The newest of Scotland’s six ski areas is beginning to grow out of the hard work of a few dedicated individuals and a group of keen volunteers.
No need to go north
The Lowther Hills Ski Club has begun a new chapter. It’s early days yet, but the recently installed 400 metre rope tow for intermediates and the portable 100 metre tow for beginners will be enough to establish the club – the only ski area in the south of Scotland. It’s a short drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow. A quick look at the weather conditions the day before could offer that skiing fix for many in the central belt who don’t want to make the longer trip north.
Local resident Anjo Abelaira has been the catalyst behind the Lowther Hills Ski Club. He grew up in a ski resort not unlike Lowther Hills – at the mercy of Atlantic winds and low altitude – so he’s no stranger to the fickle weather conditions that we see in Scotland. Anjo, along with the rest of the club committee, are the backbone of this Community Interest Company (CIC). “Our CIC status means we plough any profits back into the community,” Anjo told us.
A history of winter sports
The neighbouring villages of Wanlockhead and Leadhills sprang up around around lead mining in the 18th century. At 467 metres, Wanlockhead is the highest village in the UK – a key factor in the location of the ski area.
But it wasn’t the first time the hills around these villages were centres for winter sports. In the 1700s the area was renowned for curling, and has one of the earliest curling societies in Britain. Curling reached its peak here amongst the mine workers, and at its height there were nine curling ponds between the two villages.
Skiing began in the 1920s in the area, and reached its heyday in the 60s. In the 80s there were major plans to develop the area into a ski resort. There was a portable ski tow on the same slope.
Could tourism blossom?
The seeds of a new tourism industry in the area are beginning to germinate, and with it renewed interest in this beautiful area. When the mines finally closed for good in 1959, the community saw a huge loss of workers and young people to the cities – the community shrank. Around 60 per cent of Wanlockhead’s residents are over the age of 50, but already there have been early signs of interest in young people being drawn back by the lure outdoor pursuits.
Leadhills has its own mining museum and runs regular gold panning events, while Southern Upland Way is increasingly popular with walkers who are keen to find a challenging long distance route over peaks instead of glens.
The Lowther Hills Ski Club promises to play a critical part of the area’s regeneration.
Anjo told us, “our watchword is ‘sustainable’. Everything we do here has to have a regeneration aspect to it - it must be manageable. For instance, everyone has to be member so we know exactly how many people are on the hill and it never becomes overcrowded, and we can be sure the lifts will cope. The fees are low to ensure that we encourage membership yet manage expectations.”
There’s scope over time to expand the area, build a clubhouse and potentially introduce a 3km cross-country ski track, as well as the possibility of putting Wanlockhead back on the curling map. “We can also see the potential to introduce more summer activities,” Anjo added.
For anyone considering a community regeneration project - this will be one to watch. Regardless of the sport or business model, this could be the perfect acid test for tourism growth and regeneration in rural Scotland.
Images courtesy of Ross Dolder.
Lowther Hills Ski Club website
Lowther Hills Ski Club on Facebook.
Adventure Travel in Scotland
Leadhills Mining Museum
Southern Upland Way
Read about Wanlockhead and Leadhills on VisitScotland’s website