The Canadian bear nimbly scaling one of the vast logs of Mountain Bear Lodge was, it seems, more fortunate in its attempts to enter the country than the log itself.
Modelled on a famous cub that befriended locals in the resort of Whistler back in the 1920s, the bear is the work of a Canadian-based Japanese woodcarver, and is handcrafted in solid cedar. Ian Forrester, owner of Mountain Bear Lodge near Nethy Bridge, commissioned the bear as one of many finishing touches that could place this building as easily in The Rockies as Highland Scotland.
Inspired by properties he had visited, Ian travelled to Vancouver to bring back the logs for his own Canadian dream. At a timber yard close to the city he worked alongside the log manufacturer as well as his architect on a holiday home to accommodate up to 16 guests in rustic, yet glamorous splendour.
“I wanted these mammoth logs, some of which weigh in at well over a ton,” says Ian; “We saw them growing as trees before they arrived in the yard.”
The hitch with his plan occurred when admittance of the timber in its “green” state – the preferred, malleable condition with which to build – to the UK was denied on account of the risk that it might carry a destructive pine beetle.
The only answer was to ship the whole house to another factory in Canada, where it was fired in a large oven, changing the status of the wood and eradicating potential beasties.
“The whole saga was a low point,” says Ian, admitting that the process of creating a holiday home on this scale was at times daunting. However, he had experience to draw on. Now the operator of 20 holiday homes under the banner of Great North Lodges, Ian had five projects under his belt prior to Mountain Bear Lodge. One of these, Beaver Creek Lodge at Aviemore is also log-built, sourced in Scandinavia.
“When we started planning Mountain Bear I sat down and decided what worked best, and what wasn’t performing so well at the other lodges,” says Ian.
His determination to get everything spot-on started with the search for the perfect site and in 2004 he purchased the land here on spec. Together with acquisition of planning permission, the process took years, but the awesome location was worth the wait. On the fringes of the ancient Scottish Caledonian Forest, the lodge presides over stretches of heather moorland with inspiring views to the Cairngorm Mountains.
It was to this spectacular site that five containers, packed with windows and doors as well as the structure itself, made their way from Canada (via Liverpool) in 2005.
“The build was like a large jigsaw,” says Ian; “The logs were pieced together in inter-locking sections within ten days.”
A Canadian team carried out initial work, but Ian used local builders to complete the build. Initially planned with accommodation over one level, the sheer scale of the lodge only became apparent as the project progressed. The structure boasts four King Post Trusses (vertical supporting posts often used in structures such as bridges) and during the build Ian wondered if a bedroom could be added at first-floor height – and it could.
Like three of the five ground-level bedrooms, this first-floor space has en suite facilities.
“From the start we thought about the design in terms of a holiday home,” says Ian; “Finishes had to be durable and the space had to function effectively for large groups.” Features such as the heated boot room at the entrance were designed with such practicality in mind.
However, at the heart of the accommodation is the living area with its vaulted ceiling, a huge space kept cosy by a wood burning stove. A local artisan created the feature fireplace surround using stone salvaged from the foundations.
Views from the living area’s large windows are, vitally for Ian, uninterrupted. Landscaping was meticulously planned to retain the sense of wilderness; cars can only be parked to one side, and the single-track road that leads here can’t be seen from the house and its 180 degree deck, the latter allowing guests to follow the sun.
Meanwhile the dining area manages to be an intimate zone, no mean feat for a “room” that has to accommodate 16 guests. Nestled into an offshoot of the living space, Ian describes this dining area as a “stuble”, an Alpine-inspired nook crowned by an endearing bear and cub carving as well as paws imprinted in the solid timber table (more handiwork by the aforementioned Japanese craftsman).
Guests prepare meals in an oak kitchen equipped with numbers in mind. This is the only space that Ian was forced to re-think after the lodge opened to guests in 2006.
“We underestimated demand from full-capacity groups,” he says. A large range was added to back up an existing double oven, a second dishwasher was introduced and refrigeration scaled up. At the same time, the addition of a barbecue hut (a Finnish “Grillkota”) offered an alternative, atmospheric dining option. Also in the grounds are a separate open barbecue and ten-person hot tub, the latter boosting the “spa” credentials of Mountain Bear Lodge, which also has its own spa suite complete with sauna, double Jacuzzi and views directly into the forest.
The 42in flat-screen televisions and free Wifi are all part of the big-scale experience here, but it’s the quirky additions that lend Mountain Bear Lodge its charm. Aiming for a look that combined North American with Scandinavian style, Ian consulted the wife of the timber supplier during his visit to Canada.
“She collected a hoard of memorabilia for us,” says Ian. Amongst the most interesting pieces are early black-and-white pictures of Canadian Indians, as well as the rucksacks of the Old Canadian Mounted Police and “vintage” ski poles. Ian’s partner Myra made curtains using traditionally warming fabrics, while wall-mounted reindeer hides are a snug finishing touch.
Now approaching retirement, Ian has decided to sell Mountain Bear Lodge, and he’s keen to do so as a going concern. He’s been heartened over the years to find his dream space so popular with guests – often being made up of large family groups of three generations. It’s testament to the massive amount of effort that went into researching and building this mammoth log house.
Whisky stones £14.95
The lodge is the ideal spot for sipping whisky in front of the fire. These granite cubes keep your tipple cold without watering it down.
Out of the woods
Rustic square log stool £90
Alexander & Pearl (www.alexanderandpearl.co.uk)
This stool is perfect for the lazy lumberjack, who likes to imagine that they chop logs in the great wilderness before knocking furniture together with the offcuts.
The new black
Abbey sofa £1599
Marks & Spencer (www.marksandspencer.com)
Not sure about you, but we find black leather sofas a bit too Playboy Mansion-esque. Choose chocolate brown instead, like this smart Markies number.
Twice as soft
Double sheepskin rug £159
Apparently, a fluffy double rug like this is not created from the fleece of Siamese twin sheep (it’s simply two skins stitched together).
Bear faced chic
Digital bear print £12
Red Door Gallery (www.edinburghart.com)
This limited-edition digital print is by Edinburgh-based artist Emily Hogarth. It features a bear sniffing at the first flakes of snow
Mountain Bear Lodge, tel: 01479 812266, www.greatnorthlodges.co.uk;
for sales enquiries (offers over £900,000) www.struttandparker.com