Balmaha Play Landscape – National Park Pilot Project

Client: Stirling Council
Location: Balmaha, Loch Lomond
Designers: Judi Legg, Play Space Designer, and Mike Hyatt, Landscape Architect.
Main contractors: Landcare Solutions (Scotland) Ltd.
Date: main contract was completed in 2004, though work continues on this site to date ( 2014)
Capital Cost:  £45,000.
Funding: Stirling Council; Stirling Landfill Tax Trust; Leader Plus (European funding); Scottish National Heritage; Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park; Stirling Council Local Community Development Fund.
Maintained by: Stirling Council with community input and oversight.

Balmaha Play Landscape is situated near the shore of Loch Lomond next to a Visitors’ Centre. It, therefore, attracts a mixture of regular local users and visitors to the area.

The main impetus for the design of this new play space was the connection between land and water and the way that people through history have lived in the local environment.

The central area represents a beach as the focus where water and land meet, where boats are hewn from mature trees and launched to fish the plentiful waters.  The stilted structure echoes the ancient crannogs, which were built out into the water as living spaces where families, livestock and belongings could be easily defended. At low water, remains of ancient crannogs can still be seen on Loch Lomond today.

Balmaha sits in one of the most naturally beautiful and bio-diverse areas of Scotland, yet children are often separated from it.  The ‘play area’ is designed therefore to be an integral part of the landscape, giving opportunity for children to experience and care for their natural environment.

There is a deliberate avoidance of standard play equipment in favour of mounds, dips, copses, wetland, and special places to allow the children to operate in a more authentic “natural” environment.  The use of the existing changes in level, of natural materials and undulating surfaces aimed to provide a stimulating landscape, where children can experience the irregularity of life, and develop the real skills and abilities to assess risk.

The play area is unfenced, blending naturally into the surrounding area and welcoming all comers. The design of the area aims to create a play landscape that is a space that adults will enjoy sharing with their children whether they are local residents or visitors.

The contributions of artists and craftspeople were successfully incorporated into the design and construction of the play landscape, in the dugout canoes, the willow maze and the turfed stone wall.

This project was supported in important ways by The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. In particular, its strong community development programme was the direct stimulus to the local community’s initiation of this project and their sustained involvement with its development.