IT was once a vibrant stop on the trip “Doon the Watter”, offering refuge for weary Glaswegians escaping the city on their summer break.

But now the resort of Dunoon, on the banks of the Firth of Clyde, has been abandoned by the hordes heading out on their holidays, its past appeal fading as it lost out to the charms of the Costa del Sol.

Yet soon the quiet town could be bustling with visitors again, after an ambitious plan to revitalise its economy and bring in the tourists begins to take shape and move forward.

A plan, based on a community buyout of the Corlarach forest above the town, could see Dunoon become a centre for outdoor activities and firmly back on the map for daytrippers and people looking to explore the area.

Titled simply “The Dunoon Project”, the scheme would see a cable car installed to ferry passengers up the Kilbride Hill which rises above the town to a cafe and observation spot at the top.

But the real thrill would be getting back down again to a base station, with visitors given the option of a zip-slide ride down the hill over a distance of four kilometres or a trip in an “alpine coaster” – a type of rollercoaster which follows the contours of the land.

Those of a less stalwart disposition could still take the cable car, or ride down on a mountain bike.

The plan is that the attraction would offer “something for everyone” and capture a slice of the tourist market which still passes through Argyll and Bute.

It would also create jobs and bring investment into an area which has historically struggled to attract interest.

Crucially, a feasibility study has found that only a small percentage of people who already travel through the town without stopping are needed to make the venture a success.

The brainchild of local businessman Brendon Wallace, The Dunoon Project owes much to his interest in mountain biking, which took him across the UK where he saw other communities revitalised by similar big ideas.

Wallace cast around for something which would put Dunoon on the map, and decided to make use of the asset he knew best – the hills and trails above the settlement.

He said: “The idea came from having a young family and looking for adventures and days out – things that we could do.

“We were very impressed by Zip World in Wales, and I thought ‘why can’t we have something like that here?’. We have the location and the people and the enthusiasm, and it seemed like something we could put together.

“The idea is to bring more life back into Dunoon, and make people want to visit it like they used to back in the good old days.

“We want them to come over on the ferry and spend a few days in the town. One of the major attractions is that the site is within walking distance – it’s right on your doorstep.

“There’s no need to take a bus or a car anywhere, you can just ride the cable car to the top and it’s all going to be there.”

Where many such schemes wither on the vine, or become bogged down after facing opposition from others in the community, the cable-car project has been buoyed by a groundswell of support.

Town hall meetings have swelled in popularity – the first attracting 150 people, the second 400. All are well aware of Dunoon’s problems, and keen to do something to bring more life to area.

But it has been the approach to the community buyout through the National Forest Land Scheme, which allows groups to buy surplus land, that has really piqued investors’ interest, such as the asset manager Gresham House. Wallace said: “What’s different about this community buyout is that we’ve kind of done it back to front. Other communities have concentrated first on what they want to buy, then gone looking for funding to work out what they intend to do.

“We’ve gone down the other route and have been seeking backers while doing the feasibility study. That’s now complete and it’s good – they have said that there’s a good chance for backers to see a good, long-term return on their investment.

“The type of backers we have are looking for a return [on their investment] over time, not a quick buck. And there’s few better things to invest in than land developments and infrastructure projects if you are looking at the long-term.”

Keith Holdt,who prepared the feasibility study, added: “The beauty of Dunoon is that it’s right in the path of people coming over to Argyll and Bute. There’s lots and people coming through, but there’s currently no reason for them to hang around. But this gives them a reason to stay and spend money in the area.”

The team are now in the middle of preparing a Community Asset Transfer (Cat) to get the ball rolling. Aside from the support from the community, there has already been backing from tourists chiefs and investors.

Iain Jurgensen, chairman of the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative, is one fan of the scheme who has been impressed by the strength of feeling in Dunoon.

He said: “The Dunoon project is innovative and inspirational and will have the potential to be one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Scotland that will help bring huge footfall into Dunoon and the surrounding area.

“The fact this is a community project reflects the passion of the residents to encourage change by using the resources around them in a truly inspiring project.”

And backers are now waiting in the wings, ready to invest the millions needed to make the project a reality.

Tony Dalwood, CEO of Gresham House said: “Small-scale infrastructure investments are vital to local communities but they’re often challenging for larger investment funds to address.

“Gresham House’s British Strategic Investment Fund (BSIF) focuses on this financing gap by working alongside its partners to deliver much-needed regional investment.

“BSIF invests in sub-£50 million real assets projects in the UK’s housing and infrastructure sectors.

"It is a long-term investment fund that aims to achieve a positive social impact alongside attractive financial returns for its investors.

“Dunoon is an exciting project," Dalwood continued. "We have been working with other advisers, including funding an independent feasibility study, to help the community formulate a strategy that meets its social objectives and translates into a differentiated investment opportunity for the fund.

"We believe the development of essential local infrastructure will enable the community to deliver a regeneration project that supports local jobs and economic growth.”

The Dunoon project still has a long way to go, but the first phase is almost complete and it could be that a trip "doon the watter’ will soon no longer be a thing of the past.

And a community stands ready to welcome visitors once again, with a holiday experience their forebears would scarcely recognise.

Mike Russell, MSP for the area, said: “Big ideas sometimes have difficulty getting accepted in Scotland but this is a big idea that has generated a lot of support in Dunoon.

“The most recent public meeting in the town about the project was enthusiastic and gave strong backing to the committed and imaginative team who are developing it.

"I think it can transform the town and the area and, having meet some of the potential backers, I am keen to do everything I can to help make it happen.

“Soon, I hope, the old boast about going 'doon the watter' will also mean going ‘doon the zip wire’ above one of the Clyde coast’s most iconic venues.”