Falls of Shin Visitor Attraction


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust

Architect or lead designer:

Catriona Hill of CH Architecture

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust

Project Description

Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust (KoSDT) is a charity that focuses on strengthening and uniting the rural communities of Ardgay and Creich in Sutherland through a range of projects.

The Trust area covers 680 square miles, with a population of 1,700. The area has been identified as fragile and disadvantaged due to lack of well-paid employment opportunities, an ageing population, limited transport networks, and poor housing stock. KoSDT strive to increase the economic and social health of the community to ensure that the area has increased resilience in the future.
In 2013 the main tourist attraction in the area – the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre, nicknamed “Harrods of the North”, was destroyed by fire. The previous owner decided not to rebuild. This left a huge hole in the local economy and as a leading employer many jobs were lost overnight. After several months of stakeholder meetings, KoSDT applied for funding to purchase the land and rebuild the popular attraction which was the main draw to the area. The Trust then worked with the community, stakeholders, funders and design team (CH Architecture) to develop the project.

Falls of Shin Visitor Attraction, in its new form, was officially opened in May 2017 to acclaim from both the community and further afield. It is a free attraction that offers visitors the opportunity to see wild salmon leaping the falls from the new accessible viewing platform, visit the new restaurant/gift shop, walk in the adjacent woodland trails created by Forestry Commission Scotland or enjoy a picnic. There is a play area for children and crazy golf. Each year over 100,000 visitors visit the facility, and KoSDT has hosted various community events from business breakfasts to family fun days and Easter Egg hunts for local children.

KoSDT lease the Falls of Shin Visitor Attraction to an independent operator (Mac & Wild – https://www.macandwild.com/) who provide 15 jobs during the tourist season, through the daily running of the restaurant, ensuring that the attraction is a key contributor to the economic success of the area. Mac & Wild regularly host seasonal workshops in the space – ranging from foraging walks, haggis making classes, whisky tastings, folk concerts, and ‘Meet the Maker’ masterclasses allowing visitors to meet the producers. Mac & Wild also run the gift shop offering many products sourced from the local area.
In the quieter months the building is a manageable size so it only requires three core staff to run. The facility only closes down for a few weeks to carry out maintenance and prepare for the new season.

KoSDT continues to work with the operator to develop career paths in hospitality so that local youngsters can see the industry as a viable career choice.

Social sustainability was the most important aspect throughout the design, construction and occupation of the new Falls of Shin Attraction. The community’s needs were the driving force, with economic and environmental factors being important but mostly focused on fulfilling the desire of the community to retain jobs and attract tourism.

Supporting Statement

KoSDT aimed to use as many local companies as possible; with CH Architecture being from the Kyle of Sutherland, the main contractor from Inverness, and many of the suppliers and tradesmen from the local area. This produced jobs for locals whilst feeding into the local economy.

Both KoSDT and CH Architecture knew that it was crucial to involve the communities in the process from the early phases of the design. From March 2014, five community consultation days were held in the surrounding villages with 228 people participating in these events. A 3D model was taken to the consultations to allow people to engage with the design and visualise what the finished building would look like.

The new project’s scale was appropriate for its locality because the footprint of the previous centre (that had burnt down) was too large at 780m2 - this was expensive to run and resulted in a higher energy requirement than necessary. The building required high staffing levels due to the size. It was also hard to shut down during the Winter months when footfall was lower. So, CH Architecture designed a smaller, more sustainable building with a footprint of 200m2 but with a new, unique design concept taking its inspiration from the salmon that can be seen leaping at the falls – creating a new identity as an iconic community landmark.

The project aimed to be environmentally economic choosing an air source heat pump system; meaning that no fuel deliveries are needed, and maintenance of the heating system is minimal - reducing costs and increasing the building’s sustainability. The solar gain from the south facing windows, insulation and external design ensure that heat loss is minimised during the colder months. This has a positive impact on the environmental and economic performance of the attraction and reduces its carbon footprint.
Timber was chosen as the main material for the building structure, to create a connection between the outdoors and indoors, because the building is located within a pine forest. It was also chosen for its environmental sustainability because it is thermally efficient. A supply of Douglas fir was gifted from the Forestry Commission to create the striking external walkway which has been designed in the shape of a salmon’s tale. The walkway has wooden interpretation panels which explain the life cycle of the salmon, providing an educational resource for visitors, and explaining its economic significance. For those who can’t walk to the viewing platform, there is a waterfall camera inside the restaurant.

Due to its location the Kyle of Sutherland area has missed out on the benefits of being part of the popular North Coast 500 route, but Falls of Shin provides a reason for tourists to detour from the route - bringing people into the area who wouldn’t otherwise visit - who go on to use other local services.

Falls of Shin provides a social, cultural and educational space for visitors to engage with nature and wildlife, have fun, and improve their health and well-being.