When Marina Dennis decided to build a new Highland home within the 40 acres of Strathspey crofting land that has been in her family for nearly 200 years, she was in little doubt about its look and location. Inchdryne Lodge would be built in a secluded birch wood and would be “unusual and innovative” in terms of design – and above all it would be a timber frame house. “When my ancestors came here in 1809 the first house they built was wooden. So I always wanted to build a timber house as I felt that it was a very appropriate type of building to have on the edge of the ancient Abernethy forest,” explains crofter Marina.
Following a design and build process that involved a 40-page grant application and a couple of planning hitches – as well as a few gale forces blowing the build schedule off course – a wooden house did emerge – and a hugely impressive one at that. Essentially, Inchdryne Lodge is a timber frame and timber-clad two storey house with a single storey bedroom wing located to the rear of the building. The main body of the house features an impressive double-height living room with an adjoining open plan, single-height dining and kitchen area. Directly above is the master en suite bedroom which leads to an additional living area on the mezzanine level. The two remaining bedrooms (one en suite) and main bathroom are located in an L-shaped wing that is accessed from the main circulation corridor which runs parallel to the living space.
Inchdryne Lodge was partly financed by a grant from the Agricultural Business Diversification Scheme (ABDS) which is designed to support crofters and farmers, and their immediate families. This involved the challenging afore-mentioned 40-page application as well as a business and diversification plan. “They had to make sure that we were up for the challenge,” explains Marina.
“The condition of the grant was such that we had 18 months to build the house.” But the project didn’t quite hit the ground running when it was initiated in 2003, as the newly created Cairngorms National Park Authority called in the plans – as is their statutory right – and this delayed the build for six months. Further scrutiny by the local council planners meant that the construction team only had 12 months to complete the Lodge. “Thankfully, though, the main contractors, AW Laing, were wonderful,” says Marina. This is the third home that I have built with their help. They didn’t do the usual thing of disappearing to other jobs. They were on site the whole time and were very conscientious and honest.”
The distinctive form of Inchdryne Lodge originated from a scribbled design by Marina’s son Roddy, a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force. The final design was entrusted to Marina’s friend Bernard Planterose of Ullapool-based North Woods Construction in collaboration with Chris Morgan of Edinburgh-based Locate Architects – a specialist in sustainable development and ecological design. Although Inchdryne was built via timber frame construction, there was no element of prefabrication involved. It was built plank by plank, using Highland-sourced Douglas fir for the main frame. The same timber was also used for the cladding and interior frame work.
“We wanted an unusual but contemporary house made of wood with lots of light and space, and taking advantage of the stunning views,” says Marina. As a result the design includes extensive glazing, again locally sourced with timber frame windows from Treecraft in Dornoch, and glazed screens from Moray Glass. These feature prominently on the south-facing elevation. “We positioned the house facing due south. It’s important in the Highlands to try and harness as much sunlight as possible, because we have long winters,” says Marina. A black steel Plastisol roof completes the picture in terms of exterior finishes and this provides a fine visual counterpoint to the natural green hue of the external cladding.
The total build cost for this impressive venture was around £250,000, including the substantial decking and two car ports. In order to meet the strict budgetary parameters, Marina explains: “We had to ditch some ideas for cost reasons. When I was initially thinking about the design I was keen on solar panels but the cost was just so prohibitive.” But Marina did manage to save some costs by having a ready-made gravel supply for the extensive groundworks. “I was very lucky in that I had a huge hillock in one of my other fields which produced the most fantastic gravel. We took thousands of tonnes and did the roads and foundations. The builders said that I should stop farming and sell gravel as I’d make a fortune!
“One of the most important things was for the house to be in harmony with the landscape and I think we have achieved this. I can honestly say that there is nothing I would change about the house. It has so many lovely touches. “The south-facing dining area which extends into the garden is perfect for summer evenings. This area also faces the Granny Pine, a Caledonian pine tree that’s over 300 years old – it’s an ancient monument. It’s backlit and on wintry nights the light shines through – the whole effect is magical.”
Well and Truly Off-Mains
Inchdrine Lodge’s beautifully secluded setting did create complications – and unanticipated costs – in that it is off-mains: “There are no public services whatsoever, so we have a septic tank and a private water supply also serves my own house. We had to bring it 310 metres across the field, and dig a trench to put in the water, as well as the electricity and telephone,” explains Marina. “When I applied for an electricity supply I was informed that the transformer in the area didn’t have sufficient capacity so I had to pay for a new high-voltage line. This was hugely expensive – £9,600 for the electricity supply. But the transformer now has an overcapacity of 50% so if it gets used by new houses being built in the area then I will get some of this money back.”
Inchdryne Lodge is available for holiday lettings: call 01479 831384 or visit www.inchdryne.com.