WORK to conserve a slate arch at an historic Highland quarry, and turn it into a tourist attraction, is to get underway.
The Ballachulish slate arch – also known as the Tom Beag Inclined Plane – was built to transport wagons of dressed slate from the world famous quarry down to piers on the loch-side and to transport empty wagons back up to the quarry.
The Highland Council-owned structure, which can be seen from the A82 Inverness to Glasgow trunk road close to the village of Ballachulish, is now in need of restoration.
And funding for the project is being provided by the local authority, Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland.
The £277,000 project not only aims to secure the long term future of the slate arch structure, but also enable the local community to research its slate quarrying history and create new heritage interpretation for local people and visitors.
The path to the arch, along with paths within the east quarry, will also be upgraded over the winter period.
Lochaber Area Leader, Councillor Thomas MacLennan, said: “My fellow Lochaber Councillors and I are delighted that work will soon be underway to conserve this iconic local landmark for many years to come.
“Part of the improvements will include installing new interpretation which will allow visitors to the site to learn more about the original construction of the arch and the role the slate quarry played in the local community’s history.”
Mid Lothian-based contractor Forth Stone Ltd has been appointed to carry out the physical conservation works to the Arch.
They will be commencing work on site next Monday, with an expected completion by mid-January.
Complementing the physical conservation works to the arch, there have already been a range of community heritage activities aimed at gathering photographs and documents relating to the local slate industry, as well as an oral history project which will record the memories of people associated with the industry, many of whom are now very elderly.
The materials which have been gathered through the project will be made available to the public through new on-site interpretation and also in a new app and web pages, which should be in place in the New Year.
The project will also see the upgrading of paths to the arch and within the East Quarry which will make them more accessible to less able visitors and families with young children.
The project is also funding a free two-day training course for 12 local people interested in learning about traditional slate-building techniques, which is likely to take place in the first week in December.
Lucy Casot, Head of HLF Scotland, said: ”Thanks to National Lottery players HLF grants preserve fine examples of Britain’s industrial, maritime and transport genius that not only helped create the nation, bringing jobs and economic prosperity, but also influenced the world.
“HLF is pleased to support the ‘Ballachulish Slate Arch - conservation and interpretation’ project that will pass on experiences and achievements from our working past to future generations.”
Nicola Hall, Senior Heritage Management Officer, Historic Environment Scotland added: “The Tom Beag Inclined Plane is a prominent reminder of the scale the slate industry based at Ballachulish.
“In the late 19th century Ballachulish was one of Scotland’s two slate ‘super quarries’ (the other one being at Easdale), and slates from the quarry contribute to the character of many of Scotland’s buildings.”