Rejuvenation of Britain’s “most beautiful shortcut” could include turning disused buildings into arts venues along the Crinan Canal.
The proposal is among a number being discussed at a series of meetings this week over the future of the 215-year-old Argyll waterway.
It could help further boost the thriving artistic community around the nine-mile canal between Crinan and Ardrishaig, built to enable vessels to bypass the Mull of Kintyre.
Scottish Canals, its owner, is staging the intensive planning sessions, or “charrettes”, to help devise a development blueprint.
Strategic planning and design manager Christopher Breslin said: “The Crinan Canal may be called ‘Britain’s most beautiful shortcut’ but the waterway and the local area has so much more to offer than just easier access to the sailing grounds of the Western Isles.
“The Crinan corridor charrette will develop a shared vision for how we celebrate that unique character, create even more opportunities for business, leisure and tourism, and build a sustainable future for the area and the canal at its heart.”
Carron Tobin, director of development consultants ruralDimensions, said: “The canal is such a key piece of tourism infrastructure.
“It’s stunningly beautiful but punching below its weight – there are several sites along the corridor which offer potential for innovative developments which could really boost the area’s tourism offer and economic prosperity.
“There are lots of potential sites for art installation and possible event and gallery space – there are a lot of professional artists with studios near the canal and scope for outlets and ‘making’ spaces, and performance spaces for musicians.”
Ms Tobin said potential development sites included the Gleaner fuel depot close to the canal’s sea lock in Ardrishaig and around the canal basin.
She also suggested the ruins of a boat shed which once housed the Linnet steamer at Dunardry, west of Cairnbaan.
A Scottish Canals spokeswoman said: “All these sites have potential.”
Fergus Murray, head of economic development at Argyll and Bute Council, said: “The canal corridor is vital to the local economy – for local peoples’ quality of life, our tourism industry, wildlife and leisure activities.
“Rethinking the link between the canal and the communities along it will help us unlock its huge potential, leading to knock-on benefits across the wider mid-Argyll area.”
Sessions are being held in Ardrishaig today and on Saturday, and in Lochgilphead tomorrow.