This Life: Pawana and Mike Spencer-Nairn

Their beautiful Canadian log cabins have enhanced a very special corner of the Highlands

Words Gillian Welsh, Photography Neale Smith

Unless they were pointed out to you, you wouldn’t notice they were there: the seven rustic cabins, with their aged cedar log walls and wildflower turf roofs, are so well camouflaged that they disappear into background of Glen Affric and Strathfarrar.

“We wanted to create a handcrafted environment to remove guests from their production-line lifestyles”

This corner of Struy, in Strathglass, Inverness-shire, is home to Mike and Pawana Spencer-Nairn and their children Rowan and Ishbel; and Eagle Brae, a unique Highland getaway that includes the bespoke Canadian-style high-spec log cabins, is theirs. It has taken them eight years to complete it: five years of red tape, planning and surveys, and three years building – of which two were spent on infrastructure and roads and just one on the cabins themselves.
“Eagle Brae was name number 250 or something like that,” laughs Mike. “I think it has the right balance. Eagles are majestic, charismatic and rare, and ‘Brae’ adds some genuine Gaelic Scottishness without being an unpronounceable super-long word that no one can remember.” Mike has a knack for languages, specifically an ancient one that no ordinary brain could master. “I was useless at languages at school and then somehow I ended up with a first-class degree in Sanskrit.”
Every year since he was an eager 18-year-old student in London, Mike has been a regular visitor to India – until this year when the build commitments made it impossible. “I think I must have been Indian in my past life. I feel absolutely at home there.” He even built a house in the Himalayas so he had an excuse to return to the region every year. “I think I have the kind of laid-back, tolerant disposition that goes down well in India. The Indian government even gave me a Person of Indian Origin Card. It’s like a passport, which means I don’t need visas. I’m not quite sure how I became a Person of Indian Origin. Maybe they looked up the details of my past life?”
Chowki village in the Parvati valley in the Indian Himalayas is where, at 23, he met his future wife. Their wedding was a traditional Himalayan fair: 400 people over three days of rituals, dancing round a fire and drinking. Nineteen of them were from the UK. Mike wore a kilt, his mum wore a sari and four of his friends turned up in top hats and tails hired from Moss Bros in London – a fine and amusing example of cultural mishmash.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article in Issue 97

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