A FAMILY-run organic soap and skincare brand has opened a new multi-million pound factory and visitor centre on a historic Lochaber site.

The Highland Soap Company was founded 20 years ago by Emma Parton and is the only firm in the UK to incorporate Bog Myrtle essential oil into its products, a plant which has been used for centuries to treat skin conditions and is also said to repel midges.

With the financial backing of local entrepreneur Archie MacDonald, the firm, which also produces luxury candles, has experienced rapid growth over the past two years.

From a handful of shops and online sales it is now stocked in 17 National Trust sites in Scotland, 300 gift shops in almost every town in Scotland and high-end hotels including the five-star Glencoe House Hotel.

The Herald:

The site for the company's new factory and visitor centre, which opened on Friday, has personal significance for Mr MacDonald. While it was more recently a social club used by employees at the former British Aluminium factory, his ancestor, a distiller known as ‘Long John’ was tenant farmer there, 200 years ago.

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It is modelled on a whisky distillery visitor centre, allowing customers to see how the products are made and the owners also plan to make the most of the dramatic surroundings for events and weddings.

The site is next to old Inverlochy castle, which dates from the 13th century, with Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis in clear sight.

"I wanted to take a very well loved local company with a great product and really expand it," said Mr MacDonald, who is director and co-owner of the firm.

"Sticking to the ethics of the company, which was quality ingredients and sustainable packaging. We collect the bog myrtle ourselves in an old copper pot still that you would use to make whisky.

"A lot of companies have bog myrtle products but it's not possible to buy the essential oils anymore because nobody makes it. We are the only company that uses bog myrtle essential oils in our products and you can see the still in our workshops.

"We opened more shops, so we are now also in St Andrew's and Oban, our biggest account is with the National Trust for Scotland and we now have customers in Toronto, Germany and France and Belgium.

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"We thought if we are going to create a new factory, it would be nice to do tours and before we knew it we had gone from the idea of having a factory to a visitor centre experience, modelled on a distillery. 

"I'm sure we will also have weddings and outdoor events and farmer's markets to support the best of the local produce."

Mr MacDonald said opening during the pandemic had been, "better than we could have possibly hoped."

"We've been supported incredibly strongly by the local community. It's such a prominent building and so well loved in the area. Lots of people went there when they were young or their parents worked at the BA factory. We were very carefully to rebuild a building that they would remember. It's a really lovely spot."

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Like many young people from rural areas Mr MacDonald left the area after finishing school, to study at St Andrews University but has now returned, settling in the village of Spean Bridge. His father, author and entrepreneur, Angus MacDonald, funded Fort William's first cinema in 15 years, which opened in September, as a "gift to the town".

He said: "I came back at 28 after studying at St Andrews and worked for an investment company in London but I'm now completely reformed.

"There are really high quality, independent retailers and some really good restaurants in Fort William.

"The town has got a real buzz about it at the moment and I think that is really going to last."