Diane and Alastair Ramsay fell in love with a dilapidated farmhouse and steading in Glen Isla in 1996 and with their third child on the way, saw the potential to make Wester Derry their ideal family home and livelihood.

At the time, the couple lived in a two-bedroom cottage in nearby Alyth. Alastair was farming at Mains of Craigisla, while Diane, a solicitor specialising in property law, was working in Crieff.

Some 24 years later, the ‘new build’ house at Wester Derry is home to the family, now numbering 11, two further houses are on the farm built as holiday lets that boast gold awards from the Green Business Tourism Scheme because of their renewable technology projects.

These are a micro-hydro scheme run from a lovingly restored mill wheel, a geothermal ground source heat pump, three solar PV arrays, a thermodynamic heat pump and several biomass heaters. It is the also the site of a fully co-operatively owned, 250 kW wind turbine.

The wind turbine – the 30m tower is set 1060 feet above sea level and is part of a community project

The wind turbine – the 30m tower is set 1060 feet above sea level and is part of a community project

Back in 1996, Diane persuaded the owner, the late David Henderson – who farmed at Laurencekirk until he died at the age of 106 – to sell his birthplace, the 60-acre Wester Derry, much to the surprise of his nephew, Douglas Cargill, who helped Mr Henderson with his affairs.

The Ramsays appreciated David maintaining a lifelong connection with the farm and have a strong respect for the land, environment and conserving the resources thereof. They are very conscious that their lifetime is a short span in the history of the land and see themselves as custodians, obliged to farm with care and consideration, responsible and respectful to those who have gone before and those yet to come.

With these priorities in mind, the couple formulated a plan for the farm to create a home and a sustainable business. Diane said: “We are privileged to be entrusted with Mr Henderson’s treasured farm.

"We have restored all we can of the old steading buildings and mill wheel as a tribute to those who farmed here before and are doing our very best to build a sustainable business so that we can pass Wester Derry on for future generations.”

Since 2001, Wester Derry has been part of an agri-environmental land management scheme to encourage biodiversity. There are now species rich meadows, wetland and water margins which support a range of flora and fauna, there.

The farm has taken part in Perthshire and Angus Tree Line Project and Tayside Barn Owl Project and is habitat for skylark, brown hare, barn owl, linnet, lapwing, river otter and other species.

Diane described how the couple’s complementary talents work together: “I have the ideas and plan the projects, then Alastair is remarkably good at making it all happen. He has a talent for combining hard work and sheer determination with ingenuity and improvising where necessary and has never been beaten yet.”

With the construction of the family home complete, rebuilding of the steading continues

With the construction of the family home complete, rebuilding of the steading continues

The new farm house was built with a concern for the environment consistent with that of their land management – wherever feasible, old stone and slate from the original buildings was reused. The couple also try to make optimal use of renewable energy where possible.

The house was completed in 2007 and a ground source heat pump provides heat and hot water for the family of 11, while solar panels provide electricity in favourable conditions.

The restored mill building now houses the micro-hydro plant, the farm workshop and a games room which provides visitors with pastimes, from trampolining and table tennis to pool and darts.

In winter, a cover of snow turns a hill field into a nursery ski slope or sledging run and environmentally conscious guests appreciate the entertainment on the farm. Just off the farm, the Cateran trail, a 64-mile circular route, leads walkers through Perthshire and Angus glens and passes right by the holiday homes.

Diane and Alastair had always been interested in the history of the old buildings and equipment on the farm. Most intriguing of all was the massive, 100-year-old, 4m diameter, overshot mill wheel, which had been fed by an underground water supply.

The old mill wheel before restoration

The old mill wheel before restoration

They were determined to restore this and in 2009 Alastair completed the restoration project and coupled the restored mill wheel to a new, permanent magnetic generator through a system of belt drives. It now powers a micro-hydro scheme which partially powers Holly House, one the holiday homes.

Restoring the old mill lade was, literally, almost the death of Alastair. Despite Diane’s strict instructions to the contrary, he crawled through the underground, stone lined channel to trace the route of the lade and to find the outfall. He survived this and found where the water course had originally emerged. The next step was more treacherous.

Working alone with his digger, he carefully excavated along the underground watercourse in short steps; jumping down to check what he had exposed, then returning to the digger.

At one point, he turned his back to return to the digger and behind him, where he was standing seconds before, with a deafening rumble, the entire gable of the old mill collapsed into a heap of rubble. Unbeknown to Alastair, the lade ran under the corner of the mill building and his work in clearing stones and soil from the channel had disturbed the foundations of the building.

As a passionate believer in renewable energy and accustomed to family picnics on the hill being blasted by strong winds, Diane considered the wind to be a wasted resource. In 2011, she started to investigate the possibility of a wind turbine and after three years of hard work, finally obtained the necessary planning consents, grid connection and wind data.

The plan aroused opposition and hostility from some in the local community which unsettled Diane. She realised a need to engage the community and to turn negativity into something more positive.

She looked into the Dingwall Wind Co-op which, in June, 2014, was the first in Scotland to commission its own wind turbine. Inspired by that, she established Wester Derry Wind Co-op and offered shares for sale to raise the £850,000 needed to build and commission the turbine.

In December, 2014, it became the second fully co-operatively owned wind turbine in Scotland and now supplies electricity to the National Grid.

The co-op pays an economic rent to the farm for the land on which the turbine stands, the shareholders receive the returns on generation and over the 20-year lifetime of the project, they will have had their investment repaid. The co-op has a community benefit fund which makes an annual payment to Alyth Primary School and has also made discretionary awards to Isla PS, in Glen Isla.

For further info: www.westerderryfarmholidays.com