A NETWORK of Alpine-style camping pods are to be controversially sited along the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands, offering walkers, water users and cyclists a “glam” stopping-off point.
The extravagant wooden bothies – to be constructed around Gairlochy, near Spean Bridge, Laggan Locks and Fort Augustus – are aimed at providing an alternative for tourists who would normally camp in tents.
Scottish Government-funded boyd Scottish Canals hope they will attract more visitors along the route and encourage them to stay in the local areas longer, but some residents are annoyed Highland Council has given the bothies the go-ahead.
Opponents claim they will take business away from local accommodation providers, exacerbate existing nuisance allegedly caused by wild camping, and spoil the look of the historic canal, famously designed in the 19th century by Scots engineer Thomas Telford.
They also believe the bothies, and associated toilet pods, will have an impact on the environment and wildlife.
16 units planned
Scottish Canals have welcomed the granting of planning permission for the 16 pods – five two-person bothies and one four-person pod at Gairlochy, two two-person units at Laggan Locks, and eight at Fort Augustus.
Development surveyor Keith Mackie said: “A vital part of Scottish Canals’ vision for the nation’s waterways involves developing new opportunities in order to attract more customers and secure a sustainable future for the 250-year-old canals of Scotland.
“The camping bothies are in a fantastic location to cater for those tackling The Great Glen Ways and the Caledonian Canal.
“By offering something new and unique in the area, we hope to encourage even more people to explore some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery by boot, boat or bike.
“Most visitors to the Great Glen simply pass through areas such as Gairlochy or wild camp – a practice which the community has raised concerns over.”
He said these sites would encourage users to stay in the areas without impacting on the integrity of the Caledonian Canal and the surrounding natural environment.
Mr Mackie added: “We’ve had several meetings with the community and have altered our plans significantly in response to their concerns, reducing the number of bothies on site and developing an enhanced management plan for wild camping.
“The camping bothies are designed to complement the beauty of the surrounding area cater for the increasing numbers using the Great Glen Way.”
Scottish Canals insist the pods are primarily aimed at visitors who often have to camp in tents or travel some distance from the canal to find a bed and breakfast, hotel or hostel.
Those opposing the pods claim they are in direct competition with private businesses providing accommodation.
There were dozens of objections presented to Highland Council planners over the proposals.
John Fotheringham, chairman of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council, said: “It is an absolutely appalling way of handling democracy.”
Stuart Findlay, chairman of Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston Community Council, said: “We don’t see a problem with them in places further out, but we don’t think they should be putting these pods in villages like Fort Augustus where there are excellent bed and breakfasts and hostels and campsites already.
“We feel it is competition that these businesses don’t need from a big government organisation. It will be aiming at the same people we rely on for our tourist trade in this community, like walkers on the Great Glen Way, canoeists and people in boats on the canal.”
Another accommodation provider, who did not wish to be named, added: “It’s totally out of order.
“If the canal operates at a loss they should be encouraging more boats to use it, rather than trying to steal our business. This is a government-funded body going into direct competition with local businesses.”
The pods are inspired by the box beds used in ancient Highland croft houses. However, they will have electricity, and consist of a bed, a small wood-burning stove and will be clad in charred Scottish larch to fit in with the surroundings.
The cost to hire for the night is still to be decided.
The Caledonian Canal connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach near Fort William.
It runs some 60 miles and one third of the entire length is man-made. The rest is formed by Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy, which are located in the Great Glen.
There are 29 locks, four aqueducts and 10 bridges in the course of the canal.
The canal was conceived as a way of providing much-needed employment to the Highland region following the Highland Clearances.
It also provide a safer passage for wooden sailing ships between the north east of Scotland to the south west, avoiding the route around the north coast via Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth.