits are really important too. If we bring this visitor attraction up to the standard we’re aiming for then of course there will be more opportunities for employment.”

The Scottish Government has recommended that the first tranche of the Crown Estate fund should have recovery from the impact of Covid as a priority.

Miss Cope said: “In a broad sense, delivering on the objectives for the site, making the best of what we’ve got, and making it into a world-class visitor attraction will naturally support economic recovery in this area.

“We have to be a little bit careful, as we don’t want to over-develop it, we want to preserve what makes the site special – like the wildness of the place.

“But we would like it to be immaculate, we want our parking area fit for purpose, we want it to be safe and we want our visitor centre to be available for a variety of different uses and functions.

“We would like to move our present café into the centre and have it open for evening meals from April to October with a fabulous view, probably the best in the west coast.”

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