When I was asked to write a blog about this community project in Glentrool my first thought was that I wanted to get back to this glorious part of the world as soon as possible. Glentrool lies at the heart of the Galloway Forest Park - in the heart of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere too - in an area blessed with jaw-dropping natural beauty. And that beauty has been boosted by the Glentrool Hive, which this year welcomes a new seven day a week café that will help to really put this charming community on the map.
Glentrool lies around nine miles north of the town of Newton Stewart, amidst a wonderland of rolling hills, emerald forests, and sparkling rivers and lochs. It may look seriously pretty, but it’s also wild, wild enough to kick off a guerrilla campaign in, which is exactly what Robert the Bruce did here on the banks of Loch Trool. The hulking Bruce’s Stone is a legacy of the Battle of Glen Trool, a skilled skirmish that snowballed events that culminated with Bruce’s ultimate victory at Bannockburn in 1314.
Today this is still testing country for a new kind of warrior – brave souls looking to test themselves by hiking all the way across the country from the Atlantic at Portpatrick right across to the North Sea in the east on the 214 mile long Southern Upland Way. I’ve walked the multi-day day swathe from Portpatrick all the way to Sanquhar, passing through the Glentrool area, so know just how spirit-soaring the local scenery is. I’ve mountain biked here on the Glentrool trails that are part of the acclaimed Seven Stanes network.
Billie Jones is the dynamic project manager at the Glentrool Hive. She sees a crucial part of Glentrool’s appeal for visitors as “location, location, location.” Billie has spent her life in a community in a wondrous location, but one that has witnessed depopulation in recent decades, as she explains, “Glentrool was once a thriving village, but when the forestry work dried up, as workers were replaced by machines, families moved out. The final straw came when the school that had previously served as the primary school for the communities of Glentrool and neighbouring Bargrennan, closed down after its roll dropped perilously low.”
In those dark days prospects looked dire for Glentrool, but it was the school that ultimately became the focus of renewed hope and positivity. The Glentrool and Bargrennan Community Trust (GBCT) stepped in. After volunteers had try to run the hard-to-heat building as a community centre, the GBCT were successful in obtaining a community asset transfer. In 2019 they received a large funding package to renovate the building into what it is today: a vibrant, multipurpose centre of the community with sustainable revenue streams. It spans the generations, as the Trust board spans the generations too.
The Glentrool Hive is a multipurpose community and activity centre, a community-run project, that aims to promote the local area in all its diversity, whilst providing a focus for social and economic growth for the community. Following the opening of the Hive in June 2022, the original business plan has been amended to embark upon a community tourism project, creating a cafe and facilities for outdoor pursuits enthusiasts and visitors to the area. Encouraging local creatives, an art gallery and craft shop has opened that is stocked by local crafters and producers. A self-catering two bedroom unit also now tempts walkers passing through on the nearby Southern Upland Way.
Since renovation and opening the Glentrool Hive has employed one full-time member of staff and one part-time employee. When the café opens, the plan is to engage with local volunteers giving skills, opportunities and social contact for local people. The money from the café will be ploughed back into the community too. The same goes for the work of the local artists and producers they are selling – the Hive allows them to showcase their work and provide workshops for people interested in exploring their creativity.
Billie is keen to highlight the multiple benefits of the Hive to the community: “We have already become somewhere for locals whatever their age to come to, helping bring people together. With the income we receive from tourism, we are able to provide many different workshops and activities which increase learning and reduce the social isolation which can be felt in such a rural area. We have managed to conserve a valuable asset to our community by owning and managing the Hive, with this we hope to showcase and promote the local area and the amazing environment we live in.”
Billie is also keen to pay tribute to the efforts of the Trust: “I am endlessly impressed by the dedication and vision shown by the Board members of the GBCT who are determined to rejuvenate and expand the Hive project. Flexible, open minded and versatile, these people have ensured there is a future for this community and local businesses.”
The opening of the café this spring will take things to another level for the hub. “April is big for us”, says Billie. “We are embarking on a project for local people that will also attract tourists. It’s seven days a week and geared towards walkers, cyclists and campers, and we have add-ons too, like bike repair facilities, the things that are really useful to people coming through.”
Tying in with the aims of SCOTO Billie says that Glentrool and the Hive are keen to encourage ‘temporary locals’, who can clearly see how the money they spend is going directly into helping the local community and the very people they meet when the visit. “We want to encourage people to stay longer, at least for one night”, she says. “After all this is one of the most seriously underrated parts of Scotland. We were the first community to be part of the UNESCO Biosphere too. We really buy into the circular economy and sustainable community-centred ideas.”
It's hard not to be impressed by the Glentrool Hive on many levels. It looks visually stunning, but it’s certainly not a case of style over substance. They’re looking at running a festival in conjunction with the House o’ Hill Hotel in Bargrennan in August or September with beer and music at the hotel, with a more family-orientated vibe at the Hive. We are also growing a community garden, with the fruit and vegetables working their way into the new café. Another exciting project is working with the Galloway Hillbillies Bike Club looking at a gravel route and also a triathlon, including a swim in Loch Trool.
It was the sheer natural beauty of Glentrool that struck me when I first stumbled through the area on the Southern Upland Way. It is still a vastly underrated part of Scotland worth coming to for that dramatic natural appeal, an appeal now impressively backed up by the community-focused Glentrool Hive, an asset to grace any community, especially with its new café opening this spring.