Old and New Memories

4 November 2018
Ben Pentreath

The autumn colours have been extraordinary this year. A couple of weekends ago, we had our friend Amy staying – the day was bright but the wind was bitterly cold and we found ourselves heading up the track that is the old driveway to the big house, rather than walking over the hills.  I recall, as I always do at this particular moment of the year, my dear friend Catriona, who died eight years ago this week from a destructive cancer. I miss her so often. She loved trees, and this walk, and this time of year, so much.

The days have been exceptionally clear and bright, and long, slanting autumn shadows stretch across the valley in the afternoon. 

We visited our friend Caddy, who’s beautiful vegetable garden is inspiration to us all. 

The following morning was another brilliant, bright day. Charlie and Amy went to the year’s last vintage market in Bridport.  I took the dogs out (for once). 

And then we had the happiest of evenings on Sunday night, Harvest supper in the village hall – a fine turnout, Mum and Dad came over, and I forgot to take any photographs at all.

A couple of days later I was on my way to Inverness, as I think I’d mentioned in the last blog.  Rob from the office and I were up to visit the Tornagrain New Town project that we’ve been working on for so long now.  We are beginning to look at the detailed masterplan of the next areas and there is no substitute on the planet for walking the fields where one day streets will be built.

The hills above Inverness looked icy already, as we flew in.  Beautiful Scotland.

For two days the weather shone brilliantly and the town gleamed.

Here is the Croy Road, the first street to be constructed.

The new development is moving out well to the east now.  I’m so happy with the way that apricot-coloured house catches the light (unintended pleasures of urbanism). 

Garages have flats, or coach houses, above – they are designed in a simple stripped timber style. 

This little one is one of my favourite houses:

New villas still under construction: 

The three storey apartment buildings make all the difference to the massing, and to creating a sense of place at the squares and important junctions.  This building, which has a shop on the ground floor, has jaunty red window surrounds. 

The evening sun took on an amazing glow – the golden hour. 

The apartment building with red window surrounds terminates the end of this vista. I can’t wait for the scaffold to drop.

White painted estate railings form an economical but rather beautiful boundary treatment.  Beech hedges are planted behind, in accordance with the local tradition.

Malvina Green (named after our client, John, Earl of Moray’s mother Malvina) is lined with tiny brightly coloured cottages.
Several have white-painted ‘knobbly spruce’ columned porches – taking a detail from the local 19th century estate vernacular. 

A simple terrace of small cottages climbs the Croy Road, with glimpses beyond. 

John loves the use, here and there, of the curved headed walls – which make the idea of a garden just that little bit more sociable.  The way the road curves down and round at the same time was a gift of the site, but it has an extraordinary impact on the whole feel of the place as you move through it. 

A fiery sun was setting. 

The following morning was frosty, still and bright. 

We were back at Tornagrain bright and early for a further long day of work.  The sky and colours completely different…. 

The bus turning up regular as clockwork from Inverness airport on its way into the city.  So important to get these things in early.

I’ve written about Tornagrain before, as regular readers will be aware – here, and here for instance. Every time we visit, things have changed immeasurably. There’s little, these days, which gives me more excitement than seeing a whole town, on this grand scale, slowly begin to grow up in front of our eyes.  We reminded ourselves that I’ll be dead, or at least well over 100 when the town is finished; curious to think, if it gets that far, that these first streets themselves will then be fifty or sixty years old. And that’s the amazing, wonderful thing about projects like this. We are creating a frame for lives to come.

New build developments are in the news at lot at the moment – for instance, the initiative announced this week by the government – well, I can only hope and pray that it becomes more than just another report to sit on dusty bookshelves, while the voracious ineptitudes of the current house building system, and the nearly-on-the-brink-of-collapse planning system delivers their worst. Time, as always, will tell.

18 comments on this post

Elizabeth Campbellsays:

What a joy to see such architecture,perfect and a true legacy I was lucky enough to see a presentation Ben gave at Northwood House,Cowes and have followed his blog ever since. My son works in the property section of Inverness Council so hope to see the development next time I visit.Thank you Ben for all the pleasure your photos and news give.

Kathryn Vezeriansays:

Beautiful new towns that will look like they’ve been there forever in no time. Any chance of seeing some interior shots?


Beautiful homes, Ben. Did you receive the book I left for you and Charlie when I was in London a few weeks ago? It featured some houses designed by John Gaudet, of the firm KEN TATE ARCHITECT.


You are inspiring and brilliant

David Boylansays:

As always your photos are beautiful Ben. I am looking forward to visiting your shop for Christmas gifts as I bought some amazing Christmas glass pine cone baubles there a few years ago and hang them in my windows every Christmas. Thanks for continuing to inspire me.

Deborah Wagnersays:

As a child of Welwyn Garden City, I salute your efforts.

Clay McCleerysays:

Lovely village, Tornagrain. Makes me further homesick for northern Scotland, especially since I was told by historian Beth Wilson that the McCleerys are related to the Camerons!


Lucky people who live/will live in Tornagrain. Amazing what curves, slopes, symmetry, stone, paint, and railings can achieve. Simples!
Best wishes, Nicola

David Sanderssays:

Sorry, I wish I could write more, but I’ve got a bit of a flap going on at present. Another triumph Ben: Poundbury, Truro, and Tonagrain – dignity, elegance, simplicity and appropriate to their landscapes.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Incredible to think that most beautiful towns or villages have been built over time and house by house as needed or thought of – and that here a very few people with great vision have managed to plan such varied and lovely housing, taking into account the fall of the landscape, and future needs, all at once. It’s mind blowing to me that such detail for so many buildings, is in one or a few minds. Also Ben I loved seeing that weatherboard garage – it’s very much like our house at the beach will be – with the addition of verandahs on the ‘narrow end’ (the upper one wrapped with weatherboards- the same profile boards but running horizontally and a little wider). If Council allows! x


A loud cheer and glasses raised to both you and the Earl of Moray. It is heartening to see what can be achieved in the face of a tide of bland, greedy and soulless developments. Well done to the whole team


It is so good to find an architect who understands the essential grain of streetscape. Why is it that appropriate scale and the appreciation of civic detail are so often unappreciated by architects and town planners.
Please come to Petworth, we have completed our Neighbourhood Plan and we need someone like you.


God is in the details…and Tornagrain with its colors, contours, and columns certainly fits the bill. Despite the joy Inspiration adds to my morning coffee, my favorite line today was “…I forgot to take pictures.” Happy you have those moments to shore you up for the coming week. May it all be well.

Marnie Foggsays:

Why are you not on some government scheme to advise on new builds?
Why is the template for new houses so irredeemably thoughtless and ugly when this is the beautiful authentic alternative?


Dear Ben & Charlie,
thank you for your fabulous and fantastic photos as always, autumn colours of it`s best ! I’m so sorry because of your friend Catriona !
The projekt in Scotland is great, it must be a big pleasure to live there. Clear colours bathed in warm sunlight, absolutely fantastic. Your Job is so exciting and wonderful.
Love your blog always ! I wish you a very nice week and a good preparation for the birthday party of Pentreath & Hall !
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂


love! your white painted knobbly spruce columns!dear ben! and your multitudinous thought to the whole project, so old timey architectural, so rare!


It warms me to the soul that there are people out there willing in such a disposable age to lavish such care and attention into the creation of a harmonious environment to live in.
An eviroment that keeps with the vernacular of the past while standing firmly in the now, blending in with the surrounding area if not greater UK – while not feeling like a badly thought out homage to what has past.
It is timless, you and every other person that has worked on the project deserve recognition for the seamless beauty that you have created. If only every development – be it ticky-tacky, modern or old styled took as much care in what they made as you have.
We dont need to discard the past to move into the present.
Well done.


Hello Ben lovely autumn images the colours have been exceptional this year.Scotland looks very cold with snow on the hilltops.Tonga rain looks like a picture book ideal homes that people would be happy to live in.Thank you for sharing very interesting.

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