In April 2022, after years of planning, renovations, pandemics and building control issues the old “Bothy” at Achray Farm is finally complete and available for holiday-let Trossachs accommodation with bookings on AirBnB, listed as “The Cake House”. This compliments The Old Farmhouse which is our other holiday house.
The name comes from the storage of cattle cake , a name for concentrated food for cattle in a compressed flat form. These days, cattle are more likely to be fed from pellet concentrates but 50 years ago the Cake House was the store for these feeds on the farm.
Master Planning for the renovation was undertaken by Alasdair Baird of Studio Baird Architects in Fife. Detail, planning application and warrants were from Claire Gibbons at T Square – Architects, locally in Dunblane. The project started with a design works in early 2017 leading to a pre-planning application, followed by the detailed application in 2018. The final outcome is remarkable close to the sketches as you will see below.
Images from before works started. The “Bothy” as it was also known had a chimney at an alarming angle and cracks in both gable end walls that eventually necessitated new foundations and rebuilding. As a listed building, all stone was reused, windows and door alcoves remained the same and bat surveys carried out before works started.
Renovation images. Things didn’t always go to plan and our specialist heritage wall builders faced some challenging times when the sandy subsoil cause the collapse of one section before the new reinforced concrete and insulated subfloor could be poured. A new line of foundations to replace the padstones was required, costing several weeks of delay.
In line with the Old Farmhouse renovations we also focused on sustainability and impact. The building is heated by the same biomass system as the rest of the farm and insulated to the highest degree possible for an old building. Our potential bird roost displacement have been mitigated by new boxes and homes and the new internal floors are natural cork and bamboo.
We hope the renovations have been sensitive and in keeping with the environment and status, and that providing investment with purpose will have secured the building for a new and long life. You can see a larger range of images on AirBnB (available for booking) with a sample below.
It’s been a long time since we wrote a blog, but that doesn’t mean things have been quiet at Achray Farm. In 2021 we have kidded 14 healthy goats (lots of triplets), almost completed The Bothy (awaiting Building Control), grown (in people and fruit and veg), completed a life goal (HT 550) and re-opened the ice cream with the newly converted rice trailer. There are images of all these on our Instagram page that is updated often.
What we have noticed with all the ice cream customers who have come through come rain or shine is a common set of questions, so just for fun for those who can’t ask us in person here are some of the answers…
What are those birds? They are Guinea Fowl. We have six here and they were hatched from eggs in an incubator during lockdown 2020. They are here to eat tics to keep the numbers down in the fields for us and the goats, and they are also alarm birds (that “cry wolf” a bit too often). We eat their eggs – just smaller than a hen egg, fabulous with a 3-minute boil on fresh sourdough toast.
Are your ice-creams allergen free? We have no nuts in the kitchen and all our ingredients are gluten- and cow-dairy free. We make vegan sorbets (for everyone) and can serve ice cream in bamboo-boats for those avoiding wheat or soya in our waffle cones (or who just prefer a tub and recyclable-spoon).
How many goats do you have? 17 at present (August 2021). 7x milkers (plus two “on loan” for the summer season). 1x matriarch. 2x boys, the billys to this year’s kids. 5x kids – four girls and one boy. They are called Ria, Rosie, Rhianna, Kaitlyn, Missie, Chloe, Shadow, (Bambi & Hester). Pan. Mr Micawber and Sproggit. Tilly, Tallulah, Celeste, Trixie. And Trig.
Do you live here? / How long have you been here? We moved to Achray Farm about 5 years ago in autumn 2016, having both been in Scotland for 25+years each. Crispin from down the road in Doune and Nicola over from Fife. This is our home. The ice cream launched in August 2020 after 3 years of herd building, planning and building and compliance testing with the authorities for production and sales.
What’s it like in winter? Quiet. For visitors driving on the Three Lochs Forest Drive, having not seen another property for 6 miles of gravel road, it looks like we are in the middle of nowhere. However, our private vehicle access is only 400m to the main road at Brig o’ Turk. There is snow, sometimes, but not as much as on the hills. Winter is a time to regenerate and take it easier than the 7am to 11:30pm work-with-the-daylight hours of midsummer.
What’s under the cover? It’s an Alfa Romeo Spider, just over 30 years old (not the really pretty boat-tail original style from The Graduate). It’s been owned about 20 years and has been to Italy and back. The number plate came waaaaaay before the farm or any inklings that direction. It goes but it doesn’t stop at the moment!
What other animals do you have? We have a couple of ducks that live in the back field and a small flock of hens that wander wherever they can that supply eggs to the village. We have two cats and the guinea fowl.
It’s been a long journey to the launch of the Achray Farm ice cream and cabin, but August 2020 was the month we finally opened. Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who has encouraged and supported us through the journey, especially to Lomond & Forth Valley LEADER funding that has contributed to making this happen. A European rural economy project.
Sitting outside in the sun with a nice T-shirt, supplying walkers and cyclists, is of course the tip of the iceberg. Things all began way back in 2017 when our first two milking goats, Pan and Ria arrived. From excellent homes in the Scottish goat keeping world, we were tipped off about them by the Scottish Goat Federation who told us we would never get a better milker than Ria. And Pan? Well, she’s difficult to sum up in less than a paragraph suffice to say that despite Ria being older than her and bigger, she decided that she needed to be the head of the small herd and did not stop until Ria the diplomat had acquiesced ( a Sanen, so anything for a bit of peace). Since then Pan has continued to be head goat on the farm, producing offspring prolifically.
However, back then, the novices at Achray were in shock and awe in the first few weeks – learning hand-milking without a stand seemed to take forever and our hands ached so much it just didn’t seem sustainable. Neither Pan or Ria seemed that keen to help us out and it all seemed exhausting owning two animals we just didn’t understand. The swift collection from Sheffield (handily coinciding with a pre planned journey) of a milking-stand made things a lot easier and we learned to make paneer, mozzarella and of course Nicola began the first ice cream experiments with the home freezer. All whilst planting and renovating the farmhouse. Slowly our milking muscles developed quickly as did the milking rate, blisters disappeared and buckets of milk were less frequently kicked over the floor. We survived the Beast from the East, all of us without heating, albeit with Nicola getting some impressive chilblains on her hands that the GP reported he hadn’t seem the likes of in decades. Something for another blog but an experience which really made us think about the generations who had survived here before us and how damned resilient they must have been.
Part of the inspiration for the goats was visiting a “cheverie” in 2017, where we had the experience of accompanying a herd of 60 goats on a foraging walk in the Ardeche National Park. Foraging is something goats would naturally choose to do, eating a varied diet with a little bit of lots of things. We were keen to try this on the Achray Grazings and walking the goats regularly on the Forest Drive really helped build our relationship with the goats.
Why ice cream? Its not entirely clear now. Only we thought that given we had so many people passing through the farm and spent so much time chatting with them, that ice cream made more sense than cheese. Nicola intermittently disappeared on a few more “research visits”. Listed building consent put a new roof on the cruck barn (we kept the remaining evidence of the original crucks), and conversion to the “goat barn” and milking parlour concluded in early 2019. The dilapidated portacabin was transformed into the “Ice Cream Cabin” over Spring and Summer 2019.
Ongoing certification with Environmental Health through 2019 should have seen us ready for the Scottish Wild Food Festival in the Autumn, but we had to change plans and run demonstrations rather than sales.
Despite the Environmental Health green light for 2020 sales, Covid and lockdown kept the farm quiet through the spring and early summer. The first weeks of freedom saw unprecedented numbers of visitors to the park putting infrastructure under pressure and so it wasn’t until things had calmed down a little in August that the Ice Cream Cabin had the first week of sales.
We never expected the “season” to extend to the last full weekend of October. And some rainy Saturdays were a challenge to motivation. But we thank everyone who came, and came back again… and we’ll be back in 2021 for our first full season and hopefully some new ventures with the trike and vintage trailer conversion to support us.
** We now have the Old Farmhouse and the new Cake House available for holiday let bookings in the Trossachs again. Many thanks to everyone who respected Brig o’ Turk and the National Park through the Covid pandemic. [Updated, March 2020, July 2020 and May 2022]
We wrote about the Transformation of the Old Farmhouse in late 2018 and have welcomed visitors from Scotland, the UK, Europe, North America, South Africa, the Middle East and Australia (with even a short Scottish film made here and a French fashion shoot). We will welcome back our first return visitors in 2020. We often have slots or odd weekends available so please check online for availability or contact us directly.
In the last 2 years we have also progressed restoration and development work on the farm (more exciting news on the Bothy project before Easter) and the long-term landscape plan is in progress.
We continually look at our suppliers and how we can lower our impact or make a difference in the way Achray Farm is run. In the Old Farmhouse we use refills for all our shower and hand-soap dispensers from Faith in Nature and source loo roll from Ecoleaf/Who Gives a Crap. We are trialling use of a Bokashi composting system to deal with food waste. All our laundry (Bio-D washing powder) is done on-site during the day to make use of our solar panel energy (where possible) and we are currently reviewing options for battery-storage to make better use of our on-site energy and off-peak renewable tariffs. All our bought-in energy supply is on a renewable product.
We have had so many lovely reviews, it’s hard to find ones that summarise the experiences of everyone from friends reunions to family get-togethers and time away with children. Here are a sample from the last year.
‘The cottage was more than perfect for us with fabulous spacious and furnished bed rooms, plenty space for living downstairs for us all and great appliances for us to live day to day and enjoy our holiday. The cottage is perfectly located to enjoy all of the local attractions such as Loch side walks, cycling trails, hill walking and close to Callander and Aberfoyle. It was perfect in every way’
‘Very highly recommended. The scenery is wonderful. The goats are a real treat and walking with them is so calming. They and the chickens and ducks are wonderful to watch’
‘Breath taking location. Relaxed and very friendly hosts, nothing was too much trouble. The accommodation is stylish and clean, so much to do on your doorstep. Cycling, kayaking, walking – and of course chilling out with the goats!’
‘Achray farm is pure delight. It’s set in lovely surroundings close to the loch and nearby cycle tracks and walks. The animals are great for keeping children preoccupied and amused and we loved exploring nearby attractions, never having to drive’
‘It takes tranquillity to another level. At times Achray Farm and the Loch felt like being in your own private universe. We travelled with our children of 7, 8 and 11. The place gave them a safe place to explore outdoors during the day and games in the evening. Whilst having goats on their doorstep was fascinating, it was the chickens that stole the show’
‘there were lots of board games to keep us busy. Nicola was very welcoming and provided lots of information about the local walks, cafes and restaurants. We hope to visit again in the summer to make the most of the area, the loch and the chiminea in the garden’
Also in attendance were James Stuart & Simon Jones (Convener and Conservation Director at the park authority) and Cameron Maxwell, Conservator at Scottish Forestry.
We were blessed with a beautiful crisp day with blue skies that made for some great photographs, picked up by local and national press.
Our tiny hedging whips that were planted back in early 2018 (see blog) are just outgrowing their stakes now. Our healthy array of hazel, blackthorn, rose, hawthorn and crab apple will act as a windbreak for the fruit trees and bushes below and also provide a sustainable source of food (tree-hay) for the goats in the winter to help limit our imports.
So… just as our latest project got to a critical point (more on that in a future post), I dropped everything to go a remote area of Finland for four days.
Why on earth?! I asked myself the same question but, in short, it was too fantastic an opportunity to turn down and I had made the commitment back in March when I signed up to Forth Valley and Lomond Leader Wild Wonder’s Foraging Course. Since March I have been meeting with a diverse group of incredibly interesting (and rather lovely) folk once a month to learn about sustainable foraging in Scotland.
It’s been a revelation to learn about the wonderful wild foods that are growing in our woodlands, hedgerows, hills and coastal areas and experience the incredible flavours and health benefits they bestow. As if that wasn’t enough, at every meeting up, each participant brings along a food or drinks contribution towards lunch. I’ve been struggling to expand my vocabulary to describe new and delicious tastes. In Spring, fermented wild garlic was to die for, crunchy succulent Sea kale early summer felt like a healthy treat – so much more exciting that the kale from our field – which is also pretty good! Finally, the blaeberry cream cheese tart is something that will be an annual mid-summer commitment from now on.
The course has been led by Mark Williams (gallowaywildfoods.com). A guy who knows a hell of a lot, has even more patience and knows how to share his knowledge. However, it was fair to say that everyone was excited about going to Finland, including Mark, particularly because it offered the possibility of finding mushrooms that he’d not come across before.
The Event was part of a wider “Wild Wonders” project, with partners in Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. Our Scottish group travelled to Illomansti, in North Karelia, a remote region close to the Russian border, heavily forested and sparsely populated. The reason for our visit was to attend the Wild Food Festival in lllomansi to help us prepare for the first Scottish Wild Food Festival this September 14th. However, that was on the Saturday and we arrived Wednesday evening in time to be treated to a welcoming buffet in a huge “wood cabin” restaurant and the warmth and hospitality of the people of Karelia.
This welcome continued for the next four days wherever we went and will be a lasting memory of Finland. It went hand in hand with The Finn’s respect and knowledge of their “wild food”, so much so that it is enshrined in law that it is everyman’s right to gather it, regardless of the landowner. In good years Finnish Households pick 50 million kilos of wild berries in addition to another 20 million which are picked on a commercial basis.
The next few days proved to be a blur of activity, working together to prepare a 3 course foraged meal.. and then sit down together to share it, an icy swim in a lake and the sound of chainsaws in the morning as the international Bear Carving Championships got underway in the car park to our hotel!
What had the biggest impact? Its hard to say, the openness of the forests and the joy of walking through them perhaps, or how they were carpeted with berries packed with wonderful health-giving properties. So many types of berry; blaeberry, lingonberry, cloudberry, crowberry to name a few. The bog whortleberry got my vote for most delicious straight from the bush.
I fell in love with the silver birch and the tall shimmering aspen and have returned with a commitment to plant even more trees at Achray Farm and to off set the carbon footprint of my flight to Finland by planting more elsewhere.
At the Wild Food Festival, l I talked to a stall holder representing a charity supporting families. She was a dietitian and part of her role involved encouraging families to forage and rediscover the health benefits of berries and mushrooms. How fantastic is that?
One government research and development organisation, LUKE (Natural Resources Institute Finland) gave a fascinating presentation regarding the social and economic significance of wild forest products. Amongst other things they have mapped the areas that are concentrated with wild foods such as the Finnish blueberry and produced an app to assist people to find them. They are also committed to supporting private forest owners (of which there are many in Finland – 600,000 owning 14 million hectares of forest) to improve the economic benefits of sustainable forest foods with harvests such as mushrooms, herbs and sap. As much as half of this produce goes for export. In addition, Resin production from spruce can be harvested for wound infection treatment for use in pharmaceuticals.
For me, perhaps one of the most pertinent take home messages from the trip came from a couple of small farms we visited. They have diversified what they do in order to retain a strong commitment to looking after the biodiversity of the place they live. It was a joy to find small Finnish sheep in the forest, delightfully friendly and who accompanied us on the remainder of our walk. This was part of the commitment to Agroforestry that both farms we visited had taken. Agroforestry is happening over here – the Woodland Trust in Glen Finglas for example, but there could be so much more. Finally, and unexpectedly, the trip renewed my batteries at a point when unexpected life events, the complexity of regulations and making them work for small-scale sustainable farming, were at risk of defeating me. Having come to farming late in life and continuing to feel an amateur I was able to add two more strong female role models working in sustainable agriculture to the small but growing number of Scottish ones I know.
Being outside most of the year gives us the personal validation that the Trossachs is a great place to live in or visit all-year-round. We have opened up our booking window for The Old Farmhouse for others to enjoy too. There is even a Christmas slot available for a last-minute escape to the country.
The end of this month (November 2018), marks our second anniversary at Achray Farm. When you live and breath a place, change can be hard to see on a daily basis. It’s only when friends pass by after a couple of weeks away and comment, or an image on the phone or Facebook pops up as a memory that brings it home.
As a more curated record, one of the things that we do for visitors walking or cycling through Achray Farm is to post a newsletter on the gate explaining what we have been up to recently and what our plans are. Whilst currently writing Issue #5, Autumn 2018, I thought that the previous issues should be available in other than a fading laminated printout, so here they are:
We never really own a property, especially an old one. We are just the latest custodians in a long line of influencers and makers able put our mark on a house, flat or farm.
Availability for Farm Stay Accommodation
The Old Farmhouse is now listed on AirBnB, please get in touch with us if any dates are not listed.
In the UK we have a lot of valuable history archives available including photography, old mapping and census details. From these we know the buildings here have undergone continual evolution as the needs of the land and community have changed. Our oldest photographic record doesn’t even show the current “Old Farmhouse” dated late 1800s.
Of course the most immediate story is that of the past residents and locals. In living memory the farm was managed without a running water supply. Electricity came in the 1970s and mains water only in the late 1990s. We still don’t have hardwired broadband of course!
Images below show the layout before the farmhouse was established (taken from South at Creag Dubh) and from the North West field (before the late C20 extension).
Best Laid Plans
With planning consent granted in February 2018 work began on the Farmhouse, starting with biomass heating (inadvertently cutting our remaining LPG gas supply in the process) and then reconfiguring the southern extensions. 20 years ago these were corrugated lean-tos and latterly a western porch, utility space and bathroom to the east. In order to make the Old Farmhouse entrance distinct it all had to move. First the “pork shed” and store were demolished to expose the Eastern gable again and then new lintols, floor and insulation went in to meet modern building standards. Discovering a brick wall enabled a feature to be made in the kitchen and where possible the existing fittings were retained throughout.
The Old Farmhouse
The slideshows and image comparisons below show where most of the work was targeted in the Southern reconfiguration.
Squeezing in the upstairs bathroom was a challenge, but with some ingenuity and a skilled workforce at hand we moved doors, electrics and radiators, routed drainage and water and brought in new light.
Other rooms mostly just required a lot of paint.
Finally, a mention to all who have helped us; Jim on overall build, T on additional woodwork, Gus on electrics, Jamie on stone and slateworks, Stephen on lintols and stone, JTM (Jon, Nick, Welsh and many more) on plumbing, Kevin on tiling, Energy Source Dave and Mike for renewables and Charlie for manual labour.
Architecture was master-planned by Alasdair at Studio Baird with building control through Claire at T Square with Jamie at J O Design for structural engineering.
The Farmhouse will evolve again in the future, we hope this record of our short influence will provide interest and help to those who come after us.
One of our aims for Achray Farm was to create a regenerative environment. This tenet is not only in what we produce (see Blog from April 2018), but also in how we operate on our triple-bottom line of Financial, Social and Environmental impact.
One of the biggest environmental aspects outwith our direct control is the power and heat used to supply the domestic residential, guest accommodation and operations on the farm. Although we currently utilise a “green” tariff with our energy supplier we knew there was more potential and opportunity with the space and environment to do more.
In late 2017 we began investigation into integrating a local district heating system for the buildings under current (and future) development and solar to use our own power on-demand and supply a little back to the grid. Although we considered geothermal, the risks of shallow arrays in our stony glacial till and the costs of deep bores brought us to more conventional solar and biomass combination.
Solar power in Scotland? That sounds like growing grapes and sweetcorn here but there are now large-scale subsidy-free commercial developments and panels that work well under a range of conditions, including direct sunlight (and there are even sweetcorn and grapes growing in Scotland now as well!).
Even with these, typically East coast, developments The Trossachs is not seen as a primary or high solar gain area. However, being able to optimise a ground-mounted array with unrestricted orientation and alignment, when the sums were presented the long-term financial balance along with the improved environmental impact of the farm as a whole allowed us to progress.
As it turns out, 2018 has been a phenomenally sunny year since May, making up for the long cold winter. We passed our first tree saved, have hit a couple of 30KWh days and even reached 1MWh in less than 2 months. Some modern offshore wind turbines can generate a MWh in around 10 minutes under good conditions, but I am very pleased by our performance from late April to June.
We have also installed an ImmerSun immersion control to maintain our hot water tank temperatures by scheduling hot water during the day to use our own power first before the biomass system needs to fire up.
Our biggest investment, and biggest capacity to control our impact and energy security is the biomass infrastructure. There is a lot of discussion in relation to biomass as an environmental level, but living in Scotland, surrounded by commercial forestry that creates local by-products and sourcing local suppliers.
Now, after construction of a new building, built to fit into the listed building environment, hand digging deep trenches, the installation of a new boiler and accumulator with enough pipework to make an almost sculptural engineering work of art contorted into the space. All this is supplied by a 9-ton pellet store and automated auger feeder. When filled up in the autumn (no seasonal price differences in pellet supply) this should be able to readily last us through the winter and icy/snowy forest roads that can prevent heavy deliveries for months at a time.
Pellet supply from BD Supplies was efficient with advice and a clean delivery, weighed to the Kg.
Our main energy contract suppliers, Mike and Dave from Energy Source (UK) have throughout been professional, friendly and flexible in designing, installing and commissioning our solution.