TOUR drivers have picked up spades instead of passengers as they carried out badly-needed path repairs to one of Skye’s most famous settings.
They are normally behind the wheel of the small white coaches which have become a familiar sight on the island’s roads.
But staff from Rabbie’s Trail Burners Ltd happily parked up and spent two days working on the Quiraing route in Staffin instead.
Despite inclement weather, eight Rabbie’s drivers and office workers completed the path upgrade at the Quiraing, which is visited by thousands of people each year and is a popular Hollywood film location.
The path repairs came about through a new tie-up between Rabbie’s and the Staffin Community Trust (SCT).
It comes as the north Skye community organisation recently secured significant Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) investment to extend its Skye Ecomuseum project, which includes the Quiraing path route. HLF approved a £522,000 grant in September to enhance the ecomuseum experience for visitors and the island’s resident communities.
As part of the application, SCT tabled a maintenance and management plan for the ecomuseum and intends to provide volunteering opportunities for local people and other groups.
Rabbie’s runs tours to Skye all-year round and its buses take passengers to popular Staffin sites like the Old Man of Storr, Lealt Gorge, the Kilt Rock, An Corran and the Quiraing.
Rabbie’s offered to become involved in the ecomuseum maintenance plan.
SCT liaised with Highland Council’s Skye access officer Donald Kennedy, who is a key member of the ecomuseum sub-group, and he identified the Quiraing work as a priority.
Donald said: “Visitor numbers are now three times what they were 20 years ago when the path was first repaired.
“To cope with these increased numbers the Rabbie’s volunteers undertook strenuous work transporting path material and boulders, doubling the width of the surface and stone culverts. Large boulder shifting was also required to stone line the outside edge of the path and this will greatly increase its durability.”
SCT chairman Donald MacDonald said: “We are delighted that this new partnership project has now started and welcome the support received from Rabbie’s.
“Surely this is a sensible approach by one of Scotland’s foremost group operators to help communities such as ours to maintain the asset which is so important to both parties. We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship for the benefit of Skye as a whole.”
Jane Collins, Rabbie’s assistant operations manager, said: “It was great for Rabbie’s to be able to help out in an area we visit on our tours.
“As a company we are aware of the impact the rise of visitors has on Skye and its effect on amazing places, such as the Quiraing. We look forward to building a partnership between ourselves and the Staffin Community Trust.”
Rabbie’s has also awarded a £2,000 grant to SCT from its Carbon Tax which will fund the purchase of tools and equipment for maintenance and general ecomuseum repairs.
The SCT has developed economic, social and cultural projects on behalf of the Staffin community since 1994.
The organisation was set up after a decline in the Staffin population and primary school roll and in the face of challenges the community faces such as a lack of jobs and access to services.
Rabbie’s have been delivering small group tours since 1993 and in that time have become recognised as the best at what we do.
They are the original small group tour company who have stuck to the principles of providing small group experiences. Rabbie’s operate a fleet of 16-seat modern fuel efficient Mercedes mini-coaches throughout the UK and Ireland and believe a small group tour with a maximum of 16 passengers really does make a big difference to customers’ trips.