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The Strange Case of the Disappearing Cottage


A few months ago I wrote about some of the more curious occurrences I’ve come across in the hills of Scotland. One of those stories mentioned Donald Watt, the erstwhile leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, and a strange experience he had near Loch Mullardoch.

As he descended the hill he and his companion apparently saw a house with smoke coming from the chimney. As they approached the house the view of it was hidden by a copse of trees, but when they passed the trees they were astonished to see a crumpled ruin, where a few minutes earlier they had spied what appeared to be a lived in home.

Now stories like this often tend to take on a life of their own. As they are passed down over the years various details can be slightly changed and embellishments added so the latest version of the tale can appear to be totally different from the original.

On this occasion the basic facts are largely true but the original story is even more curious than the one I related.

Some time after my piece in Walkhighlands was published I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of William Adam from Kirkcudbrightshire who asked if I’d be interested in hearing a fuller version of Donald and his disappearing cottage?


It was a fascinating tale and by a strange coincidence chimed with conversations I’d recently had with the well known fiddler Duncan Chisholm whose grandparents had lived on the shores of Loch Mullardoch.

William Adam was an old friend of Donald Watt and a one-time member of the Lochaber MRT when he worked as a solicitor in Fort William.

The story, as explained to me by William Adam, is that Donald and his companion Sandy Kane were walking eastwards along the north side of Loch Mullardoch after a day in the hills. They saw in the distance along the loch side, a cottage which appeared to be just above and close to the bank of the loch.

As they approached, their view of the house was hidden by a plantation of trees. When the view opened up however, the house appeared to have vanished – there was no sign of it. However, both were convinced by what they had seen from far away but when they came close, all they saw in the place where the house had been was a flat stretch of water.

When they returned home they mentioned this odd experience to one or two people and word of it eventually reached the ears of the well known local news reporter in Fort William, Alistair Scoop MacMillan.

Now, according to William, Scoop always had a good nose for a story, so he decided to look into the matter and in the course of his enquiries, managed to get hold of a photo of an old house on the north shore of Loch Mullardoch.

The present Loch Mullardoch was created in 1951 when a dam was built just upstream from Mullardoch House in Glen Cannich as part of the Affric-Beauly hydro-electric power scheme. Prior to the construction of the dam, according to Wikipedia, the natural Loch Mullardoch stretched for some 7 km along the floor of the glen as far west as Benula Lodge and Benula Old Lodge, the sites of both of which now lie beneath the reservoir’s waters, as well as a number of other former houses and cottages. The smaller Lochan na Cloiche and Loch Lingard were drowned as the reservoir filled.

Descending to shores of Loch Mullardoch at Benula
Descending to shores of Loch Mullardoch at Benula

The local Glen Affric & Strathglass website states, “records yield evidence of settlements here dating back to the ‘Clearances’.”

“In more recent times the glen still supported a number of families. Towards the end of the 19th Century the glen was home to ‘eight shepherds, seven gamekeepers and one farmer.’

“The growing popularity of deer stalking led to the construction of Beinn Fionnlaidh Lodge. Close by were the stalkers cottages at Coire na Cuillean and Luib na Daimh. Together with the remote settlement at Lungard they disappeared under the rising waters of an enlarged Loch Mullardoch.”

This is where the story becomes very interesting. Armed with his photo of the Mullardoch cottage, Scoop MacMillan approached William Adam and asked him to look after the photo, but not to reveal it to either Donald or Sandy.

He then asked the hillwalking pair if they could make a sketch of the house they claimed to have seen. They did so. I’ll let William Adam tell the story now…

“It was arranged that when the sketch was finished, Donald, Sandy and I would all meet up at Scoop’s office in Monzie Square, Fort William.

“There, both the sketch and the photograph were produced and lo and behold, there was no mistaking the clear and numerous similarities between the two.

“Somehow an image of the house, which had been under water for many years had appeared to the two lads and in almost exactly the place where the house had been, albeit that what they saw was above water level and thus quite a bit higher than the original.

“As far as I know, no explanation of the phenomenon was ever found. The scurrilous allegation from some of the climbing fraternity in Lochaber that they must have been under the influence of something was dismissed out of hand by all who knew the two gentlemen.

“My recollection is that Scoop wrote a story of the whole incident, and that it was published not just locally but also nationally, though I don’t have any newspaper cutting about this matter.”

It’s an extraordinary story and I mentioned it to Duncan Chisholm who I had interviewed on one of my television walks a couple of years ago.

Photo supplied by Duncan Chisholm
Photo supplied by Duncan Chisholm

Duncan has spoken very movingly of how his grandparents had lived at Cozac Lodge on the north shore of the Loch Mullardoch but after the loch had been expanded and their house was drowned his grandmother could never bear to return to Loch Mullardoch.

Duncan mentioned the Donald Watt story to his father, who had actually worked on the building of the Mullardoch dam. He is convinced that the cottage in question was the former Cozac Lodge, “near the plantation of trees.”

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