Interview and photographs by Iain A MacSween
‘Spectacular’ is a word all too easily thrown around. But having been given a guided tour of the new ‘Oran na Mara’ luxury beach cottage in Scarista, on Harris, I make no excuses. Because this is a building which is quite simply, spectacular.
Located directly opposite Scarista beach, the sprawling building features views that are so vivid, they are difficult to describe. From the golden sands to the machair, the oystercatchers and Arctic terns, the harebells and the Chaipaval hill, it’s almost as if there is too much to take in at once.
And this stunning building has been built incorporating each of these scenes. ‘Oran na Mara’ is no mere luxury cottage – it’s much more than that. It has been created to become an extension of the stunning landscape on which it stands.
With its distinctive thatched roof, the cottage was designed by Stuart Bagshaw, and features three bedrooms – ‘Machair’, ‘Shoreline’ and ‘Chaipaval’. Each is colour co-ordinated to resemble the area of Scarista after which it is named.
And how to describe ‘The Boat’ bathroom? Put simply, I’ve never seen anything like it. The bath is a boat, and the shower door is a sail. It’s unique, it’s quirky, and yes, it’s spectacular.
Adding to the determination to keep things rustic and true to the surrounding environment, the sea shells which form the bathroom border have been carefully picked from Scarista beach.
The cavernous living area is a wall of windows, ensuring only the very best vista. A huge kitchen area leads into a small nest-like seating area complete with open fire.
And outwith the nest is a more spacious seating area, again with a tantalising view of the surrounding scenery outside.
Cottage owner, Paul Honeywell, tells me that given the visual feast on offer surrounding the cottage, he was unsure where – if anywhere - to put a television.
“I was on a work trip in Chicago and we were at breakfast, wanting to watch the news on TV,” he explained. “All of a sudden these screens popped up out of nowhere in front of us.”
As he speaks, he pushes a button, and from a seemingly innocuous sideboard rises a gargantuan television which had previously been hidden. If guests don’t want TV, no problem – don’t push the button. The cottage boasts satellite wifi and has a top-of-the-range SONOS sound system wired throughout the building.
The Gaelic for ‘Song of the Sea’, ‘Oran na Mara’ is the realisation of a dream for owners Paul and Helen Honeywell.
They first visited in Harris in 1977, when they stayed in Scarista on their honeymoon, lodging with the then Postmistress Mary Macdonald. “She is 95 now and lives in Leverburgh Home of Rest,” said Paul. “We still go and visit her.”
With an ever-expanding family (Paul and Helen have seven kids, now all adults), they started renting a chalet in Scarista from Donald John and Mary Ann MacSween every summer, having truly fallen in love with the small hamlet.
For Paul, who is CEO of technology powerhouse ‘Zedsen’, Scarista was now like a second home. “I got talking to Donald John and he said if we wanted to buy a bit of land he could organise it,” said Paul.
“So in 2000, after a lengthy process with the Crofters Commission, we finally took ownership of the land.”
Having initially envisioned a ‘traditional square house’, Paul became aware of the work of architect Stuart Bagshaw on the islands, and revised his plans. “The first designs were pretty square, a slightly contemporary take on an old Scottish building theme,” he said. “But we didn’t feel comfortable with it.
“After we saw the houses Stuart was designing, we met with him and he came up with the concept of ‘Oran na Mara’. We examined the practicalities of it, and there were there a lot of issues in how to build a place like this. But we persevered with it, and after 15 years we’ve got it!”
All work carried out on the house was undertaken by local contractors, and Paul says he cannot praise highly enough their skill and craftsmanship. Costing around £2,500 per week, a stay at Oran na Mara is not cheap. But Paul insists that the premises will appeal to an international market.
“It’s such an unusual place, and obviously it’s in such a fantastic position,” he said. “Yes, it is quite expensive to rent, but it has to be because it cost so much to build.
“We’ve already had a family from Germany stay here, and we have a family from Alabama booked for next year. The signs are that it will attract people from all over the world.”
He added: “I have travelled all over the world and you just don’t get beaches like this anywhere else.
“Letting out the house is not my main objective – but being practical, since we don’t live here all the time we have to strike a balance. It’s nice to be able to share the cottage with people who will appreciate it, and who will care for it and enjoy it.”