A POPULAR Highland visitor centre - once branded the Harrods of the North - has re-opened after being destroyed by fire four years ago.
The Falls of Shin visitor centre was run by businessman and ex-Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed’s Balnagowan Estate before the blaze, but has now risen from the flames after the local community took over ownership.
A total of 20 jobs was lost after the fire in May 2013, but the centre has re-opened after a £1.4million investment.
Community group Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust led the replacement building project.
Designed in the shape of a salmon to celebrate the fish regularly seen leaping at the Falls, the new building has a café, shop, toilets and visitor centre.
An open trellis walkway, exhibition space and grassy plaza will host regular events during the year with market stands providing an opportunity for local producers to showcase their products.
The original Falls of Shin Visitor Centre was a popular attraction until it was destroyed by fire.
Community development group The Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust bought the site in 2016 with the aim of providing new facilities for the visitors and locals who still visited the beautiful site.
The site has been redesigned to make car parking less prominent visually and landscaping work has been carried out which, along with improved signage, is aimed at encouraging visitors to use the Forestry Commission for Scotland woodland walks.
A new more accessible route to the Falls has also replaced the previous steep, uneven track to offer visitors the chance to watch the salmon leap.
Valerie Houston, Implementation Manager on the Falls of Shin Community Project at the Kyle of Sutherland Trust said: “The Falls of Shin Visitor Centre has always been a magnet for local, national and international visitors and we know how disappointed people have been at the lack of facilities here in the last few years.
“We are delighted that once again we can offer visitors the chance to see salmon in the wild, enjoy wonderful forest walks, and experience stunning scenery.”
Falls of Shin will be open to the general public from today, from 10am to 4pm, until Tuesday 31 October, when it will move to seasonal opening hours.
The Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust was launched in 2011 to ensure that long term, sustainable benefits for the local community are achieved.
The Trust focuses on how best to utilise funding from local wind farms and renewable energy projects, as well as ensuring all match funding opportunities are identified and secured.
The Falls of Shin Visitor Centre was developed by Pete Campbell who was its owner from 1987 until 2001.
Balnagown Estate bought the Visitor Centre in 2001 and ran it until 2013.
READ MORE: Walk of the Week: Falls of Shin, near Lairg
Branded at one stage as the Harrods of the North, this association ended when Mohammed al Fayed sold Harrods in 2011. He then sold the site to the Trust in 2016.
Following the fire, a working group was established comprising Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust, The Highland Council, Forestry Commission Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Balnagown Estate.
The new attraction has been funded by a combination of Big Lottery Funding (£1,000,567), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (£200,000), Highland Council (£100,000) and £30,000 from Lairg, Creich and Ardgay Community Council from their SSE Achany Wind Farm Community Fund.