IT IS one of the birthplaces of the Scotch whisky industry once famed for illicit distilling and smuggling.

Located on the eastern fringes of rural Speyside, Cabrach, known as one of the top thirty most remote zones in mainland Scotland, was seen as a 'legendary haunt of distillers' in the 18th century at the height of clandestine whisky production.

Now there are plans to mark that murky whisky heritage with a new £6.5 million visitor attraction in the Cabrach.

Designs for the heritage centre have been unveiled which will include a museum of illicit whisky and smuggling, a learning centre and a historic working distillery which would have been in operation in the 1830s.

The Cabrach Trust say that the centre will showcase the key part this significant 80 square mile area has played in Scottish history, with work on the project due to begin later this year for completion in two years time.

It previously decided that it would used historical methods in the working distillery to create their very own Cabrach whisky that was true to the past.

Constructed at Inverharroch Farm, it is expected to attract around 20,000 visitors a year and provide the equivalent of ten full time jobs.

Heritage manager of the Cabrach Trust, Dr Peter Bye Jensen said: “It’s exciting to see our plans for the Cabrach taking a big step closer with the architectural designs for our Heritage Centre.

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How the site looks now

"The Cabrach has played a central role in Scottish history. It was the home of Jacobite rebels, its illegal whisky trade led to the Scotch whisky industry we know today, and its people fought in the country’s great wars but all this was in danger of being forgotten.

"The Heritage Centre will bring that history to life and unveil the secrets of the Cabrach through interactive exhibits where visitors will travel back in time to experience life in this harsh but beautiful place.”

The project took shape two years ago after researchers commissioned by the Cabrach Trust discovered a former illicit whisky bothy built into the side of a hill and thought to date back to the early 1800s.

Sheltered by a small crag and built into the side of the hill, the secret bothy offering smugglers an excellent vantage point to keep an eye out for excise men on the nearby highway.

The centre makes use of those existing traditional farm steadings.

Peter McIlhenny, partner at LDN Architects, which has put together the design, said: “This project will transform an existing ancient steading into a visitor attraction, centred around a museum and distillery. Our design adapts the existing range of buildings in a delicate way, whilst incorporating a completely new 21st century building containing the reception, tasting room, shop, café and multi-purpose spaces.

"Those new spaces are tuned to visitor needs while taking full advantage of the magnificent panoramic outlook of the setting. Great care has been brought to the selection and placing of materials to both old and new.”

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The distillery received £125,000 from the William Grant Foundation, £25,000 from Foundation Scotland, and £110,000 from the Reekimlane Foundation. A further £50,000 came from an anonymous donor.

The funding from William Grant Foundation will go towards cultural heritage activities, refurbishing the buildings and preparing the site to allow preparatory works.

Additional funding for the project has come from a mix of social finance, grants and charitable trusts and foundations, with several other funding applications in progress.

The centre plans also included room for a shop, cafe, exhibition space and play area.

Cabrach, which means 'antler place' in Scottish Gaelic as a one time home of herds of red deer, is home to some of Scotland’s rarest wildlife and a once-secret nuclear bunker, among other attractions.

In 2011 it was given dark sky discovery site status. Because it is one of the most remote locations in Scotland, the lack of light pollution means it is one of the best places to stargaze.

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It has also been described as a ‘living war memorial’ due to the large number of abandoned buildings in the area, largely left behind by families who lost menfolk in the First and Second World Wars But it was in the early 1800s that it gained its notoriety with reputedly at least one illegal still at every farm in the parish, although there is historical evidence of distilling being practiced as far back as the 1600’s..

Locals were said to have mixed farming and illicit distilling with consummate skill, using the remote landscape and difficult to access farms to create a well organised underground network of illicit stills and a communication network designed to dodge customs and excise raids.

The smugglers consequently distributed spirits locally, nationally and beyond and were known to have had skirmishes and even bloody battles with any figures of authority who tried to stop them.

The scale of the black market led to a change in the law in 1823 which legalised commercial whisky stills, creating the global Scotch whisky success story we know now. By the mid 1800’s there were three licensed distilleries.

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