THE historic skill of slate building in the Highlands is being safeguarded with 12 trainees enjoying a course on the tricky techniques.
As part of the course in Lochaber, the participants also visited the nearby Ballachulish slate arch to hear at first hand from contractors about the construction of the arch and the works currently underway to conserve it, and to see the works for themselves.
The trainees from Ballachulish and further afield in Lochaber not only learned the theory and practice of basic techniques but also made great progress in building a large new slate plinth at the entrance to the village’s East Quarry.
This will hold three new panels telling visitors about this history and significance of the local slate quarrying industry.
The hardy volunteers, along with trainers Euan Thompson and Marc Ellington of the Scottish Traditional Skills Training Centre, worked enthusiastically on the plinth despite rain and gales.
Claire Bell of Highland Council’s Development & Infrastructure Service, which is leading the project, said: “The training course was an important part of the project aimed at helping raise awareness of slate as a building material and encouraging people to use it in their own projects.
“We were delighted that the course was fully subscribed and the commitment of the trainees was fantastic, especially on the second day when the weather was foul.
“The new plinth is going to be a great feature in the village when it is complete.”
The trainees also heard from contractors Forth Stone about the construction of the famous Ballachulish arch and the works currently underway to conserve it.
The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland - formerly Historic Scotland.
The £277,000 initiative will not only consolidate the slate arch structure but also create new interpretive materials produced in partnership with local people.
A successful community oral heritage project to gather local stories and memories about the quarries has already taken place and work is currently underway to use the information gathered to design new panels and a social media app.
The path to the arch, along with paths within the East Quarry will also be upgraded.
The Ballachulish slate arch, also known as the Tom Beag Inclined Plane, can be seen from the A82 trunk road close to the village of Ballachulish.
It dates back to the 19th century when it was built to transport wagons of dressed slate from the quarry down to piers on the loch-side and to transport empty wagons back up to the quarry.