Am Bratach No. 320
June 2018

Scourie geocentre proposal revived

Almost ten years after the idea was first mooted, plans for a geological exhibition centre in Scourie have been given a new lease of life by the Scourie Community Development Company. A site in the village has been purchased, while a private backer has secured the geological collection of the late Don Shelley.

In 2009, the Shelley collection was assessed by the keeper of natural sciences at the National Museum of Scotland as “world class”. It falls into three parts, with specimens representing the geology of the north-west Highlands, a mineral collection, and a fossil collection. Don Shelley (1933-2002), the first warden employed by the Nature Conservancy Council at Knockan, later established a popular private museum and gift shop in Golspie.

Neil Macdonald, chairman of the Scourie Community Development Company, explained how the revival of the project had come about: “The Geopark were offered the Shelley collection back in 2009 and got a feasibility study done which put a centre for displaying it in Scourie. It went on the back burner and nothing much was done about it, but we decided as a development company that the best thing we could do for the area was to make it happen. The upshot is that we bought a park in Scourie, between the church and the beach, with Scottish Land Fund money. We’re putting in an application for funding for the building just now, and I’m trying to get drawings done.”

Mr Macdonald considers that with the increased volume of visitors passing through Scourie on the North Coast 500 route, the time is right for the development of an attraction which will encourage people to spend more time in the village. “The main thing for the whole area is, if we can stop people on the NC500 for a couple of hours, they’re not going to get out of the area that night,” Mr Macdonald said. “At the moment they’re clattering on through Scourie without stopping.”

As well as the exhibition, the proposed centre would include a café serving daytime snacks, a gift shop, toilet facilities, and the possibility of incorporating a new community hall. Figures produced by the geopark’s feasibility study in 2009 suggested that the upkeep and running of the building would break even with a minimum of 16-17,000 independent visitors a year, with this figure dropping to 15,000 if coach parties and school day trips were included. At the time, figures from the more modest Knockan Crag visitor centre were estimated at 18,750 to 20,000.

“Our business plan was showing it making money pre-NC500, so now it should make quite a lot of money,” Neil Macdonald argues, suggesting that any surplus generated by the centre could go back to the six community councils in the geopark for local projects. He is optimistic that some of the more major obstacles to pushing ahead with the project have been overcome. “We were hitting a real brick wall because, every time we’d try to go for a fund, we couldn’t get a building because we didn’t own the collection, but then we couldn’t buy the collection because we had nowhere to show it,” he said. “Now we’re in quite a good position because the collection’s secured and we’ve got the agreement.”

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