Dr Gordon Drummond, Managing Director of Craigmyle Estates and creator of the Cairngorm Bothies and Cairngorm Lodges
Off Grid bothies in the heart of the Cairngorms
Dr Drummond has had a remarkable – and remarkably varied – career. For twenty years, as a Charted Engineer, he’s been at the forefront of subsea technology and innovation based in the UK’s oil and gas hub, Aberdeen. Yet for the past ten years, he’s worn an additional hat, that of tourism developer in rural Aberdeenshire. And it’s this that now takes his full attention, as the developer of the UK’s first fully off-grid luxury bothies.
The Cairngorm Bothies and Cairngorm Lodges, on the Craigmyle Estate in Aberdeenshire, offer visitors the chance to enjoy rural Scotland at its best – mountainous, forested, and utterly beautiful.
A love of 100-year-old Scots Pine forest has, quite literally, powered his latest venture into eco-tourism. The bothies, and the tourism they promote, are absolutely in line with the surrounding forest. ‘Everything we do has to be in sympathy with the environment,’ he says, and its this passion for the forest, combined with his engineering experience and deep pragmatic approach, that has driven forward the development of the Cairngorm Bothy business.
Sustainability as pragmatism
Speaking to Gordon is a lesson in pragmatism. His driver for developing these bothies wasn’t, as some may assume, about developing innovative sustainable tourism but rather because on the estate he runs they had surplus timber by-product and needed a market for it.
With a ready supply of timber, he knew he could have the power to provide heat, hot water, and radiators for a tourism venture and do so with as minimal overheads as possible.
From that starting point, he had an idea. And he also knew who his customer was – him.
Know your customer
Gordon is a family guy who loves the outdoors. If he goes on holiday in the UK, he wants to bike and hike and bring his dog; he wants adventure but he doesn’t want to slum it.
He’s developed the business to fit exactly that profile, and he sees a new generation coming through – younger, environmentally conscious and all about adventure and ‘the experience’.
This consumer demands a net zero product and he says it’s no longer possible to do a long term project without taking into account the environmental factors. Being off grid, and yet luxurious, is at the core of the appeal to his customers and it shows: the bothies are booked up all year.
Gordon’s approach to his hobby-job-turned-full-time-thriving-enterprise is very much one that offers lessons for off-grid living and a sustainable future. The Bothies are totally self-sustainable, with onsite water treatment, a solar farm, and wood-burning stoves, enabling integrated heating and cooking facilities that are all renewably powered from the most local of sources.
He’s done the whole development very much with two things in mind: being sensitive to the local environment and with a luxurious experience at the heart. Sustainability, he thinks, absolutely does not equate to ‘roughing it’.
The development of his Cairngorm Bothies business has clearly from Gordon’s experience as an engineer and his knack for spotting innovation. He also had a clear-headed belief that he knew he could build something extraordinary. The bothy foundations, for example, aren’t like regular foundations – rather than destroy the forest floor and disturb the soil, and therefore release carbon, the bothies rest on special screws designed for minimal invasiveness and impact.
Gordon clearly has a flair not only for spotting an opportunity but also for pulling together individually unique engineering solutions for a complete sustainable offering.
Gordon’s Top Tips for a Net Zero Business Leader:
1. Know your customer
Gordon has seen his customer change and he is fully embracing the new generation of adventure-seeking eco-conscious customer. His location helps him capitalise on this: the bothies are close to some of the best adventure tourism in Europe, and by making his bothies as sustainable as possible he knows he can attract business.
2. Maximise what you have already
Gordon is a master at capitalising on opportunity. He knew he had an incredible location that he could utilise and that he had a readymade source of logs… combine that with his engineering know how, his passion for the forest, and desire to build something beautiful and you’ve got an incredible eco-tourism business!
3. Be prepared to compromise
Making a viable business out of off grid and eco-conscious living sometimes requires compromise: whilst Gordon has worked hard to create an offer that is as low-impact and environmentally conscious as possible, there are hurdles that need to be overcome. This has become more apparently in the post-pandemic world, with hygiene procedures necessarily meaning a compromise on eco-friendly cleaning procedures. However, these hurdles present opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop the next generation of planet friendly solutions.
4. Reinvention is key – but don’t ignore the risks
Gordon has very successfully reinvented himself from subsea oil & gas man to eco-tourism entrepreneur. He sees huge value in the skills that Scotland’s oil & gas community have that could be redeployed for new tech in an energy transition, but be cautious: reskilling and readapting to facilitate an energy transition will not happen overnight, and there is risk that too much urgency could cause major safety issues. Go head on to push for the reinvention but don’t ignore the risks.
5. Everybody should be playing a part in climate change mitigation
We are no longer a generation of extreme consumerism. There is a growing consciousness of our impact on the environment and every business needs to embrace this changed world.