A hub of activity – two years of the Wild Space

Published: 23rd December 2015

This article first appeared in a local Perthshire publication in March 2015

Jane Grimley from Kenmore – a mountaineer and member of the Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team – runs the John Muir Trust’s Wild Space Visitor Centre in Pitlochry. Here she explains how the visitor centre has grown from its opening less than two years ago into a major tourist hub in Highland Perthshire.

April 2013 was an eventful month for the John Muir Trust. We commemorated the 150th anniversary of John Muir, the Scots-born founding father of the modern conservation movement after whom the charity is named. And we launched what was, for us, an exciting new venture.

Back then, we could never be sure whether our new visitor centre would soar like an eagle or sink like a stone. But two years on, we can say, hand on heart, that Wild Space has been a resounding success. Since that glorious spring day when acclaimed landscape photographer Colin Prior cut the ribbon, over 60,000 people – more than 100 a day – have streamed through the entrance.

They have come from every part of Scotland, from every region of the UK and from every continent of the globe. And almost everyone who comes in leaves Wild Space with just a little bit more understanding of the great scenic landscapes of Scotland, from Highland Perthshire to the Hebrides, from the Cairngorms to Cape Wrath.

John Muir himself sailed to a new life across the Atlantic at the age of ten, and became a national hero in his adopted homeland for his vivid nature writing and impressive political campaigning, which led to the creation of a chain of spectacular national parks and protected wilderness areas across the United States. American visitors to Pitlochry are invariably intrigued to discover a visitor centre in the town dedicated to the man whose picture sits in the California Hall of Fame alongside Walt Disney, Barbara Streisand and Steve Jobs.

Wild Space however, is dedicated to the great scenic landscapes and charismatic wildlife of Muir’s native land. The interior is elegantly crafted out of native wood and other natural materials, and adorned with dramatic landscape and wildlife images shot by some of Scotland’s most accomplished photographers.

The story of Scotland’s wildest places is also told through film and audio. Visitors can evoke the sounds and sights of the Skye coastline, the Knoydart peninsula, Sandwood Bay in the far North West, and the summit of Ben Nevis, by putting on a set of headphones and listening to four wonderfully narrated audio journeys. These were recorded on four of the seven properties owned and managed by the Trust (the others are Schiehallion in the heart of Perthshire, Quinag in Assynt and Glenlude in the Scottish Borders).

The highlight for many visitors is a viewing of the heart-achingly beautiful film, Essential Wildness, displayed on a special split-screen mini-cinema.

As well as being a magnet for tourists, Wild Space has also become an important cultural hub for local people. We sell a unique selection of books about nature, ecology and land, from classic writers such as Neil Gunn, Seton Gordon, Nan Shepherd and Tom Weir through to contemporary authors such as Jim Crumley, Kathleen Jamie, Robert MacFarlane and Linda Cracknell.

Part of the visitor centre – the Alan Reece gallery, which commemorates one of the original funders of project – is devoted to a regularly changing exhibition of paintings or photographs celebrating landscape and wildlife from both established and lesser known artists.

Wild Space also hosts regular talks and book signings by some of Scotland’s greatest nature writers. And on Friday 20 March 2015, it will be the venue for a civic reception put on by Perth and Kinross Council to celebrate two recent success of the John Muir Trust: delivering its 100,000th John Muir Award conservation certificate in Scotland, and winning the UK-wide Outdoor Campaigner of the Year accolade presented by the TGO magazine.

Wild Space is not just for the visitors, it is also for local people. So please drop in anytime to browse our books and merchandise, check out our latest art exhibition or chat with our staff about the John Muir Trust. There’s always something new to see, and everyone is welcome!

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