It is an A listed Georgian stately home whose walls once echoed to the sound of parties with regular guests including former Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, actors, musicians and a conductor.
The historic Woodbank House, which lies just off the banks of Loch Lomond in Balloch, was a place where the great and good would descend but is a long way since its days of grandeur. Now it lies almost in ruin and features on the Buildings at Risk register in a dangerous unstable condition.
However, it could be brought back from the brink as part of a tourism vision and given a new lease of life as holiday apartments.
The 17th century estate forms part of the plans submitted by Lomond Banks to develop a tourism destination in Balloch which could see it transformed.
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The vision for Woodbank is to bring it back from the brink of extinction and allow it to “stand proudly over Balloch once more.” There is little left to work with, but the team is dedicated to restoring the facade to rekindle its magical presence which actually dates back to the early 1700s.
It is part of revised plans lodged by Yorkshire-based Flamingo Land to create a new resort on the banks of Loch Lomond.
Woodbank House’s grandeur is long gone
However, already more than 20,000 people have objected to the plans – a second time the developer has faced a public backlash for a tourist resort. They withdrew their bid to build the Lomond Banks project in 2019, after more than 55,000 public objections.
Lomond Banks boss Jim Paterson said plans to help save the at risk mansion would be sympathetic.
It is believed the original architect for Woodbank House, which sits within a memorable 20-acre estate, was Sir William Bruce, the 17th Century Architect Royal for Scotland who had also restored Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Fine marble mantlepieces in the dining and drawing room were reputedly created by Italian marble workers brought over from Holyrood to Woodbank by the architect.
Woodbank House is on the at risk register
In the early 20th century, it was converted into the 18-roomed Woodbank House Hotel. For many years after the Second World War, it was a favorite eating place amongst locals and enjoyed a thriving downstairs bar, much frequented by the locals.
Famous faces who opted for the peace of Woodbank House included the then Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, the 1960s band the Swinging Blue Jeans, actors Anthony Quayle and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and conductor Norman Del Mar were amongst the stars who graced the hallways.
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Woodbank House is the relatively modern name for the old estate and house – the original estate appears on early charters as Stuikrodger and Stuikrogert until the end of the 18th century. It wasn’t until 1847 that it emerged as Woodbank House. In the late 1900s prior to it permanently closing, it also served as Hamilton House Hotel.
Lomond Banks bosses want to reinstate it as an integral part of the Balloch community and recreate its role as a tourism destination within the village. Despite its poor condition, developers say they are committed to retaining the facade and rebuilding the surrounding shell.
The Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs have confirmed their conditional support for the Flamingo Land plans – known as Lomond Banks
Mr Paterson, Development Director for Lomond Banks who grew up not too far from the area, remembers Woodbank House fondly from his own childhood. He said: “I remember family members talking about Woodbank House in Balloch fondly. It certainly was a hub of social activity and would have been the backdrop of many a happy memory for local people throughout the years.
“When considering our planning application to the National Park Authority we wanted to ensure our application was sympathetic to the history of Woodbank House. It’s in quite a dangerous and unstable condition sadly condition, it may have been an easier route to leave it as is and focus our efforts on the estate, but we wanted to do the right thing and we felt that was bringing Woodbank House back to its former glory.
“Our plans talk about sustainability and a tourism development for the future, Woodbank House is something a little bit special and allows us to take a step back and consider our role as owners of this land and our responsibility to keep the heritage of this magical place alive for another century.”
Woodbank House is on the at risk register
He said walking around Woodbank House you can’t help but be captivated by a time gone by and ponder some of the moments that may have been.
“Sadly, the Estate has become the victim of considerable fly tipping which has become quite a serious problem over the last couple of years. Within our plans we hope to get eradicate all of this and create many more memories for Woodbank House and to ensure it can sit proudly over the village once more,” added Mr Paterson.
Woodbank House will also play a pivotal role in the ecological and biodiversity preservation as part of the Lomond Banks planning submission. As part of the extended ecological surveys of West Riverside and Woodbank House in Balloch, three different types of bat species have been identified and the Lomond Banks’ team is keen to ensure their prominence in the area.
The developers say the introduction of the ‘bat hotel’ at Woodbank House is part of their commitment to supporting wildlife and biodiversity in the area including the preservation of trees prime for roosting and creating like-for-like environments in which the bats can thrive.
Jim Paterson, Development Director, added: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring the welfare and preservation of the wildlife and biodiversity on the site.
“Our ‘bat hotel’ will be completely bespoke to the needs of our native bats and will create like-for-like environments, that the derelict and ruined areas Woodbank House are currently offering them. We know they enjoy what’s left of the chimney breast, for example, so this is an area we will replicate exactly within the ‘bat hotel’, giving them a tailored offering and a haven to prosper.”
Designs of the bespoke ‘bat hotel’ will continue to be developed as plans move forward with the National Park Authority.
Woodbank House has fallen into disrepair
As part of the planning submission Woodbank House, and its ancillary buildings, once complete would include self-catering apartments along with a collection of woodland lodges amongst the 20-acre estate to which Historic Environment Scotland, has responded with no objections to the plans. It’s walled garden would offer opportunity for the creation of character areas throughout the development within lush parkland set back from Old Luss Road.
The £40m plan, which includes a 60-bed hotel, 127 self-catering lodges, a leisure pool and water park facility and a monorail, as well as restaurants, cafes and retail areas, will bring “economic benefits” to the area band create “more than 200 jobs.”
The decision rests with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.