Island Hopping

Lanzarote may not seem an obvious spiritual companion for the Hebridean Isle of Islay. One is known for harsh volcanic landscapes bathed in year round sun, the other for windswept northern beauty and distinctive whiskies. Ending a week in Lanzarote on Sunday, I was on Islay by Monday, working on our master plan for extending the original planned village at Bowmore. However, Urban Animation isn’t the only connection between these two distant places.

Both are remotely located and depend on strategic transport links. Both have visitor economies, driven by climate in Lanzarote, distilleries and ornithology in Islay (booze ‘n’ birds to our tabloid readers). Both have a preponderance of whitewashed buildings reflecting vernacular style to varying degrees. Both have developed under the influence of innovative planning regimes.

Local artist and designer Cesar Manrique is credited with thwarting the worst tourist excesses by promoting a low rise development policy and design code in Lanzarote. Building form, finish and colour display an unusual unity. But it’s not all good news. The boom is well and truly bust and large scale development has exposed terminal flaws in the code.

The result is a suburban wasteland of vacant villas with the odd expat leading an isolated existence in the relentless sunshine. The uninhabitable black lava fields are a backdrop to uninhabited rows of whitewashed holiday homes. Both are equally lifeless. In these bleak circumstances, the lesson that traditional coastal and rural villages are not characterised simply by their architecture, but by the manner in which their buildings relate to one another and the uses they host, seems almost secondary.

Islay has not experienced the same boom yet faces its own issues, including population decline, housing need and constrained transport links. Partly as a result of these stifling factors, the villages and landscape retain much of their unique identity – most of the Islay villages are original planned settlements with a distinctive building typology and urban form. This slower rate of change on Islay has fostered indigenous growth, where people and places adapt to changing circumstances over a period of time.

We hope to provide a framework within which organic and sustainable growth can flourish at Bowmore. We also hope the sun shines while we’re doing it.

“This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time.” Aneurin Bevan, 18 May 1945

Richard Heggie


Quality and/or Authenticity?

CairnoMohrMost of us have come to expect certain standards these days. Unfortunately, common denominators often produce bland outcomes. This applies in all walks of life, but for now I’m interested in roadside catering and visitor attractions.

The Carse of Gowrie lies between Perth and Dundee on an alluvial plain by the River Tay. It’s an area famed for soft fruits and largely responsible for one of Dundee’s famous “J’s” – jute, jam and journalism. The polytunnels are everywhere, ensuring Scottish raspberries are available in supermarkets even in late September. On a fact finding tour around the Carse last week, I made my first visit to two well known local attractions.

The first is The Horn roadside cafe off the A90. It’s impossible to miss – a building with a rounded front, in a sea of caravans, with a dairy cow perched on the roof. This is no chain-owned motorway service stop! The decor is dated, the layout is cramped and you won’t find games arcades, burger chains or a 24 pump filling station. However, the gargantuan bacon rolls are legendary for their ability to satisfy the most demanding trucker, whilst maintaining Scotland’s proud position as world leaders in heart disease. They also sell traditional cakes which look more like the pies the Dundonians are famous for.

A few miles down the Carse lies the Cairn O’Mohr Winery (try saying it out loud). There are a number of Scottish wineries, but this one is unique. If Ben & Jerry’s had set up shop in Christiania instead of Vermont, their visitor centre might have looked something like this. Surrounded by giant heads carved with chainsaws from whole tree trunks, this Easter Island of the north uses reverse psychology and guerrilla marketing to sell drinkable wine made from those same local soft fruits. When you buy a bottle, it comes with a free slice of Cairn O’Mohr attitude.

Neither establishment conforms with the modern formula but that’s exactly why they should be treasured. They are Carse institutions. If you visit them with an open mind and take the rough with the smooth, maybe you’ll agree. Otherwise, enjoy your Starbucks coffee, wherever you are………

Richard Heggie