(Since this post was first written, a planning application for the development has been lodged with Aberdeenshire Council. The application can be seen in full here. According to Murray Hamilton, Director of Planning and Rural Development at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, it was called in by the CNPA on 20th June for determination.)
One of the most asked questions in Glen Lui has got to be “Aren’t they doing anything with Derry Lodge?”
It hasn’t been occupied since the Cairngorm Club gave up the lease in 1967 and has been slowly going downhill ever since.
However Mar Lodge Estate has now announced long term plans to bring the building back into use, as a walkers’ hostel.
The plans were on display at an open day at Mar Lodge at the weekend, but there’s little likelihood of them taking shape in the near future – sometime in about five years time is the estimate.
The basics are a hostel with 20-22 beds in two- and four-bed rooms, with the ground floor containing lounge, kitchen, dining room, meeting room, drying room , showers etc.
Additional to the toilets included within Derry Lodge, there are also plans to build a publicly accessible toilet at the green barn beside the Lodge. This would make a huge difference to the long-standing and worsening problem with human waste in an area which has for decades been popular with campers.
I see, too, that the plans for the wider area include a bridge over the Lui Burn at the bottom of the landy track which goes down to the river just west of Bob Scott’s Bothy. What’s not clear is whether this is intended solely to give access to Luibeg Cottage (Bob Scott’s old house), which could be used as staff accommodation for the Derry Lodge hostel, or whether the main track will be diverted over to that side. It seems an odd idea, but the estate has said it wants to direct the footpath away from the boggy Derry Flats, where Black Grouse lek, and one option would be to take the path to the south side of the river below Derry Lodge and return it to the north side once it’s past the boggy section.
Of course, with plans so far in the future there’s a lot can change, but as of now, that’s what the estate would like to do. The reason for the delay in implementing any of this is financial: in the wake of two major floods in two years there’s still a lot of flood damage to repair, including as a priority the road bridge over the Quoich, which wasn’t covered by insurance as it wasn’t actually destroyed – the river simply shifted its course to bypass it.
There are a couple of obvious concerns about these plans.
One is the question of access. Are cars going to be driving up and down Glen Lui? The answer would appear to be a very firm no. The estate still adheres to the long walk-in principle and plans do indicate that access to the hostel will be by foot only (though presumably estate traffic will be increased to some degree).
The other concern – to some at least – is what will happen to Bob Scott’s Bothy, just a couple of hundred metres away. Estate property manager David Frew spoke about this some time ago when we were discussing matters relating to the bothy. He assured us that the estate was more than happy with the way the bothy was being run and with the fact of it being there, and he said quite categorically that the future of the bothy would not be jeopardised by any possible hostel.
So, while the devil is always in the detail, I think the plans are largely positive. Personally, I’m still not sure about increased commercialism of the area but it’s highly unlikely that this listed building would be demolished and this proposed use is probably one of the least bad. The area, after all, is already pretty busy in all but winter conditions. It will have the added advantage of cleaning up the surrounding area by virtue of a publicly accessible toilet.
And it is a nice building.
Derry Lodge is one of those buildings that grew rather than was planned.
It started life as a single-storey rectangular hunting lodge at some time in the late 1700s, with a fire at each gable.
As shooting became more important, it was enlarged in the early 1800s, rising to one-and-a-half storeys and gaining a kitchen extension, but it was the later 1800s that saw the main extensions, including the two-storey wing facing down the glen which is now the main
entrance. This section was probably accommodation for shooting parties, while the west part would have accommodated gamekeepers. A survey of the building shows clearly which rooms were for guests and which for staff, with the guests enjoying a better and more elaborate standard of room. Nor was there any direct communication between the guests in the eastern wing and the staff in the west. Having said that, the older part of the Lodge was probably the home of the head keeper, with a family staying there into the first half of the 20th century, often playing host to the naturalist Seton Gordon while he was studying the Golden Eagles. (Another visitor, back in 1859, had been Queen Victoria, returning from her celebrated trip up Ben MacDui, though she just dropped in by for a cuppa, not spending the night there.)
The lodge was requisitioned by the army during the war, afterwards lying empty (though possibly used as accommodation for seasonal gillies) until the Cairngorm Club leased it as a club hut in 1955. One of the conditions of that least was that gillies were to be accommodated during the stalking season.
While the CC had the lease they built a new kitchen and passageway at the back, linking the two sections of the building and replacing an earlier wooden structure there.
The club held the lease until 1967, by which time they had acquired Muir Cottage, their present club hut in Inverey. Sometime in the 1970s, it temporarily housed army personnel who were building a footbridge across the Derry Burn (the one destroyed in the August 2014 flood), but apart from that it has remained empty and increasingly derelict, falling prey to vandalism occasional use as a doss by walkers up until the 1980s, when a student party staying there inadvertently started a fire, which caused internal damage and damage to the roof before the fire brigade reached the scene. (I was in Bob Scott’s that night and remember the surreality of the blue flashing light coming up the glen as a full-size fire engine negotiated the landy track.)
After that it was more securely boarded up and has remained empty.
Incidentally, the green barn beside the Lodge is a former deer larder, and the Aberdeen MRT Post down the slope is on the site of the former stables.
You can also read about the Lodge on Joe Dorward’s The Upland of Mar website at http://theuplandofmar.squarespace.com/derry-lodge/
Since first writing this post Nick Kempe has written more about the conservation issues in his excellent Parkwatchscotland blog.