ON THE banks of the Caledonian Canal, cottages once home to lock keepers have been transformed
Whether or not you rate boat spotting as a hobby, a canal-side holiday has lots to offer. Especially when your accommodation looks like this.
A little family of cottages settled a couple of miles from Fort Augustus at Kytra Lock on the Caledonian Canal, these stylish boltholes are the result of an exciting collaboration between Scottish Canals and The Vivat Trust, a UK-wide charitable building preservation trust.
The heritage properties owned by Scottish Canals around the 137 miles of canal network that the organisation manages had previously been leased on a long-term basis. However, a review of this situation pointed to holiday lets as a far better option.
“The spectacular location of these Highland properties made them a natural choice for a tourism venture,” says Katie Hughes of Scottish Canals, explaining that a few potential partners were considered. The Vivat Trust had the necessary experience, and could unlock the third party funding that would be essential for the undoubtedly costly renovations ahead.
Two years ago the first property in the project was completed, and six more cottages have since been unveiled, including these original lock keepers’ cottages at Kytra.
The Caledonian Canal, considered something of an engineering feat, opened in 1822 after an 18-year-long project complicated by funding and workforce issues. Comprising 21 miles of man-made canal, the project also involved the deepening of two lochs (Oich and Dochfour), while swing bridges, as opposed to draw-bridges, were chosen to facilitate masted vessels. Built to serve trade on the Baltic, the latter had declined by the time work on the canal was complete, but the fishing industry felt an immediate benefit.
Two of the cottages at Kytra, Sandray and the adjoining Mingulay (each of which sleeps four guests), sit on the east bank of the canal. The third, Vatersay, which can accommodate five, is on the opposite side of the water. All have private gardens as well as window seats affording inspiring views of the main attraction.
Like all properties taken under the protective wing of the Vivat Trust, the interiors of these cottages are top-notch. The charity is all about offering guests a unique experience; the opportunity to spend time within the walls of a historically important structure while contributing to its ongoing maintenance.
The structural revamp of the cottages got right under the skin of the buildings, dealing with electrics, plumbing and new heating systems. Floors were stripped back and polished, and original fireplaces fitted with wood burning stoves. Smart new kitchens and bathrooms were also put in place at this stage, with an emphasis on quality and function, as well as simple good looks.
With the structural work completed, Scottish Canals set about handpicking an interior designer with a fresh, imaginative approach. Indeed it is the décor that elevates these already attractive cottages to seductive abodes.
Aberdeenshire-based interior designer Emma Clanfield was assigned the task of lending the properties a new look that respects the past while embracing the future. Initially she was briefed to decorate Mingulay alone, but her suggestion to work on the adjoining Sandray simultaneously was welcomed, and she soon found herself with a list of cottages to make holiday-ready.
Emma used colour to differentiate these three properties; Mingulay has a blue door while Sandray’s is green and Vatersay’s entrance is red.
“It makes it easy for guests to identify their cottage on arrival,” says Emma, who also worked with the chosen colour as the main inspiration throughout each property.
While aiming for an uncluttered, contemporary feel, Emma had to ensure the cottages were cosy and welcoming. To this end she selected hand-printed fabrics and wallpapers from small companies such as St Judes and Louise Body as well as from bigger names including Sanderson. Designs including “Fish” by Voyage for Sandray’s living room curtains, “Yacht” by Brian Yates for the wallpaper in Vatersay’s television room, and “Garden Birds” by Louise Body which features on Mingulay’s hall blinds, all feel entirely relevant to the location too.
There is certainly no stinting on comfort. Sofa Workshop supplied a range of pieces upholstered both in their own fabrics and some tartans Emma sourced from Abraham Moon and Johnstons of Elgin.
“They are Highland cottages after all,” says Emma of her tartan additions, which make a nod to tradition. So too did her reintroduction of tongue-and-groove wall panelling to hallways and bathrooms, and the quirky use of old lock gates as mantelpieces above the wood burning stoves.
“The contractor worked really hard to make these a wonderful feature,” Emma says.
Vintage furniture hand-painted by Emma makes each space individual and she also made the cushions and lampshades that complete the schemes. Other finishing touches include gorgeous bed throws by Abraham Moon, a coffee table made from an old pine kist, and a whisky box serving as a side table.
Of course, the attraction of a visit here extends beyond those brightly coloured front doors. Cyclists and walkers will be in raptures over the Great Glen Way, while there are castles (Glengarry and Urquhart nearby) as well as loch cruises, fishing and a host of wildlife to whet the Highland appetite.
Then there’s boat watching. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, especially when you can do it with a glass of wine in your hand.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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