Works to conserve the historic Ballachulish Slate Arch get underway
As part of an exciting project to conserve and interpret Ballachulish’s historic slate arch, structural conservation works will shortly be commencing on site. The £277,000 Ballachulish Slate Arch – Conservation & Interpretation Project is funded jointly by The Heritage Lottery Fund, The Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland and will not only secure the long term future of the slate arch structure, but also enable the local community to research its slate quarrying history and create new heritage interpretation for local people and visitors. The path to the arch, along with paths within the east quarry, will also be upgraded over the winter period.
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. The arch is a Scheduled Ancient Monument of national significance, but is currently in poor condition. Consolidation works are needed in order to safeguard the monument and maintain it in a safe condition.
The site is owned by The Highland Council and Lochaber Area Leader, Councillor Thomas MacLennan, said: “My fellow Lochaber Councillors and I are delighted that work will soon be underway to conserve this iconic local landmark for many years to come. Part of the improvements will include installing new interpretation which will allow visitors to the site to learn more about the original construction of the arch and the role the slate quarry played in the local community’s history.”
Following competitive tender through Public Contracts Scotland, mid Lothian based contractor Forth Stone Ltd. have been appointed to carry out the physical conservation works to the Arch, which has a contract value of £136K. They will be commencing on site on Monday 26th October, with an expected completion by mid-January. Consulting architect, John Renshaw, and the retained archaeological contractor. Headland Archaeology Ltd., are working in close consultation with Historic Environment Scotland and Forth Stone.
Complementing the physical conservation works to the arch, there have already been a range of community heritage activities aimed at gathering photographs and documents relating to the local slate industry, as well as an oral history project which will record the memories of people associated with the industry, many of whom are now very elderly. The materials which have been gathered through the project will be made available to the public through new on-site interpretation and also in a new app and web pages, which should be in place in the New Year.
The project will also see the upgrading of paths to the arch and within the East Quarry which will make them more accessible to less able visitors and families with young children. The project is also funding a free two-day training course for 12 local people interested in learning about traditional slate-building techniques, which is likely to take place in the first week in December.
Lucy Casot, Head of HLF Scotland, said: ”Thanks to National Lottery players HLF grants preserve fine examples of Britain’s industrial, maritime and transport genius that not only helped create the nation, bringing jobs and economic prosperity, but also influenced the world. HLF is pleased to support the ‘Ballachulish Slate Arch - conservation and interpretation’ project that will pass on experiences and achievements from our working past to future generations.”
Nicola Hall, Senior Heritage Management Officer, Historic Environment Scotland said: ‘The Tom Beag Inclined Plane is a prominent reminder of the scale the slate industry based at Ballachulish. In the late 19th century Ballachulish was one of Scotland’s two slate ‘super quarries’ (the other one being at Easdale), and slates from the quarry contribute to the character of many of Scotland’s buildings. Historic Environment Scotland very much welcomes this exciting project to both conserve the inclined plan and to interpret it, and is pleased to be able to support it through our Ancient Monument Grant scheme."