Holiday pioneers pass the baton on to the croft grandchildren

Pictured are Scott and Margaret in front of Black House. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this traditional Black House build by the couple and they plan to hold a community celebration this weekend to mark the occasion.
Pictured are Scott and Margaret in front of Black House. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this traditional Black House build by the couple and they plan to hold a community celebration this weekend to mark the occasion.

Scott and Margaret Bennett are pioneers in the self-catering tourism industry in the Outer Hebrides.

They extensively and lovingly redeveloped the original ‘Borvemor Farm” which sits on the Machair, above a magnificent beach on the South West coast of Harris.

Pictured is Neil Rippingale building the Black House in 1993.

Pictured is Neil Rippingale building the Black House in 1993.

They started in 1993 by building an authentic Black House, and subsequently developed the original buildings with new projects added in order to provide five characterful and unique holiday cottages.

The now retired couple are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the completion of the Borvemor Black House with a community celebration at Borvemor this Saturday, July 7th, bringing together locally prepared food, traditional island live music and a dry stone walling presentation from the original Master Craftsman Neil Rippingale.

The Black House or ‘Tigh Dubh’ as it is traditionally known throughout the Gaelic community was a life-time dream of Scott and Margaret Bennett, who inherited the land and steadings from Margaret’s family in 1992.

This particular Black House was built using traditional dry stone techniques but was unique as the first of its kind in over a hundred years.

Local stone of approximately 140 tons was used to construct the 3ft wide walls, extending in height to 8ft.

The construction was designed so that not one cup of cement was used, with even the foundations being laid on compacted crushed rock.

The layout and structure plans closely followed the traditional pattern of thick walls incorporating small windows, a central door, hipped thatched roof and bell-shaped chimney gable at one end.

The owners incorporated modernity within, combining luxury with character in the high quality interior finish.

The thick stone walls only took Master Craftsman, Neil Rippingale from Edinburgh 32 days to complete, in which time Master Joiner Nula Finlayson began constructing and designing the timber trusses on site.

As soon as the roofing was complete Master Thatcher, Duncan Mathieson from Kintail wasted no time in placing nearly 3 tons of rye thatch on the gentle sloping roof, and all this during the summer of 1993.

During the construction Archie McVicar who lived across the road from the Black House, helped and assisted every tradesman from commencement to completion and continued to look after the Black House for many years thereafter.

Once the rye thatch was finished, the Thatcher carved everybody’s name who had worked on the project on he underside of the hearthstone, with Scott and Margaret’s names inscripted on the top front edge.

In October 1993 the house warming celebrations were held with traditional house blessing and prayers led by Rev Murdo Smith.

The occasion this weekend also marks the culmination of Scott and Margaret’s succession plan to hand over the operation of the cottages to the four adult grandchildren of the original crofter and his wife, Lachlan and Nellie Maclellan of 9 Scarista.

The grandchildren now intend to look after a cottage each and create happy memories for a further generation of Harris holiday makers before the cottages are in turn transitioned to Lachie and Nellie’s great grandchildren.

History repeats itself with the incorporation of a prayer and blessing into the summer celebration, again led by Rev Murdo Smith.

Scott and Margaret commented: “It has been a labour of love for us, and to see the work we pioneered continue in this way is a great encouragement, particularly as it is through our extended family who know and love Harris so much themselves.

“We have seen tourism increasing over the years and it is vital for the community to see this sustained with increased visitors year on year. We continue to live locally and enjoy seeing the holiday makers coming and going.”

The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain documented the original project and in 1994 the Black House was awarded the first ever Pinnacle Award.

HRH Princess Royal presented the prestigious award at the Royal Highland Show of that year.

The award is given for outstanding craftsmanship in Dry Stone Walling and this first one set the standard for future awards.

Whilst the Black House celebrates its 25th Anniversary, the Dry Stone Walling Association also celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year.

Master Crafstman, Neil Rippingale commented: “Since we built the Borvemor Black House I have trained nearly 8,000 dry stone wallers, in several different countries and numerous other projects worldwide, however the Borvemor Black House remains one of my fondest build projects due to it remaining so true to its original conception.

“It is great to be back in Harris to see Scott and Margaret and to celebrate with the community.”

Iona Molleson, the eldest of the grandchildren said: “The location here is unparalleled in its beauty and we are excited to continue to offer holiday opportunities on our grandfather’s original croft with the shores of the Atlantic only 200 metres away.

“It is a privilege to take up the baton and to honour all that has gone before us.”

For more information on Borvemor Cottages please see: WEBSITE