US hotels expert transforms Angus estate

Archie and June Bennett are delighted the Auchavan Estate rental cottages are complete and available following pandemic delays. (Photo: Heartland Media and PR)

A FAMILY with a track record in American hotels have introduced luxury cottages to the Scottish holiday rental market after completing an extensive revamp of an Angus estate.

Archie and June Bennett secured the purchase of Auchavan Estate in the Angus Glens, ironically, in the same week the world locked down in 2020.

As a result, and with distance travel impossible, the couple could not develop the project on the scenic site, which sits to the south of the Cairngorms National Park, for more than two years.

Now, following extensive renovations, they have completed a major restoration of 5 properties on the near 1000 hectare estate which includes a listed farm cottage called Presnerb, one of the oldest standing dwellings in the tranquil Glenisla.

Rated at either 4 or 5 Stars, the cottages – including a former period Hayloft and Stables – are now available for holiday and short break bookings, with the area currently lacking in such boutique options.

Plans are also in consideration to create a group meeting space, containing a ‘window’ into the mountain scenery and its wildlife for family events, business meetings and potential weddings.

With decades of experience in the Texas hotel scene, Mr Bennett oversaw the 2 year project, deploying local tradesmen to do everything from improving roads and fortifying bridges to running electricity to an early 20th Century stone cottage for the first time. 

With June and a friend and namesake skilled in wallpapers and furnishings, a considerable chunk of the interior decoration and design – a ‘labour of love’ – has been personally undertaken by them.

A sixth luxury property is also likely to be brought into Auchavan’s rental portfolio in the coming months; a water-side cottage which regularly enjoys visits from deer in the evenings. 

“We got the keys a week before lockdown in 2019 but we were in the States. In fact, it was more than 2 years before we were even up the hill,” recalls Mrs Bennett, who was raised in Ireland before moving to the US.

“We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel now,” added Mr Bennett.

“We didn’t pay much attention to the cottages until we got over here. When we started looking around, some were in pretty good shape – most were not.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job. I think they’ll be a real addition to upscale lodging in the Cairngorms area. There is not that much here for 4/5 Star. Having several properties, situated together, means whole family reunions and get-togethers are possible; something currently lacking in the area.”

The purchase and redevelopment of the Auchavan properties, fringed by the River Isla, adds to the approximately 2000 hectare Glen Cally Estate, which the family purchased in 2005.

While the Glen Cally estate welcomes sporting visitors, mostly for Deer stalking and grouse shooting, Auchavan comprises a mix of farmland, woodland and excellent walking and wildlife viewing opportunities.

The addition of luxury cottages with saunas in a secluded location is expected to attract couples, family gatherings, outdoors enthusiasts and those seeking solitude amidst busy working lives.

The properties include 2 traditional farmhouses, a ‘Scandi-style’ open-plan Hayloft, the spacious family-friendly Stables and a secluded former shepherd’s cottage, Dail Na Sneachd, nestled above the riverbank.

“You can walk 20 miles to Braemar along the river. I think the cottages will be a Paradise for someone who wants a bit of solitude and creature comforts in the countryside when they come in from their day, as well as for reunion groups and wedding planners,” added Mr Bennett.

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