Scottish Field

ORIGINAL CROFT

When Calum and Jackie Innes stumbled across a Braemar croft house that was frozen in time, they were determined to breathe new life into it, says Nichola Hunter

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The splendid restoratio­n of a cosy Braemar cottage

Jackie and Calum Innes put their plans on hold for a new home when they happened across an original but and ben, and what a piece of history they’ve preserved.

The couple came across Downie’s Cottage in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park in 2006. Located high on the shoulder of Morrone overlookin­g the village of Braemar and the Dee valley, it’s thought to have been the highest working farm in Scotland.

The cottage and adjacent steading came with planning permission to build a fourbedroo­m house, which is essentiall­y what the couple wanted to do until they saw inside the cottage.

‘It was unbelievab­le,’ Jackie recalls. ‘It hadn’t been touched. Box beds, furniture, beads and buttons, old boots and Victorian Christmas cards, all just left. It was built in 1840 and the last occupants were the three Downie siblings who died in the 1930s. One of their sons used it for storage and when he died in the 60s it lay empty. Kids had parties here, but nobody had touched it.’

We had to build a road to get access for constructi­on, but because it’s in a national park it involved all sorts of extra permission­s

The longer Jackie and Calum looked at the cottage, the more they realised it was too special to knock down. ‘We contacted Historic Scotland and they agreed, but we still wanted a fourbedroo­m house, we didn’t want a but and ben. We negotiated that if we agreed to it being listed and committed to its restoratio­n, we would be granted planning permission to build another house elsewhere on the plot. We agreed; and found ourselves with a Category A listed building and the responsibi­lity for its restoratio­n.’

While Calum is a surveyor and the couple had experience with listed buildings, this was an entirely different ball game. ‘Of course, we had no idea what we were up against. We weren’t allowed to replace anything. Everything had to be restored, so no matter how rotten it was, it had to be taken out, restored and put back in.’

Aside from this, there was no road to the cottage and utilities were non-existent. ‘We had to build a road to get access for constructi­on, but because it’s in a national park it involved all sorts of extra permission­s. Water and electricit­y had to be brought in and everyday necessitie­s such as the internet.’

Heating was an issue because the experts were insistent that the building had to breathe and no modern insulation or dampproof membrane was permitted. The solution was to install a ground source heat pump to provide constant warmth via underfloor heating.

‘We had to dig down two feet and discovered there were no foundation­s. The entire building had to be underpinne­d and when we were finished the flagstones had to be re-laid in their original position. We didn’t know what to expect and everything threw up some sort of problem.

‘It laboured on for a few years. It’s not easy to get tradesmen and there were a lot of specialist trades required. We have a wooden chimney for example. I think there are about two left in the country! It was tricky.’

Historic Scotland guided the couple through the process, but for such a small property they needed a large team which included a conservati­on architect, a project architect, a quantity surveyor and a brilliant builder.

‘I’ll admit when we first went into the property and we were digging up the floors with water pouring in one side and out the other, it did take a lot of imaginatio­n to see that this could ever be a space that anyone would want to spend time in. But as it progressed it came back to life and we started to look at ways we could make it into a comfortabl­e, if unusual, home and holiday let. The temptation was to make it into a museum and create a hovel with a hard chair, but that’s not what anyone wants nowadays.’

While Jackie didn’t want a 50-inch television screen dominating this historical space, she does live in the 21st century, so the telly is tucked away on an arm in a cupboard. The shower is behind a cupboard too.

‘Of course, when the cottage was built there was no bathroom and washing was probably a very occasional affair. We created space for a shower, but it’s hidden behind a set of double doors. We thought the pine bath was in keeping. It was made by a chap on the Black Isle. I think we’d seen one at the Highland Show or a game fair and I’d kept it in mind. I’d toyed with the idea of a copper bath but when we saw this, it looked so

comfortabl­e and so warm. It’s just right.’

Another problem was the scale of the cottage, as Jackie explains: ‘It was difficult to find things that were small enough. Your average arm chair is a metre by a metre and we didn’t have a metre by a metre. We’ve tried to source pieces that look traditiona­l while making it as comfortabl­e as possible.’

The handcrafte­d oak kitchen is a stunning piece of craftmansh­ip and Jackie got around the storage issue by making good use of the steading. ‘We put a larder, fridge/freezer, washing machine and tumble dryer in the steading and made a plant room for the ground source heat pump and added a little bit of luxury with a sauna too.’

Downie’s finally made its debut in September 2017 although Jackie and Calum are still waiting for their fourbed new build. ‘We’re hoping to win the lottery! It’s taken a lot of energy, money and time to do this. However, I’m so pleased at the way we’ve managed to completely restore Downie’s. We’ve replaced nothing, and we’ve brought it into the 21st century.’ Definitely a project to be proud of.

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 ??  ?? Left: Furniture had to be chosen carefully to fit the cottage’s cosy proportion­s. Above: Enjoy the stunning views on colder days wrapped in furs in front of the fire pit.
Left: Furniture had to be chosen carefully to fit the cottage’s cosy proportion­s. Above: Enjoy the stunning views on colder days wrapped in furs in front of the fire pit.
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 ??  ?? Clockwise from above: Calum and Jackie with their dog Flora; the woodfired hot tub is the perfect place in which to watch the Northern Lights; the master bedroom; entrance; the newspapers and magazines plastering the stairwell are original and were used as insulation; the window recesses show the true thickness of the original walls; the box bed is now a sitting area.
Clockwise from above: Calum and Jackie with their dog Flora; the woodfired hot tub is the perfect place in which to watch the Northern Lights; the master bedroom; entrance; the newspapers and magazines plastering the stairwell are original and were used as insulation; the window recesses show the true thickness of the original walls; the box bed is now a sitting area.
 ??  ?? Above: Once a rather grim area, the box bed is now a desirable place to sit covered with traditiona­l tweeds and cashmere. Below: Original features and ornaments were carefully sourced to remain in keeping with the period of the property.
Above: Once a rather grim area, the box bed is now a desirable place to sit covered with traditiona­l tweeds and cashmere. Below: Original features and ornaments were carefully sourced to remain in keeping with the period of the property.
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 ??  ?? Above left: A stunning pine bath sits pride of place in the bathroom. Above
right: The shower is fitted behind double doors to minimise its impact on the room. Left: Made to measure oak kitchen.
Bottom left: The cottage sits in an area of outstandin­g natural beauty.
Above left: A stunning pine bath sits pride of place in the bathroom. Above right: The shower is fitted behind double doors to minimise its impact on the room. Left: Made to measure oak kitchen. Bottom left: The cottage sits in an area of outstandin­g natural beauty.
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