New-look, low-key visitor facilities officially open today at Scotland's 10th highest mountain. The replacement Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve (NNR) 'centre' is designed to be more in keeping with the mountain landscape than the 1970s building that preceded it, which many regarded as an eyesore.
The major piece of landscape restoration by landowners the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) started in autumn 2010 with the removal of the old Mountain Visitor Centre and car park. The site has since been reinstated to moorland, with a new car park placed in a less visible site within a woodland setting. In tune with the modern vogue for outdoor art, new unmanned outdoor 'interpretation' has also been created. This aims to tell the unique stories of the reserve, say the NTS, and to provoke visitors to think about the significance of the site.
The design of these new interpretive structures takes inspiration from ruined shielings – small buildings where farmers lived when their livestock were grazing in the hills, traces of which can be found scattered across the Ben Lawers reserve. Built using locally reclaimed stone, these enclosures house sculptural installations created by Edinburgh based artist Tim Chalk.
The sculptures - which highlight significant aspects of the mountain's flora, archaeology and the Trust's conservation work – consist of several large carvings, a stone mosaic that winds through the shieling and a seasonal sundial.
Property Manager Helen Cole said:
'Ben Lawers is one of Scotland's most popular walking destinations, with seven Munros, fabulous views over Loch Tay and a huge diversity of plant and animal life.'
Given all this, does it really need augmenting or interpreting at all? According to the NTS, yes:
'The new interpretation will help add to the sense of place of this important mountain landscape whilst relating its history and the significance of its natural history' says Helen Cole.
'We hope these new facilities will enable the Trust to meet its key aims of encouraging everyone to explore their natural heritage, while ensuring that we protect Scotland's landscape for future generations.'
Walkers who prefer their mountains unadulterated and interpreted only in their own heads needn't fret. The new additions to the hill are low key and cover only a small area; they're quickly left behind on the ascent.
In addition to the sculpture, new paths link from the car park to the low and high level walks on the reserve. An updated booklet guide to the nature trail on the lower slopes of Beinn Ghlas can be purchased on site from a dispenser.
Due to the cost and the difficulty of maintaining them at this high level site no toilet facilities have been provided.
Ben Lawers NNR has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland since 1950. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive for the exceptional examples of a number of habitats, rare on a European scale. The reserve is widely known for the diversity of its arctic-alpine species and vegetation types. It is important for the very large number of nationally rare or scarce montane plant species that it supports, including vascular plants, lichens and bryophytes, and it also boasts an outstanding range of invertebrates with many nationally rare or notable species.
NTS conservation efforts at Ben Lawers include pioneering work to restore threatened plant communities, footpath maintenance and an annual programme of guided walks and educational work.