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The Story of Balneden

We thought you may like to hear a bit about the cottages and their long history...

Balneden, meaning “farm on the hill” in Gaelic, truly lives up to its name, situated at 1,143ft (342m) above sea level on the flanks of Cnoc Fergan, with sweeping views along the Avon valley and beyond to the Ladder Hills. It was also a farm with a view!

The steading was rebuilt using the original stone, locally sourced many years ago – Roy’s Military Map of 1747-1752 is proof that Balneden has been here a very long time. The Knockfergan slates on the roof are also local, quarried just 1/2mile down the road at Dalvrecht. Ceasing operations in the 1880’s, the quarry is now a home for wildlife.

Back in the 18th century Balneden would have been a tenanted farm on the Duke of Gordon’s vast estates, which extended as far afield as Lochaber, Ben Nevis country! At this time the village of Tomintoul did not exist and the local markets, later held in the village, took place on the slopes of Cnoc Fergan hill, close to Balneden. With many ancient tracks close by, Balneden would have been a very important landmark in its heyday!

By the turn of the 20th century Balneden was occupied by Donald Smith, the son of William Smith who was the Deacon and Elder of Kirk Michael Free Church, then the local parish church. Donald worked an extremely productive vegetable garden and maintained numerous beehives, all valuable produce that the family would have been able to sell at the local market, which by this time had moved to Tomintoul.

Sadly, Balneden was uninhabited from 1946 after Donald’s sister, Alexandrina Smith, passed away at the age of 87. The farmhouse was re-occupied in the 1990’s, though the steading remained unused, though thankfully largely intact. Between 2008 and 2010 it was carefully rebuilt and converted into three holiday cottages by the previous owners. Today we aim to make Balneden your home from home – warm and friendly, the perfect place to relax, take a breath of fresh air and enjoy the views, come rain or shine: a new chapter in Balneden’s long history. 

Our Values and Future Plans

Balneden is a special place for people and wildlife and our aim is to make it even better and a place where many more animals and birds can find a home, rear their young and find a good supply of food year-round. To help us fulfil this vision we plan to gradually increase the diversity of wildlife habitats and the number of plant varieties found in the grounds of Balneden. By taking steps to encourage more animals and birds to visit we will also be enriching the experience of our guests, providing them with even better opportunities to see and hear the wildlife in and around Balneden.

Our responsibilities of caring for the environment do not end here. There is no use in providing more homes for wildlife at Balneden if we did not look after the surrounding countryside too. To do this we need to treat it kindly and try to reduce the demands we make upon it. To help us achieve this we have a number of measures already in place:

  • We provide and use eco-friendly products throughout the cottages
  • We source locally and/or Fairtrade products where possible
  • Each cottage is EPC-C rated – achieved through good insulation and double glazing, LED lighting throughout, plus effective underfloor heating systems with individual thermostats in each room.
  • Our water is piped from a protected spring on the hill about 1/2 mile away. Once it arrives at Balneden the water is filtered and UV treated before it is delivered to our guests as clear spring water. What could be more natural!
  • Our septic tanks are nurtured too! We ensure no harsh chemicals such as bleach are poured down our drains – one of the most important reasons why we use eco-friendly cleaning products. This allows the bugs, that naturally occur in the tanks, to keep on busily working, breaking down the solids into much smaller particles. Which in turn means our fuel miles are greatly reduced as the sceptic tanks need emptying less often. We also help to keep the bugs in our tanks healthy and happy by feeding them Muck Munchers once a month – a pro-biotic septic tank treatment. Yes, we do like to keep everyone happy!
  • Our guests are also encouraged to help us on our journey to making the world a much better place for all: kitchen waste caddies and other recycling bins are provided; guests are able to turn down thermostats in individual rooms; toilets are dual flush; recycled/FSC toilet paper and kitchen towels are provided, along with other eco-friendly kitchen and bathroom cleaning products; plus there is an outside clothes dryer for those wishing to dry their clothes in the fresh highland air – good drying days are more common than you might think!

To reduce our impact on the countryside even further we are constantly looking for better and more efficient ways to operate the cottages. To help us achieve this we will be: 

  • Monitoring our fuel usage
  • Upgrading appliances with more efficient models when appropriate
  • Keeping up to date with advancing technologies and new products on the market.

Our short-term goal is a Green Tourism Gold Award – watch this space!

And our long-term goal, well… to make Balneden a heavenly place for everyone, people and wildlife alike, of course!