As happened last winter, heavy rain caused flooding around Loch Leven in January. Water rose across parts of the trail, so access wasn´t possible without getting your feet wet. At Findatie, wind-driven waves washed away a bit of the path. Similarly, near Mary’s Gate the burn running beside the golf course overflowed and scoured the path. These areas of damage will be repaired in the near future.
Fortunately, this time round contractors weren´t trying to trail build on the waterlogged ground. There has been a winter lull in work and the third and final phase will start in mid March. This will create the ´missing link´ between the Pow Burn and Findatie. TRACKS have awarded the path-building contract to MacLarty Limited, the contractors who built phase 2 of the trail.
The only work currently happening on the ground is the landscaping of Findatie car park, which is nearly complete. Planning permission has been obtained to double the size of the Burleigh Sands car park and there will also be work in the spring to tidy up the Kinross Pier car park.
Although quiet on the ground, the project team have been doing a great deal behind the scenes, especially in developing the interpretation aspects of the project. Designs are being agreed, and artists and crafts people commissioned. The features they are working on will be installed during the spring and summer, so that they are all in place by the time phase 3 is completed in late summer.
One of the key elements of the interpretation plan is to create ´gateways´ to the trail at the three major access points: Kinross Pier, Burleigh Sands and Findatie. These are where the largest number of people will join the path and, at the same time, enter the National Nature Reserve. The aim is to give them the feeling that they are crossing the threshold to somewhere special.
Aaron Lawton, who is managing the interpretation aspects of the project, explained how the gateway design (shown left) was arrived at.
"We felt that ´vertical´ gateways would be inappropriate in a natural setting, so we looked instead at low ´horizontal´ gateways – defined spaces that mark entry points and can hold information and seats.
"Inspiration came from stone sheep fanks (enclosures for holding sheep) with their circular shape. We have chosen a design by David Wilson of Perth that has three stone walls with gaps for people to pass through. David has done work all over Scotland, including features at the roundabouts on the approach to Edinburgh airport.
"We want the gateways not only to be visually attractive, with lovely shapes and quality materials, but also to communicate a sense of the local heritage to those using the trail.
"The large end stones in each wall will be carved with relevant images that reflect the stories associated with that place. We haven´t chosen final designs for these yet, but we´ve been looking at some examples – for instance a trout, a fishing fly or a curling stone for Kinross Pier, a place with strong associations to the loch´s sporting heritage.
"Every gateway will also contain a couple of seats and three large slabs of Caithness flagstone resembling standing stones, each supporting a panel of information. One panel will have a map of the trail to help people get their bearings and decide where they’re going. Another will contain information about the National Nature Reserve and the species that can be seen around each location at various times of year. The third will provide more information on the local heritage, for instance at Findatie about the lowering of the loch and the use of the water in the River Leven Cut for mills and distilleries downstream.
"We will use similar stone slabs for information panels at other places where people can join the trail without going through the gateways, for instance at Mary´s Gate.
"I see the carvings on the stone walls as clues to the local heritage, there to whet visitor´s appetites. If they create the ´itch´ to know more, people can read the information panels or look at the website when they get home."
Materials are on order and work will start on constructing the gateways in a few weeks.
Meantime, designs are being agreed for another special place – a viewpoint overlooking the loch to the east of Kirkgate Park. Finding a suitable design for this location has been a challenge, as it is located between protected sites that form significant parts of the built and natural heritage. Kinross House and the Watchtower are behind the viewpoint and an internationally important goose roost lies in front.
Rather than build a new wall adjoining an ancient one, a softer material has been chosen as a boundary – a beech hedge. As well as being attractive in its own right, this will hide any dogs that are accompanying visitors from the sight of geese. It seems the wild birds are more tolerant of people than they are of our four-legged friends, who can easily scare them into taking flight.