By Richard Baynes

A UNIQUE £2.7 million scheme to turn an iconic Scottish beauty spot made famous by TV’s Outlander series into a tourist attraction is to go ahead after councillors rejected the advice of their own officials.

The team behind the scheme for Finnich Glen, a 70ft-deep sandstone gorge, believe it will be the first of its type in Scotland where private cash will be used to solve parking, access, safety and environmental problems.

More than 70,000 people a year now visit the once-wild site, with 160 cars seen parked post-lockdown on the surrounding narrow roads and lanes.

Piles of litter, bottles and toilet waste are regularly gathered on the site by local clean-up volunteers, narrow paths have become five-metre-wide bogs in places, and at least two dogs have died in falls down the crumbling gorge, which is topped by muddy, leaf-strewn slopes.

Farmer David Young, who owns the site with his wife Carole, said they were “extremely pleased” with the result, adding that they hoped it would provide the solution which local people need.

A report to Stirling Council last week recommended refusal of the plan for a car-park, two-storey visitor centre and elaborate access infrastructure around the dramatic sandstone gorge, home to The Devil’s Pulpit rock.

Mr Young had said the development was needed to protect the gorge, make it safe, and stop irresponsible car-parking, and warned that, without the infrastructure to protect the site, it would turn into a “fag-end in the ash-tray of the Scottish environment”.

The report said the proposed buildings were too big, and along with the access infrastructure would “irrevocably impact the unique landscape”, with too many trees being removed.

But yesterday Stirling Council approved the proposal after hearing a presentation from Mr Young.

The site is on the tourist route to Loch Lomond, in open countryside. The plans include parking for 150 cars, and a network of steel bridges and paths to let visitors view the glen’s 70ft drops safely.

A new steel staircase leading into the gorge close to the rock boss of the Devil’s Pulpit is also planned. It is hoped admission charges to the gorge – currently open to all under access laws – will pay for the scheme.

However, special approval will be needed to restrict access. The plan had won the backing of Croftamie community council which covers the area.

Iain Cram of architects Bell Ingram, who drew up the proposal, said: “We are absolutely delighted at this result.”

He added: “The fact that we got the community onside was highly significant in getting this to happen: it is testament to the power of the public.”

Mr Cram said he believed the proposal was the first of its type in Scotland to use private money to solve the problems of an overused iconic site

“It’s been driven not by a desire to build a big visitor centre, it’s been driven by a huge increase in people.

“It’s really unusual in going from a piece of wild countryside to a must-see destination in such a short space of time, and that requires a fairly radical solution.”

Mr Young wants to keep the parking free and charge for access instead, so that there is no incentive to park on local roads.

Always a local beauty spot, visitor numbers to the site rose after it was used for the Liar’s Well in the hit TV Jacobite time-travel romance Outlander in 2014.

Since then a social media upsurge has supercharged its popularity and it draws tourists in droves.

Mr Cram said no decision has yet been taken on whether the owner will develop the site or lease it to a development company.

He and Mr Young will now be talking to potential operators to get a plan and finance in place for the development.

Mr Young said: “There is a lot to do to make this a reality but this is a major hurdle overcome. “We were extremely pleased that we were able to carry the council.”