Welcome To Rob Roy Country - A Place For All Seasons

December IAD2016 - BLiSSful Balquhidder’s brilliant bravura!

Reflections on the BLiSStrail - Team Matilda at the Look Out mirrored cabin at Loch Voil.

Reflections on the BLiSStrail – Team Matilda at the Look Out mirrored cabin at Loch Voil.

Read Matilda Tandem's story of adventures on LETi's Scottish Regional Thistle Award Winning #BLiSStrail of art and architectural installations as she reports on the Balquhidder section of the four village trail carrying her Captian and Stoker Crew.

What excitement at Matilda’s Rest! I have been hardly been able to sleep since this “old lady” tandem was invited back to the Loch Earn area to do another blog on their fascinating cultural outside art #BLiSStrail. Yes I will say that again, invited back!

It seems that LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, was so impressed with my photo and video blog from my trip to see the first section of the art trail at the end of October around the St Fillans and Lochearnhead loop that they asked Team Matilda to come back and do another blog on one of the other two legs of the trail – this time around Balquhidder.

The unique BLiSS trail is named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans – deep in the heart of Rob Roy Country within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park – where Perthshire meets rural Stirling. The trail is made up of a series of large ornamental metal and wood sculptures and art installations, mostly by various artists, to commemorate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

The brainchild of LETi, the BLiSS trail is also designed to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy. And since our first visit it has become an “award winning trail” – receiving the honour of a regional Scottish Thistle Award – recognised as the tourism Oscars – for “Working Together for Tourism.”

The “old git” and the “old gal” were delighted to accept on my behalf. So on Saturday afternoon I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed off through St Fillans and down the side of stunning Loch Earn, through Lochearnhead on the A84 to The Golden Larches bed and breakfast – Team Matilda’s base for their mini-weekend adventure.

There my dynamic duo were met by the extremely hospitable owner Alistair Buchan – who showed them the first of the art installations along this section of the BLiSS trail – Sunflowers by Kev Paxton – situated in the car park of The Golden Larches, opposite the old Balquhidder Station.

The first iconic piece of art I got to see was the giant Sunflowers in the car park at The Golden Larches.

The first iconic piece of art I got to see was the giant Sunflowers..

You certainly can’t miss this sculpture as it is 4m high – somewhat larger than the common sunflower! It certainly towered above me, and I am sure the giant sunflowers turn heads and raise a few smiles on the A84. Given that this is a pre festive tour, the next person I was introduced to was “wee Santa” who was on hand to make me feel welcome at my new abode for the evening!

Making my acquaintance with "wee Santa" at the Golden Larches.

Ho! ho! ho! Here I am making my acquaintance with “wee Santa” at The Golden Larches.

Alistair couldn’t have done any more to make my dynamic duo comfortable on what was a somewhat chilly night. They were shown to their lovely, relaxed, warm and welcoming room. He even went the extra mile when the “old gal” suddenly proclaimed that she was in danger of missing her favourite tv show – Strictly Come Dancing – when they went out for dinner.

But Alistair showed his superhero qualities by setting up the large flat screen satellite tv to record the programme – so they could watch it later on catch-up. What a star! And the “old gal” was a happy girl again! I mean if she had missed it, in the words of judge Craig Revel Horwood it would have been “a disaster darling!”

mhor-84-signAfter a bit of relaxation the “old git” and the “old gal” ventured out to sample the dinner menu at the highly recommended MHOR 84 Motel which serves food to satisfy the many cyclists and walkers who pass by.

To fuel up for the ride ahead the next day, my dynamic duo stocked up on a meal which tantalised their taste buds – scallops, burgers and cheesecake, washed down with the obligatory red wine!

The amazing burgers at MHOR 84!

The amazing burgers at MHOR 84!

The “old gal” was stunned into silence by the burgers – and given that doesn’t happen very often, they must have been good! The additional toppings of black pudding and blue cheese left her literally lost for words … other than the odd “yum!”

The decor at Mhor 84 is modern and stylishly shabby with mismatched metal chairs alongside thin, rustic tables that have been rescued from schools and science labs. There’s even three tartan ducks on the wall! Its far from twee, and it works – mhor than living up to its reputation as being “deliciously subversive!”

"Home from home" comforts at the Golden Larches.

“Home from home” comforts at the Golden Larches.

On return to The Golden Larches my crew reveled in what the “old git” described as “home from home” comforts – and give his exacting standards of what makes home comforts that is praise indeed. And after Alistair’s heroics with the tv set box, my dynamic duo were able to be very decadent and (whisper it) watch Strictly in bed! Then it was time for some zzzzs before an early alarm call to hit the BLiSS trail.

So Sunday dawned and my crew were up before dawn to have a very tasty breakfast, home cooked by Alistair, before I was set up for the day’s tandeming ahead.

Before we headed off I was very honoured to get to meet Kim Proven, the livewire chair of LETi and owner of luxury self-catering Briar Cottages at nearby Lochearnhead. And she even brought along the Scottish Thistle Award the BLiSS trail won recently as a prop for photos.

Here I am posing along with Kim Proven and the Scottish Thistle tourism award.

Two livewire ladies – me posing with Kim and the BLiSS trail Scottish Thistle tourism award.

Kim uses every opportunity to publicise the area to get people to come and see the natural beauty of the area for themselves. And that’s probably one of the reasons the trail got noticed by the Thistle Award judges in the first place!

Kim scrubbed up well to receive the award from STV's Jennifer Reoch.

The “scrubbed up” version of Kim receiving the ScottishThistle award from STV’s Jennifer Reoch.

As Kim said at the glitzy awards dinner: “LETi has proved that a small group can carry out an effective tourism campaign on a shoestring through local people’s skills, energy and enthusiasm.”

The BLiSS trail is designed to encourage visitors to smile, stop and spend time in the villages – and all the installations are near cafes and restaurants.

Now for those of you who haven’t looked up the dictionary to find out what bravura in my headline for this post means – let me explain. It is used as in “a display of great bravura” which really means a display of great technical skill, brilliance and daring. And this “old lady” thought that it summed up the outdoor cultural BLiSS trail brilliantly!

And naturally Kim agreed! The “old gal” did some filming, so watch this video clip where Kim tells my Matildas Musings blog the background to the bravura BLiSS trail – and watch out for some exciting exclusive advance news of plans to revamp the trail for 2017. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Because it was only three weeks till Christmas, the “old git” – who is a real Crimbo lover – decided that a few festive shots had to be taken – complete with fetching Santa hats! I must say I thought that Kim really suited the “old gal’s” animal print trimmed one!

The "old git" and Kim from LETi along with "wee Santa" and me!

The “old git” and Kim getting into the Christmas spirit along with “wee Santa” and me!

Kim from LETi, the "old git" and Alistair - mine host at The Golden Larches.

Here I am with Kim from LETi, the “old git” and Alistair – mine host at The Golden Larches.

The “old gal” was being kept busy in her role as my blog photographer and – despite the freezing temperature – there was time for a quick shot with the “old git”Kim and Alistair before we left The Golden Arches, full of praise for our stay.

Now Kim, who is a self-confessed tandem virgin, and who has actually had very little experience of riding a bike at all – gamely accepted the “old git’s” challenge to take a shot as temporary substitute stoker – while the “old gal” gave up her back seat role (and crash helmet!) to film the attempt.

So can you guess what happens next ….. Did Kim manage to put her faith in the “old git” as Captain and hand over control – or did it end in disaster?!

Click on the video to find out! (And don’t forget that if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

So it was a success! Congratulations to Kim! This “old lady” says she was a natural – although the “old git” is telling anyone who will listen (and there are not many!) that he is a good teacher and was very gentle with Kim being a newbie and that he didn’t change my gears and avoided any tight corners! But he is asking why she didn’t take her hand off my handlebars to wave to the camera!

As for Kim, she was delighted with her first ride on a tandem and – believe it or not – wants to have a second go on me! Maybe she and her husband will become tandemers!

Team Matilda bid fond farewell to Kim armed with a detailed map of where to find each art installation and feature along the way. You can check out the details of our scenic route on the BLiSStrail around Balquhidder on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full data and statistics!


The Cockerels - a Sustrans Millennium Mile Marker.

The Cockerel.

Firstly we headed back about a mile on Sustrans Scotland Route 7 to see The Cockerel – a Sustrans Millennium Mile Marker. Four artists were commissioned by Sustrans to create distinctive mile markers for each part of the UK. Scottish sculptor Ian McColl created Scotland’s design – known as The Cockerel.

We tandemed back on ourselves on the well surfaced and safe off-road cycle path and found what must be one of the most scenic spots for a National Cycle Route identification sign in Scotland. As the “old git” somewhat confusingly said: “It’s so quiet you can almost hear the silence!”

The scenic Sustrans Scotland route marker on National Cycle Route 7.

The scenic Sustrans Scotland route marker on National Cycle Route 7.

We cycled on to the Balquhidder turn off from the A84 where there are two features almost side-by-side. The first is a recently restored cast iron Victorian signpost – with one arm pointing to Rob Roy’s Grave 2 miles away and the other to destinations including Oban.

They don't make them like they used to! The "old gal" and me at the Victorian sign.

They don’t make them like they used to! The “old gal” and me at the Victorian sign.

Opposite the signpost is the iconic red phone box – which still works! It has been used, and photographed, by many a cyclist, walker and visitor to the area.

Who you gonna call? The "old git" holding on the line at the iconic red phone box!

Who you gonna call? The “old git” holding on the line at the iconic red phone box!

On we tandemed towards Balquhidder, but you can’t visit here without stopping at Rob Roy’s Grave for a photo opportunity! As you enter the village from the east, a spur leads to the village kirkyard. Here you find Balquhidder’s Parish Church, the ruins of the Old Church it replaced, and the grave of Rob Roy MacGregor. Alongside him lie his wife and two of their sons.

The "old git" and me at Rob Roy's Grave in Balquhidder for the obligatory photo.

The “old git” and me at Rob Roy’s Grave in Balquhidder for the obligatory photo.

A few hundred yards of pedalling saw Team Matilda stop by the village hall to take a look at the Grooming Stag made of willow by sculptor June McEwan from nearby Crieff. It is an eye-catching symbol of the hall – a real social hub being the venue for social gatherings and community activities

The "old gal" with the Grooming Stag - a feature at Balquhidder village hall.

The “old gal” with the Grooming Stag – a feature at Balquhidder village hall.

The “old gal” then noticed an additional interesting feature beside the village hall – another of the iconic red phone boxes … but this one has been turned into a book exchange for the local community. What a wonderful idea!

The "old gal" taking time out to flick thru the pages of a book at the book exchange - hope we don't need to put out an SOS!

The “old gal” flicking thru the pages of a book at the exchange – hope we don’t need to put out an SOS!

Our map then took us about half a mile off our main route, along the road to Strathyre, to find one of the most unusual artworks on the trail – the Half Way Totem Pole.

The Half Way Totem Pole serves a local traffic rule.

The Half Way Totem Pole serves as a market for a local traffic rule.

Now it would need to be said that my dynamic crew were looking for a high totem pole and almost missed this feature. But they are glad they didn’t! The mini totem pole has been created by Balquhidder local Edward Chadfield. The unconventional traffic sign serves a purpose on the single track road it sits beside. When meeting a vehicle coming towards you, the local rule is that whoever is furthest from the half way point does the reversing! Fortunately I didn’t have to reverse and my crew had plenty of time to get a good photo.

Selfie time for my dynamic duo looking towards the vista of Loch Voil.

Selfie time for my dynamic duo looking towards the vista of Loch Voil.

The “old git” and the “old gal” took a few moments here to take in the magnificent vista – as they were almost mesmerised by the beauty of the views. As the “old git” said: “This is real brain food!”

The remote beauty of Loch Voil through my handlebars.

The remote beauty of Loch Voil through my handlebars.

We retraced our steps back to the main route – with four miles to go till our lunch break at the end of the loch. This ride was one of the best Team Matilda have had the pleasure of experiencing – gently undulating single track roads with the most wonderful views across Loch Voil. And with hardly a whisper of wind, the loch’s surface was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills. Just magnificent!

The "old gal" and me on the edge of the flat calm and reflective Loch Voil.

The “old gal” and me on the edge of the flat calm and reflective Loch Voil.

We pedalled on looking for more of the art installations. The Look Out, situated just at the end of Loch Voil before the neighbouring Loch Doine, was Team Matilda’s favourite on the BLiSS trail.

The Look Out was my dynamic duo's favourite piece of art on the cultural BLiSStrail.

The Look Out was my dynamic duo’s favourite on the cultural BLiSStrail.

It is essentially a mirrored cube which blends into the surrounding backdrop. In fact it is so well situated that my dynamic crew really had to look to find it in the middle of a field!

The "old gal" in reflective mood at the atmospheric Look Out installation.

The “old gal” in reflective mood at the atmospheric Look Out installation.

The Look Out was created by Daniel Tyler and Angus Richie as part of their final year thesis project while studying for their Masters of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde.

It provides “a place of contemplation framing views of Loch Doine and Loch Voil whilst disappearing into the backdrop of the surrounding glen.” It also provided my crew with the opportunity for a few fun photographs, and I even got in on the act with the mirrors making me even longer than I actually am!

The "old git" on one of the seats which amplifies distant waterfalls and bird calls.

The “old git” on one of the seats which amplifies distant waterfalls and bird calls.

To infinity and beyond! Clones of the "old gal" and the "old git" in the mirrors!

To infinity and beyond! Clones of the “old gal” and the “old git” in the mirrors!

Here I am longer than ever thanks to the effects of the mirrors at the Look Out!

Here I am longer than ever thanks to the effects of the mirrors at the Look Out!

Team Matilda forced themselves away from the sanctuary of the Look Out and found the next two cultural features within the grounds of the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel.

The Cave is right at the entrance – made of Oriented Strand Board – a material often used in the construction industry but rarely shown off. A group of MHOR micro project students created a hand sculpted installation which just demands to be explored and photographed inside and out.


The Sheiling is also based within the grounds of the hotel and part of the same project as The Cave. It is based on the concept of a traditional Scottish shepherd hut. Slatted wood enables a unique view of the landscape and the ever changing light creates interesting ladder shadows.

The Sheiling is based on a traditional Scottish shepherd hut.

The Sheiling is based on a traditional Scottish shepherd hut.

Perfect for an "old lady" like me - parked at the boutique Monachyle Mhor.

Perfect for an “old lady” like me – parked at the boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel.

After exploring these installations it was time for some much needed sustenance at Monachyle Mhor. As my dynamic crew walked in, one of the staff who had clearly been watching the unusual occurrence of a blogging tandem investigating their art installations, pointed to my fetching red la buclee wine carrier and said: “I like that – very classy!”

Oh I was so pleased, as I do like compliments you know! The “old gal” and the “old git” were welcomed in like old friends and immediately made to feel comfortable despite being kitted out in cycling gear!

They took a seat in the small and cosy snug bar – with its trendy new bar amazingly fitting in to the old fashioned surroundings including an old metal fireplace with a healthy fire glowing away!

Perfect tandemers lunch! Soup, sarnies and prosecco! What could be better?

Perfect tandemers lunch! Soup, sarnies and prosecco! What could be better?

My dynamic duo then enjoyed some most welcome hot soup and sandwiches – along with a reviving glass of prosecco! I mean it would have been rude of them not to!

The “old git” had a bit of a job persuading the “old gal” to done their jackets and go back out into the cold – me thinks she could have easily stayed there all afternoon! In fact she was dragged away saying: “Mhor, mhor mhor!”!

As the temperature started to drop my dynamic crew decided to pick up the pace in a bid to keep warm and tandemed back towards Balquhidder in double quick time. I was most impressed as they still have that fitness built up for our summer trip – and easily nailed some hilly terrain.

But Team Matilda still found time to admire the raw scenic beauty of a very calm Loch Voil as we tandemed along. Despite tandeming at a fair speed the “old gal” managed to film a short video as we pedalled along. Watch out for the bumps! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

We tandemed through Balquhidder and back up to the junction with the A84 where the “old gal” decided my crew needed to thaw out and have the traditional cyclists treat of coffee and cake at Mhor 84. And that allowed me to be introduced to the Mhor Coo, the last of our features on the BLiSS trail. It seems the popular local coo moooves around (get it?!) at the motel. But I easily found it beside the Christmas tree at the front door!

As the last feature of our BLiSStrail trip I got to meet the Mhor Coo!

As the last feature of our BLiSStrail trip I got to meet the Mhor Coo!

Over a warming coffee, the “old git” and the “old gal” reflected on what a marvellous idea the BLiSS trail is and how it offers the perfect opportunity for some culture and cycling!

No wonder it won the regional Scottish Thistle Award! And of course Team Matilda wishes the LETi team the best of luck in the national finals in March next year.

Before then I am delighted to say that I have already been invited back to complete the third and final leg of the BLiSStrail – this time around Strathyre. The plan is to do that in January or February. I for one can’t wait and I know my dynamic crew are looking forward to it too!

As dusk fell, and the temperature fell well below zero, the “old git” suggested one final photo – a festive shot with my Christmas lights lit up and my crew donning Santa hats! Then it was a rapid last mile back to the warmth of Matilda Transport and back to Matilda’s Rest.

All in all it certainly had been a BLiSSful and brilliant bravura in Balquhidder!

Ho! ho! ho! The "old git" and "old gal" decided to don Santa hats for the last photo of the trip.

The “old git” and “old gal” decided to don Santa hats for the last photo of the trip.

Thanks to all at LETi for their help, bed and breakfast and sustenance offered to allow Team Matilda to complete their tour of the Balquhidder leg of the BLiSS trail.

Read Matilda's Musings about the Loch Earn section of BLiSS trail installations and other stories

Other IAD2016 stories

November IAD2016 - Kay Naitby's Portrait of St Fillans

Buildings in St Fillans

In her spare time Kay Naitby enjoys painting and drawing, as well as photography.  It is Kay’s artwork and artistic skills that made me want to find out more about the person behind the paintings. Growing up in Middlesbrough, Kay had always enjoyed drawing and after leaving school she attended Cleveland College where she studied art and design.  However, after eighteen months, she became fed up of being a hard-up student and decided to leave college to pursue a career that would provide her with an income.  Her love of art always prevailed, though, and she always found time to paint and draw, even whilst raising two sons.

Fast forward several years and it is only recently that we have seen her skills in the public domain; Kay is responsible for creating and painting the decorative signage to the windows and artwork additions inside the St Fillans Village Store.  Here, you will also find her detailed, lifelike drawings of birds framed on the walls and her pictures of scenes of the area which she took with her camera.  The one piece that Kay is most proud of is her latest project, a painting of St Fillans from west to east.  This depicts the houses and buildings along the main road from The Four Seasons Hotel to Glenalbyn Cottage on the corner of Station Road.

Kay’s abilities are not limited to wildlife and buildings, though, and she often draws and paints portraits of people, infact she is often asked to undertake commissions of people’s loved ones (both human and four-legged).  I wanted to know what is the most unusual thing that she’s been asked to draw or paint.  In Kay’s own words: ““I don’t think I’ve been asked to paint anything out of the ordinary really. Lots of people ask for portraits of people who have passed away. This is an unusual task as sometimes the pictures are old and tiny and they would like the picture to be very large. By the end of the process you have invested hours and hours in work before you are happy.  It’s a real honour to have a commission like this as you know every freckle, scar, dimple, blotch; you really do feel like you know the person once you hand the piece over. The reaction of the person who has asked for the portrait is usually in tears - then you know you have captured them”. 

As one who has not been gifted with the artistic gene myself, I asked Kay how much does she think is down to natural talent and how much is through practising and learning?  Kay’s answer; “Being artistic is both nature and nurture - I’d say fifty/fifty.  You can be ok at drawing but practice does produce objects which are more pleasing to the eye.  Anyone can draw, everyone should draw - for me I find it extremely relaxing”.  (So there’s hope for me yet).  I wondered what style of art does Kay prefer (classical, modern, etc.).  Kay thinks “Art is such an individual choice.  Personally I like pieces which move me, whether old or new, classical or modern.  I like art that shows a real understanding of form, colour, medium etc. Oh I hate cubism!”  I guess there are no Picasso’s hanging on Kay’s walls in that case.  So what is Kay’s favourite piece of artwork (by another artist)?  Well, it’s a sculpture by Degas called Little Dancer, which Kay saw in a gallery in London which she says is lifesize and “stunning”. 

Kay undertakes commissions (under the name Perthshire Portraits) and her portfolio includes portraits of people (from babies to the not so young), pets, ponies, wildlife and still life drawing.  If you are interested in Kay’s artwork or photography, please contact her through her Facebook page, Perthshire Portraits, or through email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  A limited number of prints of her painting St Fillans West to East are also available to buy.

Story by Isobel Howells, St Fillans

(Aside from her hobby of drawing and painting, Kay Naitby works alongside her husband, Dave, in their boat manufacturing/selling business, Arran Boats. )

Other IAD2016 stories


September IAD2016 - Edinample Castle Restoration

Restored Edinample Castle today,  2016

 Edinample Castle 2016

Edinample castle dates from the late 16th century. Built as a Z plan Tower House by ‘Black” Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy. It was extended in the 18th and early 20th centuries and by the early 1970’s had fallen into a state of disrepair.
In the early spring of 1996 we were alerted to the existence of Edinample Castle by Ian Begg, a well known architect from Edinburgh.  Then, just a few weeks later we received notice that it could be for sale. With just a poor photograph of the shot looking down from South Loch Earn Road, we sprang into action and were very shortly afterwards driving along that very road for a first viewing.On reaching that one spot where Edinample is suddenly in full view, we stopped, looked and decided in an instant that it was for us.
At that time Edinample was under the ownership of the third in line of the restoration project,  having already gone through many stages of transformation from being derelict in the early 1970’s. Even after all those years, the place was far from habitable.However the most important work of demolishing the rather ugly 4 storey Victorian extension and rear porch, thus getting Edinample back to its original Z plan structure, had been carried out by the late Peter Nicholson. Peter was a well known tower house restorer and specialist at the time and also the first to work on the Edinample project.
Through the three different ownerships Edinample began to emerge from the sorry state it was in. By 1996, when we took over the restoration, it was basically a shell,  without working bathrooms, wc, kitchen, heating, or a serviceable electrical system, etc. Plus it required an enormous amount of detail work to return it to its original form.
It was going to be a colossal job, but we felt sure we would be able to bring Edinample back to life.The last thing we wanted to do was impose our own ideas on the building. Somehow it had to speak for itself and let its personality emerge.
We needed expert advice and were most fortunate when Ian Begg introduced us to Raymond Muszynski, an excellent architect who had been working with Ian on a number of other tower house restorations. He was able to put together the perfect team of specialists that were well equipped to carry out all that was required in a sympathetic manner.
The whole project took 2 years of full time work to complete. 
In a quest to find suitable materials we travelled far and wide. Even to find flagstones for the Great Hall seemed like an impossible task. Every type we looked out was in one way or another the wrong colour or texture.  Eventually, the perfect ones turned up, having been originally paving stones in the south of France, which were then acquired by gypsies and sold to a London dealer.  They have history, which is good and are completely perfect.
The ground floor posed a greater problem as there was a small quantity of original stones, but the floor itself was a mish mash of random stones and concrete.  As the castle was dictating the way forward, we had no choice but to take that floor up. We managed to use the original flagstones for one small room and then our stone mason, Jack Gilmour, had the brain wave of taking schist boulders to the stone cutters and have them sliced into special Edinample flagstones.
The Castle stands on a bedrock of schist, is built mainly of schist rubble and now has a wonderful schist ground floor.
Our Guru of a joiner,  George Mitchell, had access to a good supply of well seasoned Scottish oak and from this, all the splendid traditional doors with wide planking were made. We have used Scottish oak extensively throughout the building.
Although Peter Nicholson sold the castle on before he had completed his work, he was in constant communication with us and made us some wonderful oak furniture in the Arts and Crafts style, which suits the building very well.
Raymond was most particular in ensuring that everything was done and finished how it would have been in the days of its original glory.  
Of course we have used modern equipment, sanitary ware, kitchen ware etc,  heating, lighting and numerous other fittings, but everything has been done in sympathy with the building.
In the late 16th century it was fashionable to figuratively paint the Great Hall ceilings.  As the ceilings and floors had all rotted by the 1970’s, when the restoration started, we have no knowledge whether the Great Hall ceiling was actually painted.
However, it was agreed that we had a ceiling or two asking to be decorated in such a way.  A suitable artist, Kenneth Johnson, well know by Raymond, was commissioned and the exact designs defined.  For one year our artist lay on his back on a scaffold tower,  painting in the style of the 1580’s. I have always thought of him as "KenAngelo".
He slept on the job in a wee caravan and bathed in the burn. Even through the depths of winter. It was truly an amazing feat, both from the survival aspect and the painting.
It wasn’t all plain sailing and we had a few ups and downs and a disaster or two.  The worst being an undiscovered leak. One morning a damp patch appeared in the bottom S W corner of the main block.  It was thought to be from outside but on further examination it was clear that it was coming from the first floor, taking a circuitous route over and down the vaulted ceiling of the ground floor. All the new plasterwork had to be stripped off to expose the 1 metre thick walls, which were by that time well and truly sodden. The culprit, a leaky water pipe under the recently laid French flagstone floor, was found in the Great Hall. It took a good year for the walls to completely dry out, after which time we had to start all over again. However, work continued in other areas.
Another excellent specialist in the team was the blacksmith, Stan Pike from Cumbria, who created all the wonderful ironwork inside the castle and also the entrance gates.  His work ranged from traditional hinges and door furniture for the solid oak doors, wall sconces in thistle and boar design, chandeliers, forged panels for the head of the spiral stairs, dragon fire dogs for the great hall fire place and various other smaller items.
It was soon time to turn our attention to the exterior.  The harling wasn’t in bad shape, but was in need of quite a lot of repair work in the most vulnerable areas.  Even a tiny whole or crack is all the rain needs to wriggle it’s way into walls and eventually come out on the inside of the wall.
All the repairs were carried out and it was then time to start choosing the correct shade of pale to paint the harling. This proved to be not so easy either. Most shades of suitable breathable harling paint were too stark, too pink or just not right. But after much experimentation the perfect shade was found. It always looks right no matter what the light conditions are. It gives off a lovely soft hue and even in bright sunlight never appears too stark. It is absolutely ‘the  perfect shade of pale’
As for the driveway, we had long thought of rerouting it,  as the 1996 version approached the castle from west side of the north west tower. Thus depriving the residents or visitors of the spectacular view when coming down the drive and arriving in front of the building. Again, it was a very demanding job to create the new drive, but well worth all the effort. It is always a joy to drive down and arrive at the front door.
All the way through we let the building speak for itself and speak it did.  Everyone involved with bringing it back to life seemed to have a very special relationship with it and understood its language.
We will be forever grateful to this amazing team of Scottish craftsmen for their dedication and expertise.
Edinample castle is a very special building, comforting and very welcoming.
Diana Britten 2016

August IAD2016 Cupcake Heaven

Innocation Architecture Design 2016 logo



Made In Cupcake Heaven

Cupcake Heaven founder Loraine Telfer moved to Balquhidder Station in 1978 with her husband Jim, two young children and two dogs.  She ran the village shop for five years while Jim commuted south every day to work as a joiner.  
In 1983 the couple made a decision to close the shop and extend the building to form a restaurant.  Doors to The Golden Larches opened in 1984. For the next 35 years Loraine enjoyed bringing up her family, running her restaurant and making friends in the area and adjoining communities. In 2003 the couple extended the popular restaurant by adding a conservatory. In addition to building a reputation for friendly hospitality, Loraine's home baking talent ensured regular repeat visitors. 
Nine years later,  The Telfer's made a decision to sell the business with the intention of retiring.  They had no desire to leave the area, so they worked out a plan to retain four acres of their land. They sought planning permission to build a house at Balquhidder Station, sold the roadside restaurant to the current owners Alistair and Alida Buchan in 2012 and lived on-site at Balquhidder Braes Holiday Park across the road, during the early stages of building their dream house. Jim's joinery skills proved handy and Loraine's creative talent influenced the kitchen layout and the interior styling.
Architecture and house building occupied their time for the next year or so. When the project was nearing completion, Loraine realised that she had an abundance of time and energy and that she was not ready to slow down. Cake making had long been a passion and interest for Loraine so she decided to utilise her skill and spacious well equipped kitchen to produce home made cakes for sale.
Loraine started Cupcake Heaven offering home made and bespoke cake designs and biscuits.  Her delightful and delicious cakes are proving popular from her regular Stirling Farmers Market stall where, e.g., carrot cake, T Breads, millionaire's short bread, tray bakes, Belgian biscuits and decorative multi coloured cupcakes often sell out. Regular farmers market displays, local holiday cottage guest requests, an annual stand at the BLS Highland Games in Lochearnhead and a quality reputation has ensured Loraine a steady stream of orders from T breads, occasion and celebration cakes to party cupcakes since the business's inception. "I am really enjoying life" says Loraine, who is clearly living the dream...living in Cupcake Heaven.
Cupcake Heaven enquiries:
  • Loraine Telfer,
  • email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • mob - 07717 063340
Other IAD2016 stories


July IAD2016 - Life's Design

Gill Waugh

  • Artist and Designer, living and working in Balquhidder
  • Studied Illustration, Graphic Design and Photography at Edinburgh College of Art
  • gillwaugh.com

I’m such a lucky person as I’ve always known what I wanted to do, right from the word go – ever since I picked up my first colouring pencil. I never considered any other employment. I never had an interview with the Careers Officer at school. So there was only ever one path for me. To draw, to design, to paint, to create – and to make a living from it. It’s a treasured thing, to know what you want from an early age and go for it. And now here I am, still doing it, in one of the most lovely places in the world. But it took a long time to get here.

In 1980 I was halfway through a Masters Degree in Graphic Design in Birmingham and feeling a bit disillusioned, when I was offered a job as a wildlife illustrator in a small studio overlooking Edinburgh’s Water of Leith. It seemed like a dream job with which to start my career, giving me the opportunity to learn about flowers, animals and birds as I incorporated my paintings into the stationery products of the studio. The view from my window was wonderful and included plenty of activity from squirrels, kingfishers, water voles, fish and foxes. I was also learning the techniques of a ‘finished artist’ - drawing up precisely measured artwork on a drawing board, with a straightedge, set square and technical pen - a vital skill in those pre-Mac days.

After a while though, I started to feel the need of something more challenging. A lot more.

So I become a freelance designer - taking advantage of the government’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme which encouraged people to start new businesses with the princely sum of £40 per week. I was joined by a friend and colleague who had decided to do the same thing, so we collaborated under the same name, each having our own customers whilst helping each other out. It was great to be able to share the responsibility of a new venture with another like-minded person: we were both illustrators, but we wanted to turn our hands to much more. We were lucky enough to find the perfect premises in the Royal Mile – a room in an old primary school building owned by Edinburgh Council, made into work units for small businesses. Our neighbours were carpenters, bookbinders, kilt makers and upholsterers – a wonderfully creative community.

For the next seventeen years, sustained by loud music and chocolate biscuits, we supplied graphic design and illustration for hundreds of diverse clients from the financial sector, tourism, publishing, retail, tv, theatre, music, and the whisky industry. It was very busy and at times exhausting - but constantly challenging, and fun. The switch to using computers was a steep learning curve, but it didn’t take long to realise the benefits - and to appreciate the huge changes it made in our working patterns. It was a very exciting time.

Then in 2002 I was offered the chance to join a specialist consultancy, also in Edinburgh, which designed visitor centres around the world. I was sad to break away from my long-time business partner, but I welcomed the excitement of being part of a larger group and learning new disciplines, as well as getting to travel.

Three years later, my life was beginning to take a different tilt, personally and professionally. Inspired and energised by my time the consultancy, and with new confidence and direction, I reverted to being a freelance designer, this time working from home, and being more selective about the work I was doing. The whole industry had changed so much since I started out - there was more freedom in so many ways and you could work from practically anywhere. So my partner Richard and I decided it was time to start living our dreams and we moved to Balquhidder in 2006.

I carried on with my design work within the whisky industry and also book design. My clients by this time were few (by my own choosing) and long standing. More like friends, in fact. Occasionally new contacts would appear to keep me on my toes, some of them local. I took on the job of laying out The Villagers magazine for the four villages. I still do it now.

In the beauty and peace of our new surroundings I felt, to my surprise, that I was being drawn towards the idea of painting. Not the small watercolours I’d been doing most of my life, but big stuff. Big, free, and colourful. And where better than to paint than here?

The end of 2013 saw me tentatively trying some experiments in oils, and then with the encouragement of a friend here in the glen I discovered acrylics. That’s when I really got going.

So here I am now, planning for an exhibition with other local artists and painting as much as I can. ‘Emotional landscapes’ are mostly my thing - dreamlike mists and the lightness and darkness of our amazing weather. My work is developing all the time - and it’s a thrill.

Yes, I’m lucky all right. Illness last year made me realise that life is very short, and if you have something to say, you had better get out there and say it.

NB: Gill recently illustrated Lochearnhead author Ursula Haselden's book, Wacky, The Diary of a Ship's Cat, published June 2016. 

Other IAD2016 stories


June IAD2016 - Flooding Defense, Design and Innovation

As summer eventually arrives in the North Eastern corner of the Loch Lomond Trossachs National Park, we look back at what was a long and challenging winter with substantial rainfall and flooding reminding us of the power and unpredictability of Scottish Weather.

Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 logo

The communities of Lochearnhead, Balquhidder, and Strathyre were all affected by flooding as they sustained prolonged periods of heavy rain backed by driving winds, which caused a number of landslips. These were particularly bad around the village of Strathyre, as blocked drainage ditches along the forest tracks, forced water to overspill, carving substantial ditches of up to 2 metres deep on forest tracks, which sent a massive volume of water and grit cascading to an already flooded village. The forestry commission field and more importantly the Broch Café were flooded. Upstream, evacuations were required at Balvaig Cabins with several properties receiving considerable flood damage – some with almost 3 feet of water ingress.

Fast flows in the river Balvaig, with the added debris carried down as a consequence of the blocked ditches caused a high degree of erosion on the river banks. The river Balvaig has a deliberate meandering route towards Loch Lubnaig but with the power of the flow and eroding debris, the river now has lowered banks and bends are straightening, which is not a good situation from a natural flood defence perspective.

With a high focus on the year of Innovation, Art and Design, some thoughts drifted in on innovative measures to address the significant problem of flooding from the river Balvaig. After some study of the river over 3 years by LETi (Loch Earn Tourism Information) group member Kenny Higgins, formerly head of Business Development at Hydro-Logic, based at Stirling University and supported by budding junior Hydrologist, Ceana Heron, some simple measures have been recommended to restore the river Balvaig’s meandering route. As the overspill from Balquhidder known as “Loch Occasional” drains away, the meandering helps slow down the river as it approaches Strathyre and this helps reduce flood risk and erosion impact.

Included in the design of a solution is the need to attempt to restore eroded banks to their former levels. In partnership with River Forth Fisheries Trust and Stirling Council, there is also the plan to plant some willow and other native trees suited to shoring up the existing river banks to help reduce the impact of flooding in future years. An added benefit of the plan is a gradual improvement in the aquaculture of the river and its importance in sustaining a health route for Northbound Salmon to spawning grounds upstream, as well as an improved habitat for Lamprey, Brown Trout and other native species.

It is of course impossible to completely eradicate flooding risk in an area with high rainfall and steep valleys, so we can only do what is possible to slow the fast flow of the river reaching Loch Lubnaig and onwards to River Lenny. This all impacts on the town of Callander and its well-known flooding issues.

During his time in the world of flooding, Kenny designed a Flood monitoring and early warning system, which is now adopted by many Councils throughout the UK and Ireland. It is hoped that Stirling Council may assist the Community of Strathyre with one of Kenny’s designs placed in the river Balvaig so advanced warning may be offered to the residents with property at risk. The design of the system includes Text Alerting and Web based graphs to warn of rising levels, especially useful if such situations are likely to arise during the night. Such systems are already deployed in Callander, Aberfoyle, Killin, Dunblane, Bridge of Allan and several in Stirling.

The plan is a work in progress and budget permitting, we may see some improvements starting to be put in place during 2016.

Broch Door

 Other IAD2016 stories

May IAD2016 - BLiSS Trail Installations

New arts trail linking National Park locations
will be BLiSS for visitors

Unique attraction commemorating the Year of Innovation Architecture and Design aims to provide tourism boost 

Bill The Bull by Kev PaxtonYear of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 logo Hunting Owl ML

Airliephant ML

A life-sized, multi-coloured metal bull crafted by the artist behind Edinburgh Airport’s iconic towering thistles and a stunning mirrored scenery-viewing cube which ‘disappears’ into its beautiful surroundings are two of 13 striking installations which form a new arts trail set amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
The unique BLiSS trail links the villages of Balquhidder, Lochearnhead,Strathyre and St Fillans, deep in the heart of ‘Rob Roy Country’. The initiative is the brainchild of LETi, the Loch Earn Tourism Information group.
LETi has established the innovative arts trail to encourage more visitors to stop at, spend time in, and enjoy the villages and their spectacular settings by creating a new attraction for people of all ages to enjoy – providing a boost to tourism in the area and the local economy.
The group also wanted to create the trail to commemorate and celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016.  The name BLiSS - suggested by LETi member Kenny Higgins of the Strathyre Outdoors Community Interest Company - is made up of the first letters of the four villages with the letter ‘i’ representing both innovation and the universal tourism information symbol.
The collection includes works by artists Rob Mulholland, Kev Paxton, Heather Gray, June McEwan, Iain Chalmers, Lynne Schroder and Jeremy Cunningham as well as architects Ruairidh Moir, Daniel Tyler and Angus Ritchie. In addition a group of third year art students from Perth College, University of The Highlands and Islands, is developing a conceptual art team project as part of a new degree course. The artworks will be promoted beside Loch Lubnaig, The Broch Café and recreation area, Airlie House B&B, Balquhidder Village Hall, Monachyle Mhor, The Golden Larches, Mansewood Country House, The Lochearnhead Hotel,  Lochside Cottages, Loch Earn,  Briar Cottages, The Four Seasons Hotel and The Achray House Hotel. 
A number of ornamental features including an “Airliephant”, a miniature mill house, a stag, a totem pole road sign, a cockerel mile marker and an old red phone box are also highlighted along the arts trail route along with food and drink stops, collectively mapped at www.robroycountry.com/blisstrail
VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Director Liz Buchanan MBE said:
“LETi is to be congratulated on this fantastic, inventive achievement - creating this new attraction to connectBalquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans is a great way of encouraging more visitors to stop off and spend time in and around the the four villages. The BLiSS arts trail capitalises on all three themes of the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and I am sure it will be a great asset to tourism in the area and will not only attract visitors but will also bring benefits to local businesses.”
Kim Proven, LETi Chair and owner of luxury self-catering Briar Cottages at Lochearnhead  said:    
“We wanted to create something new - an attraction that would capture the imagination of people of all ages and become a talking point. Our BLiSS trail’s diverse, inspirational artworks and installations should, we feel, do just that. Each of the pieces is interesting, thought-provoking and entertaining so we hope the trail will become a real favourite with visitors and make our villages even more attractive as destinations that people will seek out. “We hope that visitors will recommend the BLiSS trail and our friendly communities to others.We want them to share their experience of it through social media by posting pictures on Facebook using the hashtag #BLiSStrail and on Twitter @robroycountry.”
Artist Kev Paxton, who has three pieces on the BLiSS trail (‘Bill The Bull’, ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘Fraser Briar’) said: 
“I was delighted that LETi invited me to become involved in this arts trail linking villages around the A84 and A85. There is a story behind all of my pieces and I aim to make people smile through my work, so, I hope that they encourage people to stop and spend time in this stunning area. I think it’s a fantastic idea and I really hope that the trail brings benefits to the tourism businesses and their communities.”
Read about BLiSS trail artists and installations here: https://issuu.com/lochearntourism/docs/bliss_media_pack_-_artists_and_inst
Read about BliSS trail ornamental installations here: https://issuu.com/lochearntourism/docs/bliss_trail_of_ornamental_features_
Follow the BLiSS trail map of installations and food and drink stops here: www.robroycountry.com/blisstrail

Other IAD2016 Stories

April April http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/137-may-iad2016-bliss-trail-installations.html


April IAD2016 - ArtFe Kev Paxton

ArtFe Metal Artist Kev Paxton 

Bill Bull - photo Dave Murray

Bill The Bull by Kev Paxton 

Combining centuries old Blacksmithing techniques with modern methods, Kev Paxton began creating sculptures in his traditional Smiddy 10 years ago and hasn't looked back since. Although primarily he wanted to challenge his own skills, he was motivated by a desire to make us see the world from a more humble viewpoint. He did this by super sizing some of mother natures most lovely creations with his 'Birdseye View' collection of sculptures. Iconic Scottish Thistles tower 4 metres over our heads, giant sunflowers smile down on us and huge majestic lilies are anchored by Ballachulish slate in steel vases. We can not fail to notice or be impressed by both nature and the sculptures themselves. We are drawn to them and they make us smile and this is the intention.

It's not only by super sizing nature that we are encouraged to pay attention, Kev also plays with scale the other way by creating adorable miniature highland cows. Standing at just 3 feet tall these wee beasties caught the eye of officials at the Royal Highland Show, who went on to commission 175 special versions of the cows (the 'Royal Herd') to celebrate 175 years of the show. The wee coos have become a well loved signature piece for Kev's business 'ArtFe'. They gather in wee herds in the Smiddy and have found homes from city gardens to more rural spaces by lochs and glens. Rosie, the first cow, was presented to the highland show patron, Her Majesty the Queen and will shortly be making her journey to one of the smartest homes in the U.K.

A good deal of the larger sculptures are made speculatively, since once Kev forms an idea, there is no turning back. It's unsurprising that many of these sculptures quickly find permanent homes and commissions for related pieces follow on. Kev also enjoys collaborating and interpreting the ideas of his customers and will always encourage people to get involved. It is the intention of ArtFe to not only produce visually stunning sculptures, but to breathe life into each one. You'll find that behind every piece there is a story to tell. Into each sculpture quite literally goes the heart and soul of ArtFe.

Kev and The Ripple Retreat, Loch Venachar

In a more recent turn of events, Kev was introduced to Lynne McNicoll who is the founder of Edinburgh charity 'It's Good 2 Give'. The charity supports young cancer patients and their families at Sick Kids Hospital. Apart from providing practical everyday help, there was also a big dream to raise a million pounds and build a respite holiday home within a reasonable commute to Sick Kids in Edinburgh. The money was raised by the formidable Lynne, even when she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself last year and endured several rounds of chemotherapy. The fundraising continued and the goal was reached. Land was gifted by David Ferguson on the shores of the beautiful loch Venachar. The building was designed by Tony Kettle, architect of the Falkirk Wheel and work began late last year. The building, named The Ripple Retreat, will be a very special place and was only made possible by the generosity of everyone involved. In order to maintain the building, the charity will continue its amazing work. ArtFe has formed a special connection with Lynne McNicoll and her incredible little charity and has already raised several thousand pounds with various projects, including the fabulous Bill The Bull.

Bill lends himself to the Hindu belief that the cow is sacred. Revered for its gentle and giving nature, the cow is honoured in festivals and adorned with brightly coloured garlands and paint. During the Pittenweem Arts Festival, Bill was painted to raise funds for several charities including 'It's Good 2 Give.' Kev offered up what he believed to be a "good enough Bull" to those who felt they could be a "good enough artist". He simply encouraged children (and adults) to pick up a paintbrush and finish what he had started. The result is a beautiful technicolour cow who turns heads wherever he goes.

Bill has since become something of a local celebrity, but we are determined not to allow this to go to his head!


BLS Community contribution to The Ripple Retreat

An annual football match takes place in Lochearnhead the day after the BLS Highland Games. Married men and women take on the singles, competing for the coveted trophies. More importantly funds are raised via the raffle for hundreds of prizes that are generously donated by villagers and businesses all year round. The funds are raised to support community activities like childrens clubs.  A sum of money is always awarded to a nominated charity outwith the local groups.  This year we will be donating that sum to The Ripple Retreat Loch Venachar, Trossachs via Kev Paxton. Anyone can turn up to watch the match, have a burger and beer and buy some raffle tickets. This year the match will be on Sunday 24th July in the Lochearnhead Highland Games field (2.30pm). Amanda Kerr who owns The Lochearnhead Hotel along with chef husband Robert Kerr, is running a half marathon with her friend Tracey Cartwright, to raise money for Bill the Bull's favourite charity. Anyone can sponsor Amanda and Tracey here https://www.sponsorme.co.uk/amandakerr/ripple-retreat-half-marathon.aspx

LETi's BLiSS trail  for "Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016".

LETi is proud to announce that Bill The Bull will appear outside The Lochearnhead Hotel as part of The BLiSS trail for #IAD2016. He will arrive towards the end of April.  He will have to go to Edinburgh for an official appearance at the Royal Highland Show and will hopefully return for the rest of the summer. Keep watching www.robroycountry.com.  We will be launching a second Kev Paxton masterpiece that will help to raise smiles on the A84 along with 10 other fascinating art and architectural installations around our four villages, Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans. #BLiSStrail

For more information on #IAD2016 "Year of Innovation Architecture and Design" Visit Scotland #ScotSprit

Other IAD2016 Stories

March http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/134-march-iad2016-constructing-sloc-nan-sitheanach.html

February http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/133-february-2016-year-of-innovation-architecture-design.html

January http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/133-february-2016-year-of-innovation-architecture-design.html

March IAD2016 - Constructing Sloc nan Sìtheanach

  Innocation Architecture Design 2016 logoSloc nan Sìtheanach by Ruairidh Moir

Constructing Sloc nan SìtheanachThe first pilot round of the Scottish Scenic Routes initiative was launched at a definitive moment in my education. It arrived literally two days after completing my studies at the University of Strathclyde School of Architecture and would become a main springboard into the world of architectural practice.

Formulated by the Scottish Government in order to punctuate our tourist highways with architectural interventions, the open and inclusive initiative invited proposals from young architects, designers and landscape architects in order to nurture fledgling talents. Having previously visited the location my submission, set down on deadline day, was a series of hand drawings conveying an approach to the location. This was, in essence, to amplify the existing qualities of the site: emphasise the elevated view to Loch Lubnaig and Ben Ledi by providing a place to stop, rest and contemplate the surroundings.

The proposal was to re-grade the existing topography to emphasise an existing hollow in the ground whilst also providing a visual and acoustic screen to the busy road to the rear of the site. Utilising a timber crib retaining wall (a technology borrowed from civil engineering projects) the effect achieved would be reminiscent of a wooden nest set in the ground. The reprofiled landscape and retaining wall was planted with a wide range of native planting to enhance the effect and as a result the "nest" is almost hidden from those unaware of its presence. 'Sloc' is Gaelic for 'grassy hollow' and 'Sìtheanach' means 'faerie folk', who are known to reside in such places of peace and tranquility.

I was delighted to learn that my proposal was selected through the competition process as one of five schemes to be developed further. This required a feedback interview from a panel of experts from a variety of backgrounds. At this stage, I was en-route to Barcelona to take up a position in the studio of Miralles Tagliabue EMBT which complicated the development of the project. My friend and fellow architecture student, Drew Thomson, came on board to build a scale model and to submit the presenation boards which I was developing during evenings and weekends whilst also refining aspects of the design.

It was incredibly satisfying to learn that the competition jury selected my proposal to be built, especially after the intensive effort I had put into the project. The awarding of the commission coincided with my permanent return to Glasgow which allowed me to develop the project to the next required stages. I always worked under the close supervision of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority's own in-house architects who were tasked by Scottish Government to mentor me through the entire delivery process.

While the concept of Sloc nan Sìtheanach was fresh in my mind it was very beneficial to immediately start the development of the project with one eye on the very tight timescales for delivery. I conducted extensive research into the history of the area and through this I discovered an obscure poet from Tombea on Loch Lubnaig called Thomas Campbell. He had tutored Sir Walter Scott and he may have introduced Scott to the Trossachs. Few of his writings seem to have survived, except one poem "Now Winters Wind Sweeps" which conveys the effect of the changing seasons on the land, personified through the ageing of a former land ranger. The passage of time theme of the text, which is engraved into the steel promontory to the front of Sloc nan Sìtheanach, encourages one to contemplate the landscape and one's place within life's cycles through the poem's meaning, the position of the promontory and its slowly decaying surface.

After a contractor was appointed to the project work began on site with the excavation of the foundations. Great care was taken throughout the process to protect the adjacent trees and with the limited manoeuvring space available, there were times that it seemed that the area could not cope with the amounts of spoil emanating from the ground. The crib wall itself was built by specialist contractors in just over a day, and I found it enjoyable to oversee this aspect of construction: the pouring of the foundations; the efficiency of the puzzle-like interlocking timber components and the filling of the voids with hardcore. An unexpected quirk came with the deployment of reclaimed whinstone setts, retired from a lifetime on Edinburgh's Royal Mile giving added depth to the material palette.

The final stages were to re-mould and sculpt the terrain around the hollow and install the native planting that we had selected. Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Dog Rose were used as barrier and screening planting with the added benefit of their symbolic place in mythology in connection to faerie people – further reinforcing the metaphor.

My experience of developing this scheme from inception to completion, immediately after my time at university became a central stage in my professional development. This project ultimately propelled me through my final professional qualifications allowing me to become a registered Architect. It has been a sharp learning curve from managing a competition design submission through to the complexities of tendering, refining and constructing such a project. The main objective of keeping the initial concept intact throughout all of the design and construction permutations is one which I feel was met.

Moreover, I am very proud of how the scheme has taken root in its setting. In its first season wild poppies took an authoritative hold, followed the subsequent season by wild daisies. I like the thought of a different coat of colours depending on the determination of wild flowers and hopefully this is a theme passing travellers will enjoy as the planting matures.

For me, the utilisation of the crib wall is particularly successful and provides a robust backdrop to the design. The strong contrasts in solid and void are further enhanced with the intervening of nature – stems and leaves have begun to intermingle with the structure and are blurring its edges and softening it. This has since reminded me of Mackintosh's motif of the stem intercepting the grid which adorns the entrance to the Hill House in Helensburgh.

Sloc nan Sìtheanach is now a place which invites its users to dwell in this special location, with a sense of slight altitude over Loch Lubnaig with far reaching views up the Loch to the North and over Ben Ledi to the West. Each year the effects of time will enhance the project and further embed its presence, which is something I look forward to observing for years to come.

Following Sloc nan Sìtheanach, I entered the further two rounds of the Scottish Scenic Routes competitions for sites at Corgarff and Glenshee respectively and have been very fortunate to have been shortlisted both times, gaining a high commendation at Corgarff. These schemes, whilst looking radically different, share common threads. The arrangements of elements to choreograph a layering of external spatial experiences whilst at the same time rooting themselves in the cultural context of their locations.

Whilst these two schemes will not be built in these locations, the concept and technology developed for my 'Iodhlann' scheme at Glenshee is being refined for use at another spectacular location for a private client which is a positive development. Further work currently undertaken by BARD include a housing for special cars at a listed house; a feasibility study on a former school-house for a community body; a bespoke house on the Isle of Lewis and a painting cabin for artists to retreat to work on large canvasses.

This activity may not have been possible without the early competition successes I have had and which have been excellent exercises to test ideas. This has led to the creation of a fledgling Architecture practice named BARD which stands for Bailtean, Ailteireachd 's Rum Danach (Townships, Architecture and the Room of Poetics) – an acronym for the manifesto for the practice's activities. From the early days of life after architecture school, Sloc nan Sitheanach is a special part of the journey which has cemented a steadfast anchor for producing architecture.

Ruairidh Moir is an architect who hails from Tolsta on the Isle of Lewis and trained at the University of Strathclyde School of Architecture where he now teaches in the 2nd year design studio. Further study and practical experience was gained in an academic exchange to Barcelona.

He now sits on the RIAS council and contributes to articles and publications through this body and can be found developing new projects through his new venture, BARD. To view more work by BARD please visit www.bard.scot


Next Month:

Look out for the following fun ornamental features on the BLiSS trail launching in #robroycountry April 27th 2016 #BLiSStrail #IAD2016

           Totem Pole 2         Miniature Mill House Strathyre

 Other IAD2016 Stories

February http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/133-february-2016-year-of-innovation-architecture-design.html

January http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/131-stronvar-house.html




February IAD2016 - The Creagan Lions Couchant

Lions in Baronial dingin Hall at Creagan House Strathyre

Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 logo

 The Creagan Lions Couchant 

Just to the north of the village of Strathyre at Creagan House, there are a pair of magnificent lions to welcome guests as they come up the drive from the A84. They were first installed by a former owner, the late John McGregor Blain and his wife Adele, who were resident for a total of nine years. It is thought John bought them at an auction of a country house or castle, but knowing his many skills, it is quite possible he cast them himself.

Upcycling may not have been a word in the 1970's, but John did a wonderful job of creating the grand fireplace in the baronial dining hall, using the stone from an old barn at Creagan, into which he incorporated a pair of seated lions.

In the main car park, to the right of the house, is another much admired feature, a stags head. Charlie as he is known is a useful water feature which provides fresh running hill water for our dog owning guests, as well as the numerous types of wildlife, including red squirrels, that visit us, and is also used to water the garden when required. Not so well known is the fact that it is fed from the overflow of the, now redundant, private water supply, still in use in September 1986 when Gordon and Cherry Gunn purchased the property. Fed by the Creagan Burn and springs on the hillside, it then feeds back into the burn. If Charlie stops spouting Gordon knows he has to go up the hill to sort out the problem.

Click on images to zoom in.

"Taste Our Best", Creative Cookery Served on Hand Made Crockery

All meals served at Creagan, which translates as "rocky ground" or "little rocks", are served on pottery made and designed on the Isle of Skye at Westman's Pottery on the Sleat peninsular, by Elizabeth and Tom Westman. They became special friends to Cherry and Gordon and said they would only accept the commission if they could do the work in their own time. It took a year! The cruets and peppermills look and feel like small rocks. The triangular plates were chosen from the portfolio to complement the style of the baronial dining hall and many pieces were decorated with the lion rampant from the shields of the seated lions on the fireplace. Each unique piece was crafted to suit its purpose, from the four section vegetable dishes to the wonderful toast racks, which inspired a guest from Edinburgh to write "The Iconography of the Toast Rack", which is included in the breakfast menu and ends with the following:- To summarise: the circle, eight sections, the lion and the toast itself can all be seen to represent the start of a new day and therefore breakfast.

Creagan House Strathyre - Merits:

Creagan House, Strathyre, Perthshire, FK18 8ND . Tel: 01877 384 638  www.creaganhouse.co.uk

January Story: http://robroycountry.com/year-of-innovation-architecture-and-design-2016/131-stronvar-house.html



January IAD2016 - Stronvar Stories Balquhidder

January 2016 - Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design

Innocation Architecture Design 2016 logo

Happy New Year. Our first Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 (#IAD2016) local celebration story is brought to us by Hannah Inglis, a young enterprising member of The Loch Earn Tourism Information Group and our communities (Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre, St Fillans).

Hannah set up a pop - up - shop in Balquhidder village with her mum at the age of 16. The shop known as "The Enchanted Cottage", pops open over many weekends. Gifts and natural beauty products are on sale complementing mum Alison's talents as an Indian champissage Scotland course tutor and business lecturer.

At 17 Hannah received a certificate for her contribution as a young reporter in the Stirling Community Newspaper Awards 2015. Her article is about Stronvar Farm and Stronvar House in Balquhidder. After researching the history of the building, Hannah made her article come alive by taking readers back to 1825 and on to 1850. Thank you to Hannah and The Villagers Newspaper for granting LETI permission to publish the article. Thank you to David Johnston of the Villagers News for sharing his photographs with us for more people to enjoy. NB: Stronvar house has been bought since Hannah's article was written. It is currently being restored by its new owners.

Stronvar House

Photo copyright Johnston Johnstone, The BLS Villagers News

Stronvar Stories - Balquhidder

 Hannah's stories as published in The Villagers News community newspaper

Stronvar House Stories by Hannah Inglis

Stronvar House Stories 2 The Villagers Newspaper

Stronvar House and Farm 2

South east corner of Stronvar Farm as it was in 1982 

Stronvar Stables (Farm)

Hello, my dear readers! Let’s go back into the year of 1825 when John Lorn Stewart built the stables for Glen Buckie house (Before Carnegie bought the house). 

I had taken a ride out towards the stables on my horse, I came to a stop once I arrived in the courtyard, it was early morning and there didn’t seem to be anyone around. I tied up my horse next to a water trough. I looked around and saw four horses in a tiny stable all huddled together.

“Filip! Move over!” shouted one horse.

“I can’t, Jeffrey, Scar Face is in my way!” pleaded Filip. 

“Scar Face, move over!” shouted Jeffrey again. 

“I can’t, Crazy Pants is in my way! We need a bigger stable,” complained Filip. 

I then saw that the coachman of the carriage had seen what was happening. I pretended to groom my horse as I watched.

He led the horses outside, one by one, tying them up to the carriage. I watched in shock as Crazy Pants reared in panic.

 “Calm down, old boy!” said the coachman in a soft and gentle voice. Crazy calmed down soon after. 

A man came running through the courtyard and he said to the coachman, “Mr Stewart is running late for his meeting, you must be quick!” He climbed on the back of the coach once all of the horses were tied up.

I saw that the horses kept nudging and shoving each other as they trotted their way out of the courtyard, and then they were galloping down the track towards Glen Buckie house.

“Come on girl!” I quickly mounted my grey horse and galloped out of the courtyard. We quickly caught up with the carriage, and I could still see the four horses nudging each other as they came to a halt outside of the house.

A man hurriedly climbed inside the carriage. I never got to seen Mr Stewarts face. The coachman was speaking to him. 

“Yes, the horses were in a very bad mood when we left. I think it’s the stable, Sir,” he said, whipping the horses and they galloped further away.’

Fact Time: There was evidence of a small stable Steading on the site of the current Stronvar Farm, pre 1825. The stable block was enlarged in or around 1825.

‘Let’s go back into Carnegie’s era (1849).

had heard that Carnegie wanted to build the west wing of the Farm, so I galloped from my home on my chestnut mare Donna and arrived at the house. I saw that Carnegie was already at Bryce the architect’s hut, walking inside. I hurriedly tied Donna to a tree and ran towards the hut, peering in the window.

“Bryce, I have been thinking,” Carnegie was saying. “Since you have made such great progress on the house, I was wondering if you would want to be paid a little more cash?” 

“And how would I earn that?” Bryce asked, in a curious tone.

 Design the west wing of the farm - and I shall pay you a great deal of money!” 

“I guess it’s a deal,” said Bryce, taking Carnegie’s hand and shaking it. I saw the Hannah Inglis is back again - this time with ‘history news’ on Stronvar Farm...edge of Carnegie’s mouth turning into a smirk.

 I trotted towards the Farm on Donna. I sighed. I couldn’t believe Bryce was going to put himself under so much more stress just for money.

 I jumped off Donna’s back as we halted in the courtyard, where I led her inside one of the stables - and muttered to her. 

“Oh dear, Donna, what a mess Bryce has made.”

Fact Time: In 1849 when the Carnegies bought the main house there was extensive work carried out on the farm as well. The west end of the courtyard was entirely rebuilt in the 1850s.

Stronvar House  FarmEast wing as it was in 1988 

 Stronvar House 

Stronvar House

Photo copyright David Johnston, The BLS Villagers News

Stronvar Stories

Hannah Inglis steps back in time to 1850 with the history ‘news’ on Stronvar House.
Fact Time: There has been a house on the site since the 16th - 17th century. The house was renamed Glen Buckie after the Stewarts took over. Carnegie then changed the house’s previous name to Stronvar once he bought the estate in 1849. 
John Lorn Stewart had the house rebuilt in 1825, and the stables (Stronvar Farm) were added in 1828. 
David Carnegie was a Scot who was brought up in Sweden, after his ancestors fled there after they supported the Jacobites at Culloden 1746.
Carnegie made his millions by brewing and refining sugar in Sweden. 
"Today I overheard David Carnegie, the man who had the idea of rebuilding the house, and David Bryce the famous architect, discussing ideas. 
Carnegie was asking Bryce if he could design a new church as well as the house.
"I think I could," said Bryce, his voice matter-of-fact. 
"And how much would you want to be paid for this? Could I maybe get a 'two for one'?" Carnegie asked, a little too seriously. 
I saw them exchanging the architectural drawings.
"Oh yes, these are fantastic!" Carnegie exclaimed. "But maybe you could move the turret to the left wing?" 
Bryce let out a muffled sigh. 
"Of course Mr. Carnegie."
I could hear Bryce shuffling back towards his desk and the sound of slate scratching against the paper. 
"Very well Bryce," said Carnegie, "I shall see you tomorrow."
I heard the sound of Carnegie's footsteps inching towards the door. I cringed! I ran out of the tiny wooden hut, which was Bryce's workplace. I hid behind a giant tree outside as Carnegie sauntered past me towards his carriage. 
The weather was awful; the rain was like claws as it scratched against my bare arms and my blue cotton dress. 
"Scottish weather," I muttered to myself. I watched as Carnegie climbed inside his stupendous carriage, drawn by six horses, all grey in colour. As the carriage pulled away and the horses started moving forward down the steep hill, I saw a small rental sign on the rear of the carriage. 
I whispered the word "cheap" and then I tutted.
The next day, 65 men and 3 women walked from their houses up towards the building site. The men got straight to work in the awful weather; they built up tall walls of stones for the house, and it was extremely hard labour. The women had a stall at the grassy area of the site. They were all huddled together in shelter from the rain, and on the stall surface were a few rolls and loaves of bread. I walked towards the stall and took a roll from the basket and paid for it. One of the women smiled and thanked me.
I set off down towards the small wooden hut as Carnegie's carriage pulled up alongside it. The horses snorted as they halted - they looked so tired and extremely bored as I bit into my roll. 
Then Carnegie climbed out of the carriage. The horses breathed a sigh of relief! Carnegie wore a long black coat and, for a man with millions of pounds, he wore old tattered grey wellies on his feet.
His butlers gathered around him suddenly. One of them was carrying an umbrella and was holding it over Carnegie's dazzling hair. They followed him towards the little wooden hut where Bryce was working (or hiding). 
The butlers stood in front of the hut - they were like puppies that were learning to obey their master. Carnegie pounded on the door. 
"Bryce! Open up!" he shouted.
I watched as Bryce opened the door. He had black circles under his eyes, his skin was very pale and I guessed he had been working all night, judging by the ink marks scattered all over his hands. 
Carnegie strutted inside like he owned the place (well, he did!). His butlers still stood outside - I imagined that their tails were wagging happily.
I had to get a closer look, so I snuck behind the side of the hut and peered through a window. I saw that the room was scattered with books, and there was ink on the pillows of Bryce's tiny bed. There were drawings hung up all over the walls. The poor man, I thought. 
Carnegie and Bryce entered; Bryce let Carnegie sit in his desk chair.
"Good lord man, what has happened!?" 
Carnegie looked amused as he saw the mess of Bryce's hut. 
Bryce never spoke.
Carnegie started speaking again, "Anyway, the workers are from the village, and I am still wondering if they should be paid or not. I am going to see how they do with their brick work." 
Bryce nodded wearily.
"So, Bryce... the drawings. Are they ready?" 
"No, sir," Bryce coughed. "I still need to finish the back part." 
"Bryce. I NEED those drawings right now. The house is already being built."
"Mr. Carnegie, I just need a few days to rest." 
A few days? I thought the man looked like he needed a month! 
"Fine. Have your days off. I guess I will just need to employ another architect. Maybe your nephew, John."
Carnegie huffed like a child. 
"No sir, please!" Bryce pleaded. "Finish them,"
Carnegie grumbled.
"and take a bath, will you? You smell like a skunk."
I looked over at the building site. I watched as my two-horse carriage pulled up. I smiled and ran over towards the horses.
"Dasher, Donna!" I hugged my two beautiful horses, they sniffed my hands. I fed them a carrot each.
Was Carnegie actually blackmailing Bryce? I thought in disbelief as I sat down inside the small carriage. I looked out of the window and saw the men working very hard in the dreadful weather. I watched as the women gossiped as they were still huddled together away from the rain. I really hoped they got their fair share of money.' 
Fact Time: David Bryce was a famous Victorian architect whom David Carnegie employed to design Stronvar House. Bryce also designed the new church. Bryce was born in Edinburgh - his father was a successful builder. He is now buried in Edinburgh New Calton Cemetery beside his nephew John Bryce, also an architect. In 1850, 65 men and 3 women were all strangers and temporarily living in the village. They were employed to build Stronvar House. Stronvar House'  
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