Carved by glacial meltwater, the deep canyon through which the River Droma flows - with its cascading waterfalls and lush vegetation - is among Britain’s most spectacular gorges.

But while for nearly 150 years visitors to Corrieshalloch Gorge near Ullapool have viewed its glory from a sometimes-wobbly Victorian suspension bridge, it transpires they were only seeing just part of its full glory.

Now its hidden treasures are being gently prised open, with the conclusion of a £3.1 million, three-year long project to create a new visitors’ gateway to the National Nature Reserve and 900m path network.

The paths follow the twists and turns of the river to reveal a series of four previously hard to reach waterfalls, each with their own distinctive features and individual viewing points.

As well as revealing the gorge’s hidden treasures, it’s hoped the Corrieshalloch Gateway to Nature Centre, with its new car park facilities, campervan spaces and public conveniences, will help to protect the National Trust for Scotland owned and managed beauty spot.

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The rise of the NC500 route has seen its visitor numbers soar from around 45,000 in 2015 to more than 100,000 in 2019, leaving it blighted by too many vehicles, litter, people using the area for toilet stops, camping and fires, risking damage to its flora and fauna.

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Alongside the new visitors’ facility, unveiled today will be an on-site rangers' service to guide and monitor tourists’ use of the beauty spot.

Martin Hughes, local Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland, said: “Like the rest of the Highlands, the increase in tourism since 2015 has also brought its challenges. 

“We have had to do much more litter picking, we have had people trying to camp on the NNR, lighting fires.

“We hope this new facility will also help to take the pressure off the village of Ullapool.”

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The gorge was formed during several episodes of glaciation between 2.6 million and 11,500 years ago.

Despite its name, which comes from the Gaelic for “ugly hollow”, the lush vegetation of the tree-lined gorge, just 15 minutes from Ullapool, has seen it compared to a mini rain forest, as the River Droma plunges 150 feet through a series of falls.

The most spectacular is the Falls of Measach, viewed from the suspension bridge, built in 1873 by Sir John Fowler.

He designed the Forth Bridge and was heavily involved in designing the London Underground. The bridge has recently undergone £10,000 of maintenance works, although numbers using it are limited to just six at a time.

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Plans for the new Corrieshalloch Gorge Visitor Centre

Below, the gorge has its own microclimate which can be one to two degrees warmer than ground level, enabling unique species including cranefly to thrive and contributing to its SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

The four new viewing points have been given Gaelic names reflecting features of the waterfalls they overlook. Eas creagach, where the water plunges around 50m, which means rocky falls, and Eas stapach, where the water cascades for around 20m, means stepped falls. The others, An sruhan, which means ‘the streamlet’, and Na leacan, ‘the slabs’.

Mr Hughes added: “Despite Corrieshalloch meaning “ugly hollow” in Gaelic, this couldn’t be further from the truth; it really is one of Scotland’s most spectacular natural treasures.

“Like many English words that don’t translate directly into Gaelic, it also means “the curving of waters” which is much more reflective of what people see when they visit.

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“The gorge is one of a kind and people are always amazed when they arrive here as the surroundings are almost rainforest-like, despite being located in the heathered and expansive surroundings of the Scottish Highlands.”

Part of the work saw abseilers and specialist 'gorge scramblers' help weed out invasive plant species including rhododendron and Japanese knotweed which had been spreading across the gorge, raising concerns for the loss of flora and fauna.

Once invasive species’ sites had been identified, the plants were injected or sprayed with measure doses of herbicide.

The work is said to have eradicted the invasive species, while there has also been new 'rewilding' planting of native trees including sycamore, beech, oak and hazel.

The £3.1 million visitor centre has been partly funded by the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, led by NatureScot, the European Regional Development Fund, the People’s Postcode Lottery’s Love Our Nature project and the National Trust for Scotland.

Designed by Oberlanders Architects, the visitor centre includes sustainable features such as air source heat pumps, electric vehicle charging, rainwater harvesting from the large canopy roof for toilet flushing, and grey water recycling for campervan waste.

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Catriona Hill, Partner at Oberlanders Architects, said the new paths take visitors on a twisting route that offers a fresh perspective to a landscape carved millions of years ago, while the visitor centre is "discreet and minimal".

She added: "Until now, not much of the reserve was accessible - you could park, walk to the bridge and back again. 

"But it is considerably bigger, and now people can experience much more of what is there."

Philip Long OBE, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, added: “Corrieshalloch Gorge is such a significant site, from its unique geology and Victorian infrastructure to the walkways, views and wildlife visitors experience while they are here.

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“The improvement and conservation works that have been carried out demonstrate in practice the National Trust for Scotland’s new strategy in wanting to share the nation’s wonderful nature, beauty, and heritage with everyone.

“By providing easier and more sustainable access to this very special place, we can help more people to experience Corrieshalloch’s extraordinary and breathtaking beauty, while also making a valuable contribution to the local area and people who live and work here.”

Kirsten Makins, Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund Project Manager at NatureScot, said: “The Corrieshalloch Gorge Gateway is a fantastic resource which will improve visitor accessibility to one of Scotland’s most popular National Nature Reserves.”