Highland visitor centre doubles expectations in opening month

Barrie Aird and Freda Newton enjoy coffee in An Talla
Barrie Aird and Freda Newton enjoy coffee in An Talla

An Talla, the new café and retail destination on the banks of the Caledonian Canal, has blown all expectations out of the water by welcoming over 10,000 visitors during its opening month. 

Customers have feasted on over 6,000 lunches, more than 3,000 cakes, 4,250 cups of coffee and 1,600 teas – more than doubling expectations. 

Previously a village hall in Dochgarroch, the building was leased by businesswoman owner of Loch Ness by Jacobite Freda Newton in 2017. Following a two year, £2.5million build and refurbishment project to more than double the size of the building, it opened its doors as An Talla – Gaelic for the Gathering Place – at the beginning of July. 

Freda Newton said: “Refurbishing and stocking An Talla was a real labour of love. Over the past few years we have poured over designs and travelled the length of the country selecting the best products to sell. So, it is absolutely wonderful to see others love what we’ve done.

“With Loch Ness by Jacobite we’ve managed a tourism business for 17 years. Now with An Talla, we have a product that is as popular with locals as it is with visitors, which is a real boost for the overall business.”

The popularity of the food is a welcome boost for An Talla’s local suppliers, including Muir of Ord’s Bad Girl Bakery, Tain’s Highland Fine Cheeses, Inverness’ Duncan Fraser Butcher, Aviemore’s Loch Ness Brewery and Ardersier’s Connage Cheese, among many others.

And the retail side of the business has been as successful as the cafe. Alongside its wider retail offering of gifts, cards, soft furnishing and artisan toys, An Talla has sold 250 pieces from its Loch Ness Collection. The new lifestyle brand was created exclusively for the shop and features bespoke tartan including cashmere scarves made by Johnstons of Elgin.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, said, “Congratulations to Freda and the whole team at An Talla on a very successful first month in business. The café is an exciting addition to the local area and it is fantastic to see the emphasis on local food and drink. Stunning scenery, rich history, a vibrant culture, a strong culinary offering and a warm welcome are just some of the reasons that visitors from all across the world are drawn to the Highlands. Surveys show time and time again that visitor satisfaction is very high. Tourism is at the heart of the Highland economy, generating sustainable economic success, jobs and inclusive growth opportunities.”

The restoration of Dochgarroch village hall, which now houses An Talla, was made possible by a seven-figure funding package from Bank of Scotland.

Barrie Aird, relationship manager at Bank of Scotland, said: “Tourism contributes more than £11billion a year to the Scottish economy and brings a huge amount to communities like Dochgarroch. The vibrancy and strength of the sector is fuelled by healthy competition. For us, helping operators like Jacobite diversify their offering to stay ahead of the game is extremely rewarding and one way we’re helping Scotland prosper.   

“We’ve worked with the team at Jacobite for more than a decade, supporting their growth and wish them the very best for this next, exciting, stage of that journey. Relationships like that with Jacobite are managed by our team spread across the Highlands and the rest of Scotland who work with businesses day-in, day-out, to map out and achieve their goals. For 2019, we’ve committed to lend up to £1.6billion to Scottish businesses to help others achieve their own ambitions.”

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