Every so often a property comes up that just stops you in your tracks, right? It might be the location and views or the house itself; perhaps it’s a combination of both. When artist Julie Baird decided to relocate to Applecross on the west coast three years ago, she has one of those moments when she came to view this property, Shell Cottage. Situated in the small hamlet of Culduie, just three miles south of Applecross village, this house has the most incredible views overlooking the Isle of Skye and Raasay. It was also the perfect size for Julie with three bedrooms (two ensuite on the upper floor, and one on the ground level), and a large open plan living and dining area that opens into the kitchen on one side and a conservatory on the other.
But also, Shell Cottage offered Julie the feature that was crucial in her plan to move here: the potential to have her own business by developing a second property to create a holiday home called The Birdhouse. Thanks to Julie’s creative eye and her passion for natural materials and bespoke detailing, this interior is filled with distinctive touches. As she says: “I knew instantly that this could be something really amazing.”
As Julie is now selling Shell Cottage and The Birdhouse, we had a chat about life on the Applecross Peninsula, and about what inspired Julie to design The Birdhouse and create both a wonderful home and a successful business venture here.
Thanks for chatting with us Julie. First of all, what led you to this property in this area?
I’ve been visiting Applecross for over 25 years. It’s a very special place. I’ve always loved the small hamlet Culduie, and have always thought the houses there, set against the backdrop of the mountains with the sea views in front, make it the prettiest hamlet on the Applecross Peninsula. Houses in Culduie rarely come up for sale. It was purely by chance that I mentioned I wanted to buy in Applecross to Judy Fish, the owner of the Applecross Inn. Judy kindly made a couple of calls for me and one of them was to the owner of my current house. It’s all about who you know in Applecross!
Can you describe the alterations and improvements you made here?
Shell Cottage was in excellent walk-in condition so I haven’t done much work to that due to focusing on The Birdhouse. The Birdhouse was originally a converted cow byre that needed upgrading. I added on the living/kitchen area at the front and completely overhauled the existing interiors. Creating the fixtures and fittings and adding all the interior touches was so much fun. I have managed to use a lot of ‘finds’ from Applecross to co-exist alongside the beautiful new fixtures and fittings/ I love the idea of old history from Applecross being recreated to make new history!
What do you consider the key features of this property?
In a nutshell: stunning views, flexibility, and ease of living.
My property has many key features. The sunsets are truly spectacular. They ever cease to amaze me. The views from the house are also spectacular – the Cuillin Mountains of the Isle of Skye, Raasay and the Inner Sound. On a peaceful calm day I can hear and see the large colony of seals on two huge rocks just off the shoreline near my house. They snuffle about in the water and on the rocks sounding a bit like slightly nasally puppies!
Another feature is that whilst Applecross Village itself is busy during the summer, Culduie is continually peaceful and quiet. It’s a special place with a calming feel. My property offers so much flexibility – I couldn’t believe my luck when the previous owner offered to sell it to me. The conversion of the cow byre at the top of the back garden has been very successful and such fun. The Birdhouse is a magical space and provides a full income for me.
My own house, Shell Cottage, has been a very easy and lovely home to live in: the conservatory views are breathtaking, and in the main body of the house, the large L-shaped open plan area offers so much light and space, and yet it is easy to create sections within the space. All the bedrooms take in the fabulous views but possibly the winner here is the downstairs bedroom which has windows on one side looking out to the Inner Sound and French windows that open out to a patio and take in all the stunning westerly views over the Cuillins. Lying in bed in the mornings watching the day unfold is pretty special. I’ve also been running a B&B from the house as the two generous upstairs bedrooms are ensuite. This has proved to be another potential full income because B&B is very popular in Applecross and there aren’t enough to cope with demand.
Is there any one space – within both properties – that has exceeded your expectations?
There are three spaces that I’ll miss. The conservatory views and the views from the downstairs bedroom make it very easy to spend most of your day drinking in the scenery and doing not much else! I also use the conservatory as an art studio and I will most definitely miss that.
Then there’s The Birdhouse. I knew the extension I was adding to the existing converted cow byre would be good. I perhaps didn’t realise how good! This was in part due to the fun I had putting my ideas into place and finding someone to implement them… without complaint! That’s where my neighbour George Graham comes in. He was the main builder/joiner for The Birdhouse and was able to put into place all the many quirky ideas that I had… and if I may say so, the result is truly special.
What has made Shell Cottage work for you as a home?
I’ve loved the flexibility of this property. The ease of living here – the oak floors in both buildings lend themselves to Highland life (which can get a bit muddy in the winter!). Both houses are very economical to run and are extremely cosy in the colder months. And I equally love having the wood burner quietly warming the house during the winter, and having all the windows and doors open in the summer to let the outside warmth in. Watching the landscape change over the mountains and sea year round is pretty special.
Where do you like to walk and what places do you like to explore in the area?
From the house, my favourite walk with Minnie my Retriever is Coral Beach. The path over there is gorgeous and the beach is Minnie’s favourite for swimming in. I adore the rambling trails in and around the Estate house and Walled Garden. The river walk with the avenue of ancient trees is spectacular. Here in Applecross we are so lucky to have mountain, sea, woodland, and river walks, and all of them are beautiful. You can definitely feel the special energy here – Applecross means sanctuary and it’s not difficult to see why.
Where do you enjoy having a coffee and eating out locally?
Both the Applecross Inn and the Walled Garden are fantastic eateries. The Walled Garden has amazing cake! We are very lucky here to have such outstanding eateries here. The Applecross Inn-side Out also has the best ice-cream in Scotland (made locally by Aron) and the best fish and chips for miles. Further afield, at either end of Applecross, there as so many delicious food stops. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Applecross… my life has always been about seeking out good food. I once moved house to be near to my favourite coffee and cake café!
What other local businesses would you like to highlight?
For a small community there is so much on offer here. Without leaving my house there is a weekly fish van and butcher’s/grocer’s van. There are some wonderful independent and creative business here. Valerie’s flowers are grown on her croft and are the most beautiful flowers I have ever had in my house. Also my friend Elodie Matthews has started up a handmade chocolate business called Pomme Cocoa. Elodie’s gorgeous, mouth-watering chocolates are injected with her ‘french-ness’ and delivered to your door in a pretty wee box, it’s difficult not to eat the all at once! Then there is artist Sarah Paramor who makes the most incredible handmade baskets using a variety of materials. They really are some of the most exquisite baskets in Britain made for the catwalk and exhibitions.
Applecross Community Company (ACC), a registered charity, of which I have had the privilege of being on the Board of Directors, continues to work with the local community and the Applecross Trust. ACC are in the midst of some very exciting projects for the benefit of the community, such as the recent purchase of land from the Applecross Trust for allotments, a woodland purchase, and a large plot purchase to build affordable housing, to name but a few.
Best kept secret of living here?
Stunning walks from my house. Head out the door and head up the hill. If you keep on walking you’ll find waterfalls to swim in, lochans to fish in, and jaw-dropping views over the Peninsula. Another huge favourite of mine is wild swimming. I swim every day in my secret spot and can’t get enough of it!
Is there anything else that you think a potential buyer might like to know about the lifestyle your property provides?
The property is so flexible that it could easily offer two full incomes for a single person or couple. The main house will be easy living for a family whilst offering either extra guest accommodation in The Birdhouse, or a full income. When I converted The Birdhouse I made provision at the back of the house to add an outdoor office or art studio at some stage. The base is there ready to build on, water is ready to be connected, and the outdoor boiler is big enough to heat another building.
Alternatively, the views at the side and front of the house are so stunning that there is ample space to build a small outdoor office or studio here. Culduie is a gentle place to live. I think the new buyer will absolutely fall in love with it from day one, just as I did.
Shell Cottage & The Birdhouse are currently on the market for offers over £495,000. Full details can be found here