This former net store on the Applecross peninsula gave Iona Drysdale the chance to build a stunning home and connect with her family’s fishing heritage.
The Net Store at Ardheslaig may be a contemporary new-build but its foundations are firmly rooted in the past.
Iona Drysdale was working in New Zealand as a doctor when she heard that her uncle was ill. Part of a close family, she came home to visit him and ended up staying for six months.
‘I realised he was very poorly and I just wanted to hang out with him,’ she says. ‘He’d been a prawn fisherman so I helped on his boat with my dad and just spent time with him.’
Iona’s grandfather had also been in the fishing business as a herring fisherman and he had used an old ruin in Ardheslaig, on the Applecross peninsula, as a store for his fishing nets. ‘My uncle had always planned to turn the ruin into a small house,’ she says. ‘He was very skilled in woodwork, so he was going to build it himself. He’d got as far as having the site cleared and levelled when he asked me if I’d like it.’
During the six months she spent with her uncle, Iona drew up plans of what the net store could be. ‘At that point it was just going to be a place for me to stay when in Scotland. However, after a while I realised it was time to leave New Zealand and come home. I moved to London as an interim measure and took on a long-term locum job, which worked well and meant I’d have the flexibility to manage the build project here. I applied for planning permission in 2012 and the house was finished in 2014.
‘When I designed the house I didn’t know what its function was going to be, so it was difficult to plan,’ she says. ‘But I knew I wanted it to feel spacious and to have lots of windows to make the most of the views and the proximity to the sea. As a child, I lived on the other side of the bay, and I used to go down to the shore and watch the boats returning home, and I wanted to be able to do that from this house. I’d seen a picture of a house designed by a Belgian architect whose gable-end was glass, and I thought that would be perfect for the Net Store.’
Iona had plans drawn up by a local architectural draughtsman and enlisted the help of her cousin, who is a joiner, while more local tradesmen were brought on board for the build. ‘It really helped to have family nearby,’ she says.
‘I came up from London every four to six weeks. My commute in London was quite long, which actually had its advantages as that’s when I did most of my research and planning. Being in London, I also had plenty of places to go for inspiration and I did read a lot of Grand Designs magazines.’
Iona kept the layout simple, with an openplan kitchen-dining-living space on the ground floor along with a double bedroom, large bathroom and lots of storage. Upstairs, there is a further double bedroom and en-suite, and what Iona calls her ‘extra space’, which was inspired by her uncle. ‘When he converted the attic in his house it was just one huge space and I loved it, and that’s what we have here. It’s a space to hang out in and admire the view.’
The views are stunning and Iona has taken full advantage of them from every room. Even the downstairs bathroom has sliding doors instead of a window, which gives a great vista – and is also the hot tub compromise. ‘You don’t really need a hot tub if you can open the outside doors in the bathroom,’ she says.
She also didn’t go overboard on the décor. ‘I wanted the views to be the main feature and I felt the only backdrop I needed was white walls and a wooden floor. And because my uncle loved working with wood, I knew it had to be a really good wooden floor.’
Iona added a bit of her own carpentry and made the oak dining table herself. ‘It was my brother’s bed when he was at university, made for him by his friend. It had sat in my parents’ shed for years, so I thought it would be nice to turn it into a table.’
Last October, Iona and her husband Gordon, whom she had met in London, moved up to the area permanently. Originally from Glasgow, Gordon had spent many of his holidays near the Applecross peninsula and knew he area well, so it didn’t take long before the couple decided they would rather live in Scotland full-time.
‘We still had to work if we were going to come here, but neither of us wanted to keep on doing what we had been doing in London,’ explains Gordon. ‘I’d been a chartered surveyor for the previous 11 years, and I didn’t really enjoy working from a desk, while Iona has always been keen to connect with her family heritage and to make a living from the sea.’
‘And because Gordon is keen on sailing, we decided to buy a yacht and launch a charter business – Torridon Yacht Charter,’ Iona adds.
‘It’s our first season, but the business is growing steadily,’ says Gordon. ‘I love having a physical job and working on the water. The yacht is a Hanse 385 and her name is Sula, which means “gannet” in Gaelic, and we’re really lucky to have a mooring near the Net Store for the boat. What’s even more fortunate is that we have the community pontoon in Shieldaig, which is a real asset to a business like ours, and that is where guests embark and disembark.’
Today the couple have a life which is a far cry from their time in London. ‘When you grow up here you don’t realise how lucky you are and how special it is,’ says Iona. ‘Now I’m back, I really appreciate it.’
The Net Store, Ardheslaig, Strathcarron, is available for holiday lets at www.the-net-store.com
(This feature was originally published in 2016)