With its pristine row of white cottages, 18th century pub with celebrity chef owner and a view over sparkling waters towards North Uist, the tiny Skye community of Stein is Hebridean picture postcard pretty.

Not surprisingly, the stunning sea views tempt tourists to travel the 22 miles from Portree to its north west corner of Skye, where they can feel the Atlantic wind on their faces, gaze at the isolated islands of Isay, Mingay and Clett and refuel at the Paul Rankin’s Stein Inn.

The tiny settlement boasts just a handful of properties. Yet if an ambitious plan by Scotland’s master of engineering, architecture and design had come to fruition 230 years ago this year, Stein could easily have been Lochbay, the grandest town in the Hebrides and a rival for the likes of Ullapool and Tobermory.

While it may be hard to imagine today, Thomas Telford’s vision would have transformed the scene around the small bay into a thriving township of impressive Palladian-style properties inspired by the sweeping crescents of Bath and featuring rather grand entrances, quaint squares and three storey tall terraces.

Perhaps curiously for an 18th century designer used to seeing his innovative designs for canals, roads, towns and bridges embraced and rushed into reality, Telford’s idea to turn the bay into the Hebrides’ most impressive township was not met with the great acclaim from his paymasters, the British Fisheries Society, or the humble crofters whose lives he had hoped to help transform.

Within a couple of years, his innovative ideas to introduce fashionable church and market squares, public fountains, crescents and bold architectural features to a tiny corner of the Isle of Skye, would unravel completely.

And while Telford’s other town design for the BFS, Pulteneytown, in Wick, became recognised as a prime example of Georgian town planning and one of Britain’s key fishing ports of its time, Lochbay withered and died.

Details of Telford’s ambitious vision for the small corner of north west Skye are among a thousand maps and plans recently released online by National Records of Scotland, to be viewed for free on its ScotlandsPeople website.

Dating from the mid-16th century to the mid-20th century, they cover the whole of Scotland and include records and drawings by notable Scottish surveyors and engineers including Telford, and 18th century mapmakers Peter May and John Home.

To mark the Year of Coasts and Waters in Scotland, many feature areas of water, including lochs, rivers and harbours.

They include the series of plans from the British Fisheries Society, established in 1786 with the intention of driving forward economic productivity across the Highlands by establishing networks of villages and towns, some derived from existing communities, others drawn from scratch.

Backed by major Highland landowners, the Society hoped to create an inshore fishing industry located at specially constructed towns dotted across the Highlands and Islands and was part of a wider vision to transform the rural economy, bring new jobs for displaced crofters and alter the area’s social structure from clans to a more modern way of life.

While other ‘planned villages’ backed by others sprung up from Crieff to Grantown-on-Spey, the BFS focused on constructing harbours and developing its idea for four model fishing villages at carefully chosen locations: Loch Broom, Mull, Wick and Skye.

To help, it appointed one of Scotland’s leading lights, Telford, as BFS surveyor.

Work was underway at Ullapool and Tobermory – plans which Telford also oversaw - when the BFS made its move to purchase 1000 acres of land at Lochbay, Skye.

However, according to Jessica Evershed, archivist of National Records of Scotland, Telford’s decision to deviate from the simple grid style plans at Ullapool and Tobermory which were typical of their era, in favour of a much more adventurous and modern image for Lochbay, may have been a step too far for modest islanders to take.

“It looks a bit like he was trying to build Edinburgh’s New Town on Skye,” she says.

“While it looks beautiful and is really well thought out, his design looks more like something you’d find in Edinburgh or in Paris for bankers to live in.

“The British Fisheries Society was trying to improve life for fishermen and their families and make their lives better. Perhaps this particular design for Lochbay was too much for a group of fishermen and their wives, or it may have cost a bit more then anticipated.

“Either way, it was not fulfilled.”

Telford’s design for Lochbay, with its crescents and squares is thought to have been influenced by his interest in contemporary architecture and the sweeping grand rows of homes in Bath which had been completed 15 years earlier.

Radically different from the simple layout for Ullapool and Tobermory, he designed a cubic neo-classical church come schoolhouse which would stand on the brow of a hill, creating a focal point and axis with the main thoroughfare.

Public water fountains and civic areas were intended to provide residents with places to socialise, while a series of interlocking crescents and squares were intended to work with the land, channelling away the stiff Atlantic wind from streets and houses and making the market square and church square warmer.

His idea of a crescent as an enclosed street joined by a central marketplace was ground-breaking: until his proposal, no other crescent of its kind had been designed in Britain.

And while crescents and squares were not new in urban planning of upmarket city areas at the time, their use in a small industrial settlement was regarded as radical.

But while Telford’s design had the potential to create a masterpiece township which, had it gone ahead could have become one of the island’s great tourist attractions, it soon stuttered to a halt.

Contractual problems, poor management and rising costs of the BFS Ullapool scheme, also overseen by Telford, meant the BFS was reluctant to invest too heavily in Lochbay.

A lack of interest among island crofters to switch to fishing did not help, while delays did not assist the BFS plan to encourage settlers to whom they planned to feu plots to on the basis that they built their homes in line with Telford’s plan.

As Lochbay dwindled, focus turned to Wick, and the creation of Pulteneytown, named after the society’s director, Sir William Pulteney. Again Telford deviated from the typical industrial grid plan with a large crescent at the centre of his plans – to help withstand the north wind – while his designs for separate residential and industrial zones, and civic squares for residents to socialise away from work would go on to be heralded as the most innovative of 18th century Highland town planning.

By 1837, the BFS decided their £3,000 investment in Lochbay was not worth taking further and sold the land to Col. Norman Macleod of Macleod. The only remainder of Telford’s scheme is the small harbour and pier, a storehouse which has become a modern house, and smithy which later fell into ruin.

The 18th century Stein Inn, said to be the oldest inn on the island, was taken over by chef Paul Rankin last year.

“Telford’s Pulteneytown and Ullapool town designs were deemed a success,” adds Jessica, who has written about the BFS plans on ScotlandsPeople website.

“This may have been because Telford had employed fashionable architectural features such as squares and crescents which were seen as unnecessarily grandiose and impractical for a small fishing village.

“Lochbay was the BFS’s great failure, and Telford’s plan was not developed.”