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Gaelic: Ceann Loch Lìobhann
Argyllshire, Inverness-shire
Grid reference: NN186618
Location: 56°42’48"N, 4°57’55"W
Post town: Kinlochleven
Postcode: PH50 4
Local Government
Council: Highland

Kinlochleven is a Highland village in on the borders of Argyllshire with Inverness-shire in the midst of the land’s finest mountains, and many an expedition upon them begins in Lochleven.

The village sits at the eastern end of Loch Leven, where the River Leven, which forms the county border, enters the loch. North of the river and thus in Inverness-shire, is the village of Kinlochmore now something of an adjunct to Kinlochleven though in truth bigger than it. Further north rise the great Mamores, a ridge of mountains several over 3,000 feet, while to the south are the mountains flanking Glencoe.

Today’s village is an amalgamation of two previously separate small communities – Kinlochmore to the north of the River Leven in Inverness-shire and Kinlochbeg to the south of the Leven in Argyllshire, which were joined following the construction of an aluminium smelter and associated housing for its employees. The processing plant was powered by a hydroelectric scheme situated in the mountains above,[1] and made Kinlochleven the first village in the world to have every house connected to electricity, coining the phrase "The Electric Village".[2]

The smelter

Work on the dam and water supply system began in 1905 and was completed in 1907. The hydro-electric scheme was constructed for the British Aluminium Company and was designed by engineer brothers Patrick and Charles Meik. The chief assistant resident engineer on the project was a young William Halcrow.[3] The scheme involved the construction of a gravity dam over 3,000 feet long (the longest in the Highlands) and 90 feet high, creating the Blackwater Reservoir. It was built at an elevation of over 1,000 ft in rugged and almost inaccessible terrain, and involved the construction of some four miles of concrete aqueduct and nearly eight miles of steel pipe. It has been described as the last major creation of the traditional 'navvy' whose activities in the construction of canals and railways left an indelible mark on the British countryside.

The construction of the Blackwater Dam and the associated aluminium smelter featured in the novel Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill who worked on the project as a navvie. Some incidents in the book were based on actual characters and events on the Blackwater site; for example, one morning a worker drove his pick into a rock, inadvertently hitting a buried explosive charge which drove his pick into his neck and killed him. This incident was recorded as happening to an Inverness man in April 1908.[4]

The British Aluminium Company was merged in 1982 with the Canadian company Alcan to form British Alcan. In November 2007, British Alcan was absorbed into the Rio Tinto empire as Rio Tinto Alcan.

In its early days the aluminium reduction plant employed some 700 people. Although producing some of the highest grade aluminium, its small size in comparison to modern American smelters led to its closure in 1996.[5] The associated hydro-electric plant was converted into a general purpose power station connected to the National Grid.


Kinlochleven is the penultimate stop on the West Highland Way[6] and an important tourism destination in the Highlands.

The village lies at the head of the fjord-like Loch Leven[7] and is surrounded on three sides by steep mountains. There are 10 Munro mountains (mountains over 3,000 ft) in the Mamores above Kinlochleven of which Binnein Mòr is the highest.[8][9] Indeed, the area around and above Kinlochleven contains more wild mountain land than all of the mountain national parks in England and Wales combined.[10] There is a significant network of mountain biking and hiking trails,[11] and the Ice Factor National Ice Climbing Centre, one of the top five visitor attractions in the highlands.[12]

The West Highland Way attracts over 85,000 walkers each year and plays a vital role in the Kinlochleven economy. An economic impact assessment of Mountaineering confirms the value to the highlands to be £163.7m each year,[13] and because of this there has been continued support to expand the existing long distance hiking and biking trails. This has seen new developments, such as the Great Glen Way and the Stevenson Trail which follows the route of Alan Breck Stewart and Jamie Balfour as they flee pursuing redcoats in his novel Kidnapped.[14]

There are various accommodation options including hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, bunkhouses and campsites in the village,[15] which also has a store,[16] banking and post office facilities.[17] A visitor centre, "The Aluminium Story", tells the story of the creation of the village to serve the aluminium smelting facility.

There is a hostel, microlodge facility and campsite close to the river. It has eight microlodges comprising a mixture of two and four berth accommodation. There are toilets, showers and dishwashing facilities. The refurbished hostel building, located on Lab Road, was previously used as the research and testing facility for British Aluminium.

Ice Factor: The National Ice Climbing Centre

A major mountain activity centre, the Ice Factor, opened to the public in 2003.[18] It was formally opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness Prince Philip on 5 June 2005.[19] It includes the biggest indoor ice climbing wall in the world,[20] the UK's highest indoor articulated rock climbing wall and a competition bouldering wall voted the best in the UK.[21][22]

Ice Factor caters daily for climbers and adventure seekers of all ages and abilities, from beginner to expert.[23] In 2010 a new Giant Outdoor Aerial Adventure Course was added.[24] Throughout the year Ice Factor also offers bespoke guided days on the local mountains of Glen Coe and Ben Nevis; each winter it runs specialist winter skills and mountaineering courses.[25] The centre is also an important staging post on the West Highland Way, providing facilities for walkers, including a bar, sauna and steam room. It also has a mountaineers' cafe and a shop stocking gifts and mountaineering and camping equipment.

Ice Factor plays a major role in the local economy injecting over £4m per annum into the fragile local area.[26][27] Due to its contribution to the local economy it has secured several awards, including Visit Scotland Thistle Awards for Tourism Excellence[28] and Green Apple Award as Best Environmental Business Europe.[29]


A smaller part of the former coke bunker - for carbon production - for the aluminium reduction works, was transformed in 2002 into Atlas Brewery which, together with Orkney Brewery, was taken over in 2006 to form Sinclair Brewery Ltd. Atlas was closed in July 2010 and its production transferred to Orkney. The micro-brewery was re-opened in 2011 by Harry Heskey (former head brewer for Atlas) and now provides River Leven Ales

Recent regeneration

The Kinlochleven Community Trust, a partnership consisting of the local community, Rio Tinto / Alcan, Lochaber Enterprise, the local council and Scottish Natural Heritage, supported by other taxpayers’ money agencies led the economic revival of the village. To date environmental improvements, new business pavilions, extensive path works and decontamination works have contributed to growth in the village and surrounding area.

The biggest recent development was a new school, Kinlochleven High School, which opened in August 2008.[30] The school has 152 students and a staff of 19.1 FTE. Headmaster John McGilp[31] has helped the school win several sporting and academic awards.[32] A local library is shared with the school. It has books, local information and computer internet access.[33]

Outside links


  1. Kinlochleven history
  2. Visit Fort William – Rio Tnto Alcan Works
  4. Hutton, Guthrie (2012). Old Kinlochleven. Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 9781840336030. 
  6. The West Highland Way The last town before Fort William and finish
  17. post office