Douglas Anderson is not the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo but – more constructively if less profitably – he is the man who regenerated the Glasgow start to the celebrated classic motor rally with cars from multiple locations equidistant from Monte Carlo converging on that resonant Mediterranean city.
Clearly not a man to rest on any laurels, Mr Anderson’s latest project is one that has serious ability to fire up a more testosterone-driven economy for Argyll.
He is proposing the building of a visitor facility right at Rest and Be Thankful – a multipurpose venue, pulling together the connection of this always stunning pass carrying a classic feature of historic motor sport in Scotland and the history of the three roads that meet at this natural junction in the hills.
The proposed location of the building is an almost unimaginable marriage of the commanding and the invisible. This article illustrates this from the development drawings and integrated photographs of the architects, Kennedy Twaddle; and our own photographs of the views from inside the proposed building and its physical context in the landscape.
It is conceived as not being in the obvious place – not on the car park at summit of the Rest. Rather it is to be dropped vertically from the head of the car park, nestling, glass-fronted and reflectively, into the hillside below. Its lower outer pavilion will run to the edge of the old military road as it takes off upwards through the last chicanes in the legendary hill-climb with the final challenge above of the awesome Devil’s Elbow hairpin to level off into the car park.
This building will not in any way challenge the natural dominance of Rest and Be Thankful while negotiating sensitively for access to the benefits of its position.
The eye will still automatically go to the cars at the edge of the car park at The Rest, which marks the summit. Snug in the hillside below and glass-fronted, the Centre will be wholly non-invasive, taking upon itself the colour and character of the landscape. But the views from within it will utterly command the spectacular panorama right from the foot of the steep sided valley of Glen Croe as it rises to the pass.
Lit up in action at night it will look like a space ship.
Access will be from the Car Park with four vertical light shafts around an entrance pavilion at that level. The light shafts will carry light right to the very back of the spaces below – which we think may be excavated below the outer extremity of the car park. Two of the light shafts will also serve as stairs and a lift to the two levels below. These floors are envisaged as being joined by a wide and shallow central stair, each elevated above the old road below and each stretching to the sides of the wide structure, facing right down Glen Croe through that glass front. A geologist has said that the rock at the proposed site can safely be removed and cut into.
The Centre is conceived of as having a cafe, retail facilities and, as well as the views, exhibited material relevant to Rest and Be Thankful and its place in the history of transport and motorsport.
Now imagine weddings – in a location like this?
And imagine, out of the summer season, corporate away-days for management team building and brainstorming. A place like this will banish tensions and rivalries, stimulate imaginations and creativity, heighten achievement.
Then imagine summer concerts here [hint to the architects to consider the acoustic values].
The access to The Rest, drawing folk normally from all directions, can only support these additional activities – all of which can contribute to a sustainable business. Douglas Anderson and his team are now seeking funding to scope the feasibilities of their proposition.
This could easily come from the Scottish Government in a similar one-off state aid grant as the £150k given by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop to the private sector profit-making T-in the Park music festival this year, 2015.
A powerful natural junction in the hills
The single tracker B828 arrives right here from the secrets of Carrick and Lochgoilhead, winding downhill to The Rest from its own junction with Hells Glen, coming up through the forest from the Cowal peninsula.
The glorious A83 arterial trunk road just sweeps Argyll to this place – north from Campbeltown, right up the west coast of Kintyre, gathering travellers from the ferry ports disembarking from the Isles of Gigha, Jura and Islay on the way, cutting across and dropping down to Loch Fyne – the longest sea loch in the UK, at Tarbert. Running north on that lochside it fringes the county town of Lochgilphead, then wriggles on up the west shores of the loch through the unforgettable architectural and scenic charms of the planned black and white village of Inveraray with its prettiest of castles. Here it picks up traffic headed south to Glasgow from Oban and Dalmally, delivered by the A819 to the A83 at Inveraray, from where it zips on around the head of Loch Fyne, about ten minutes further north and swings east and uphill for Glen Kinglas.
On the way up Glen Kinglas, lifting to Rest and Be Thankful all the way, a couple of miles short of The Rest the A815 delivers to the A83 travellers in cars, buses and commercial vehicles from the Cowal peninsula; from the Isle of Bute disembarking at Colintraive from the short ferry across the Kyles; and from the heavily populated Inverclyde. From there many have been carried across the water to Dunoon in Cowal by the fifteen minute vehicle and passenger service, Western Ferries and by the passenger service, Argyll Ferries from Gourock.
Then, from the east and south east, the A83 conducts to Rest and Be Thankful travellers from Glasgow, Stirling and Loch Lomond.
Rest and Be Thankful is the fulcrum, the coming together, the resting place – the marvelling place – for folk carried to it by the A83 and its tributaries on the way.
The proposed Centre here will be welcomed by these travelers as, appropriately, a place for rest and recovery before journeying on.
Imagine the pleasure and the fun, with:
- coffee, a meal, conversation, loos and views to amazing surroundings;
- seeing these views up close and personal and at full scale – whatever the weather, from a warm, dry, indoors location designed to be a vantage point;
- dual level front seats for classic cars taking on the famous hill-climb – a regular treat on the itinerary for runs out by many classic car clubs – revving by outside on the very doorstep of the Centre;
- dual level front seats for recovery operations when a landslide has been dumped on the A83 in Glen Croe, in full view of this glass-fronted centre;
- dual level front seats for the traffic convoyed up the old military road when the A83 is closed for landslide or other reasons – and take it from us, the skills of HGV and flatbed drivers are millimetre perfect as they negotiate the chicanes on the way past what will be the front of the Centre on the way to the hairpin.
Eyeballing the history of road access in remote rural Scotland
Right outside the proposed Centre, which will sit just above it and whose outer stepped pavilion will reach down to it, is one of Scotland’s historic roads.
Many people have heard of the genius of General George Wade who, between 1725 and 1737, directed the building of around 240 miles of roads, 30 bridges – which included the Tay Bridge at Aberfeldy – and whose purpose was linking the garrisons at Fort George, Fort Augustus, Ruthven and Fort William. Ruthven in Badenoch in the Cairngorms is the smallest but best preserved of the four – built in 1719 after the 1715 Jacobite rising.
The Jacobite risings are also a link to the old military road up Glen Croe to the top of the 860 ft high pass at Rest and Be Thankful [and onwards].
The building of this road was interrupted by the subsequent, the 1745, Jacobite uprising.
Although General Wade had retired in 1747, work on the road from Dumbarton to Inveraray – going up through Glen Croe – had begun in 1743 under Wade’s already designated successor, Major William Caulfield.
Work stopped during the ’45 after which the section to the head of Glen Croe was completed in 1749. A stone seat placed there at that time bore the inscription, ‘Rest and Be Thankful’.
Those who walked it and had reason to understand that advice, were followed over a century and a half later by generations of motorists whose radiators boiled on the ascent and, if they actually made it to the top, had new reasons to be thankful for the opportunity to rest.
Has this proposal arrived at exactly the right time?
Sometimes, maybe once in a lifetime, there is a serendipity where a first class idea emerges just as it is most needed and where the elements necessary to support it are already coincidentally in train.
The proposal for the Visitor Heritage facility at Rest and Be Thankful seems to be one of those ideas favoured by time.
It is already said to be finding interest at VisitScotland, the National Park [Scotland’s first of two- Loch Lomond and the Trossachs] and Transport Scotland which, in its own way, has recently become almost synonymous with Rest and Be Thankful, in facing the repeated challenges the hillside above hurls down in the form of landslides on the A83. The Forestry Commission, which appears to be the owner of the land in question, is also said to be interested in the potential of the project.
Star endorsement has already come from Sir Jackie Stewart, Scotland’s and the UK’s most successful British driver of all time, having been World Champion in Formula One in 1969, 1971, and 1973. Stewart himself raced the Rest and Be Thankful hill climb for real in its glory days, as did his fellow Scottish giant of Formula One racing, the late and never forgotten Jim Clark.
Argyll’s economy, never flourishing, is on its uppers. The situation is not irrecoverable if the core focus of effort and investment is single-mindedly directed to the best and most adventurous of achievable ends; alongside random talent spotting [why not random – talent is random] – to support one-off well evidenced likely winners.
Argyll and Bute Council has shown a will to do its best in confronting the need for strategic economic development.
Six months ago the Council announced the establishment of the Argyll & Bute Economic Forum – an all-embracing partnership tasked with addressing economic development. They persuaded the Chair of Sky, Nick Ferguson, who has a second home in Kilfinan, to agree to Chair the Forum, an ongoing commitment from a serious and high level business ability that can only be helpful if the right sort of enabled, experienced and task focused organisation is wrapped around him.
While this last element was not handled adroitly, the fact of Ferguson’s involvement could not be more helpful in the coming to fruition of a project like this one proposed for Rest and be Thankful.
At a special meeting on 22nd June of the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, the sole item on the agenda – which the meeting agreed to support – was the restructuring of the Economic Development and Strategic Transportation Service.
The proposal was to add seven additional posts and one upgraded post across the three areas of this service.
- 1 new post and 1 upgraded post under the Transformational Projects and Regeneration Manager with a focus on undertaking project work and regeneration activities throughout Argyll and Bute;
- 2 new posts under the Strategic Transport and Infrastructure Manager, focusing on improving our transport connectivity and delivering the strategic infrastructure plan and digital connectivity;
- 3 new posts focussing on business growth activities in our key business sectors such as tourism, defence industries, food and drink and marine sciences under the Economic Growth Manager;
- 1 new post to focus on promotion and marketing activities, with additional responsibility to facilitate the Argyll and Bute Economic Forum.
This means that there will be seven new posts and one refocused post to all of whose responsibilities the proposed facility for Rest and Be Thankful is centrally germane.
This is nothing if it is not a transformational project and if it is not capable of being an energetic stimulus to regeneration. It is unequivocally both of those things.
Moreover the newly restructured team at Economic Development and the Chair of the Argyll & Bute Economic Forum can only welcome warmly the emergence of a project with the sort of legs they will relish getting up and running.
The Car Park – an unevolved facility which links the old military road directly to the A83 and to the B828 is in serious need of logical restructuring anyway to maximise its capacity and its fluency of use. This will be a natural stop for tour coaches and they too will need to be accommodated. The revision of the car park is a job for the various agencies and authorities concerned to shoulder; and would obviously best be planned in conjunction with the architects and executed after the construction of the Centre.
Speaking of the architects, there are symbiotic factors at play here too. Gary Kennedy and Chris Twaddle set up the Kennedy Twaddle practice in London in 2000. In 2009 Gary Kennedy moved to Dundee to set up a branch there. Chris Twaddle has remained at the London office. The Rest and Be Thankful project is driven by Gary Kennedy – who, originally from Northern Ireland, married in Inveraray, was on holiday in Islay when we spoke to him. Chris Twaddle is from Greenock in Inverclyde, with its 15 minute ferry links to Dunoon in Argyll – only 45 minutes from The Rest – woven into the lives of both of the lead architects in the practice.
The confluence of the right elements indicates that this inspired and achievable project can be the transformational flagship for Argyll and Bute.
Located at the signature gateway to Argyll it could not be more appropriate or more symbolic in what it would say to visitors and residents alike about the Argyll that lies ahead.