THEY inspired one of Scotland’s most acclaimed painters and were a way of life for those who lived on them.
Now, after an absence of decades, a laird is hoping to reintroduce houseboats to the shores of one of Scotland’s most popular visitor destinations.
Sir Malcolm Colquhoun, the 9th Baronet of Luss, is at the forefront of contentious plans to install a series of floating homes on Loch Lomond.
He believes the project would “bring back a piece of history” to the Bonnie Banks, saying houseboats were a popular attraction on the loch from the turn of the 20th century.
However, the Loch Lomond Association (LLA) warns that if approved, the proposals will open the door to similar ventures that could prove hugely detrimental to the “irreplaceable scenic landscapes” in Scotland’s first national park.
The plans are the brainchild of Colquhoun’s Luss Estates and hark back to the small but thriving houseboat community berthed on Loch Lomond in the first half of last century.
The tradition of “having a boat on the loch” grew substantially after the First World War and by the 1920s, a boat-based community was well established at Balloch. The local council did a survey of the cabin cruisers and houseboats moored on or beached beside the River Leven at Balloch in July 1925 and estimated that 350 people were living in 126 craft. There were 15 permanently inhabited houseboats.
Among those who lived on the loch was George Leslie Hunter, the Scottish Colourist, who is widely recognised to have produced the finest, most spontaneous work of his life while staying in Balloch. It was there in the summer months of 1931 that he produced Houseboats, Balloch with brightly painted vessels reflected in the loch’s waters.
The new proposals would see three 45ft-long houseboats moored at Aldochlay Bay on the loch’s west side. Designed by a London-based firm called Eco Floating Homes, they would feature a living area, kitchen, shower, and bedroom. For reasons of safety and practicality, the vessels will not have engines.
The Hay Lough Davis Partnership, the architects working for Luss Estates, state that the boats will not be for full-time residents but visitors in search of “very high quality tourist accommodation”. Indeed, they point out that the option of holidaying on a houseboat offers a “greater relationship to the loch” compared with traditional retreats such as cottages and caravans.
But Peter Jack, chair of the Loch Lomond Association, set up to represent the interests of water users, believes that the scheme could set a precedent for a proliferation of houseboats elsewhere.
He said: “Aldochlay Bay is a very picturesque area just south of Luss, and we have objected to the application for the houseboats as an association. What happens if this gets approved? The most worrying thing is that Luss Estates would look to put houseboats all over the loch in areas that are even more scenic than this one.
“If this application is properly scrutinised and is approved on a bona fide basis with certain guarantees that it is not proliferated elsewhere around Loch Lomond, I personally would have no objection to it.”
While the application has yet to come before the planning committee of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, those behind the plans said they have had “encouraging” discussions with planning officials at the authority.
Colquhoun, a major landowner responsible for 45,000 acres around Loch Lomond, recalls seeing houseboats near Luss while riding on the school bus in the 1950s, and believes their revival would be a boon for the economy.
“The houseboats I saw as a boy always looked pretty out on the bay, but in reality, they were probably pretty shabby,” he said. “I think these plans would offer tourists a very different experience, and one I hope would be highly popular.
“Loch Lomond is a bit deficient in what I would call ‘things to do’ as a holiday destination. It’s one of the most famous places in the world, but once you get there, certainly there’s a question sometimes of ‘what do I do next?’”
Asked about the LLA criticism and whether the Aldochlay scheme would be a one-off, he added: “There’s no plans at the moment, but I rather hope it does set a precedent.”