THE area around Glencoe has long been one of Scotland's top visitor attractions. Witness the heavy summer traffic when registration plates on cars and buses are predominantly foreign, so much so that it sometimes appears as though a part of the Highlands has been picked up and deposited in Central Europe.

Winter is rather different. Still plenty of tourists, but mostly of the hardy outdoor variety comprising hillwalkers, amateur photographers, naturalists, ornithologists, skiers and serious mountaineers.

On the one hand tourists, plain and simple. On the other, visitors with an entirely different reason for being there. As the interests of each rarely coincide, the long-standing argument over what kind of services or facilities should be put into the area has raged on for years.

One school of thought said do nothing. The landscape itself was enough and any development would necessarily reduce its value to us all. On the other hand people were going to come anyway, so why not give them something to do once they had arrived, ran the counter argument.

Happily there has been some sort of compromise, whether deliberate or accidental. The ski slopes are fairly unobtrusive in summer and look natural in winter. The Visitor Centre is tucked away in a low building that is entirely in character with its surroundings and the latest attraction, Highland Mysteryworld, has actually enhanced the scenery as it has been created on what was a scar on the landscape, the old slate quarry workings on the shore of Loch Leven.

Now open, Highland Mysteryworld is the second phase of a development on the Ballachulish site, coming after the Isles of Glencoe Hotel and Leisure Centre complex, completed in 1992.

Like all the best ideas, this one came from the private sector in the shape of a family-owned business operating three hotels, the Freedom of the Glen group, including the Isles of Glencoe in the vicinity. Lochaber Limited, an arm of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, pitched in with some worthwhile financial backing, as did Scottish Natural Heritage.

Highland Mysteryworld is a bold initiative, costing upwards of #1m initially, and although popularly described as a theme park, is a gentler exercise designed to recreate the Highland environment of times long past.

It is based around aspects of life from ancient Celtic and Viking folklore with its myriad myths and legends. Charming and romantic today, these were at the very heart of life in the old Scottish way of life when superstition was rife and the elements were accorded great power to influence day to day existence.

At Highland Mysteryworld, all of this is brought to life by actors and the very latest animatronic effects which allow visitors to feel the sensations, hear the sounds, and experience the sights and smells of what was in effect a very different world.

There are five distinct indoor attractions, the Astromyth Theatre, Clootie Well, Viking Foodship and Mysterymall, so no need to be concerned about the prevailing West Coast weather.

In addition there are lochside trails to be explored, a Myworld Adventure Playground, supervised creche and, of course, a superb indoor leisure centre, so there is truly something for the whole family.

The owners of the complex say the aim is to provide the type of facility which will endeavour to provoke visitors of all ages, nationalities and denominations beyond the boundaries of their established beliefs about Scottish cultural ancestry, using a combination of traditional drama and more modern animation.

In the Astromyth Theatre, the audience will hear Calgacus the Pict explaining the secrets of the elements, sun, moon and stars. The theatre is built to resemble a stone circle and has some dramatic sound and visual effects. The presentation takes about 20 minutes, well within the boredom threshold of the younger members of the family.

The Clootie Well perhaps deserves a bit of explanation. Apparently well before the time when we started throwing coins into fountains we simply hung a cloth by a sacred spring, hoping our wishes would come true. Intriguingly this practice continues to this day - but in remote regions of Mongolia - so there may be something in it.

You can try it for yourself at the Clootie Well, cloots can be supplied, while enjoying leaping across a series of stepping stones, enjoying some weird and wonderful sound effects, entering an echo chamber and even trying to steal the magic crystal.

The Roots of Rannoch presentation is handled by actors who dress as characters from folklore and tell local tales. Learn all about the seals haven, witches chamber and a monster that rises from the deep and, at the end of the day, browse for interesting artifacts in the Mysterymall or enjoy some fine food in the Viking Foodship, where real warriors serve up the grub and pillage your empty plates.

It has taken a great deal of thought and planning to create Highland Mysteryworld. Laurence Young, the operating company's managing director, spent time researching other attractions across Europe and even visiting behind the scenes at Disneyland to find out how best to meet people's expectations.

He is convinced he has managed to get the balance right. ``We realise that high entertainment and sensory, emotional experience are all important,'' he said.

Highland Mysteryworld is hotly tipped to become one of Scotlands top ten tourist attractions and is open daily, 10 am till late. The cost is #4.95 for each adult, #2.95 for children. You can get a family ticket for #12.

Highland Mysteryworld can even be found on the Internet, ( Wonder what the Brahan Seer would make of that.