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Family next door saved Newburgh hotel from demolition – and now they’re restoring it to former glory

Lorna Younge grew up next door to the Udny Arms Hotel, spending her childhood enjoying slabs of its famous sticky toffee pudding on her garden wall.

Her legs dangling beneath her as she tucked into the treacly treat, she never imagined that one day she would be running the place.

And when we arrived on a bright but chilly December afternoon, Lorna was busy overseeing the delivery of a truckload of tiles for its refurbishment.

After guiding the lorry driver, she told us about the twists of fate that brought the Newburgh landmark into her family’s hands.

The venue’s new manager revealed how, had they not snapped it up, the historic hotel would have been demolished by developers.

The hotel has been standing on Main Street since 1865. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Family’s links to hotel go back decades

The Udny Arms opened in 1865, and it enjoyed 150 years of trading before it shut.

Lorna grew up at the next house on Main Street, and even worked there as a teenager.

It has always been a part of the family’s life.

So it pained them to see the Udny Arms fall into decay while closed, with youths using the restaurant as a “party zone” and “five years of leaks” rotting away at the building.

Lorna’s parents, Douglas and Agnes Kinloch, kept an eye on it while its future remained in doubt – becoming its unofficial protectors by calling police if they suspected anyone had broken in.

Lorna Younge is proud to be overseeing the hotel’s revamp. Picture by Kath Flannery

It was initially bought by a private investor in 2015, who wanted to turn it into flats.

Later on, plans to transform it into a five-star boutique hotel – with five townhouses at the rear – came and went. And its owners gave up on it.

Last February when the Udny Arms went up for auction in Glasgow, Douglas decided to attend.

“He was travelling back from Portugal,” Lorna said.

“On the day of the auction he flew in to Glasgow, thinking ‘I’ll just go along and see what happens…'”

The building fell into decline while unoccupied. Picture by Kath Flannery.

But nothing happened. It didn’t sell.

The retired oil and gas worker took that as a sign, and soon took the plunge by contacting the owner with an offer.

“He does like a project, and this is a big one,” Lorna laughed.

By the end of March, the family had the keys.

It was only then they learned that, had it not sold, developers would have sought to bulldoze the historic hotel and replace it with new houses.

What could go wrong?

At the same time, the global pandemic was spiralling out of control, and naturally, the plans were put on hold.

Looking on the bright side, Lorna said plotting the project “gave us something to do in lockdown”.

The upper floor of the restuarant will be taken down a bit to give diners more space, with large windows at the back offering views over the coast.

They managed to get started last summer, and already the roof has been redone.

Now, the scheme has taken another step forward – with plans for the overhaul officially lodged with Aberdeenshire Council.

The family aims to downsize from 18 to 12 bedrooms, allowing guests to have more space.

Our video tour of the building shows the scale of the refurbishment – 

There will also be wheelchair ramps added so visitors of all abilities can enjoy the restaurant on the ground floor.

But they plan to keep as many original 19th century features as possible, by giving them a “bit of TLC” to bring them up to scratch.

And, all going well, public areas will be open by next Christmas – with the rest following in stages.

Udny Arms Hotel is in Lorna’s blood

Lorna told us about the joys of growing up next to the bustling business, at a time when the Scottish seaside was more popular than any destination abroad.

She said: “I’m Newburgh born and bred.

“I wanted to get out as a teenager, but came back when I had a family.

“I’ve seen the Udny Arms in its heyday, which was really interesting as a child…

“You’d get some weddings going on in the function room into the early hours, but it was lovely.

“And it was handy to get a fix of sticky toffee pudding on a Sunday afternoon, then you’d sit on the wall and eat it.”

This is the lovely view of the nearby Forvie Nature Reserve from the back of the Udny Arms Hotel. Picture by Kath Flannery

Lorna’s hospitality career took her to The Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast and the Trossachs, where she met her husband Robert.

And the revamp effort is a real family affair.

Lorna’s parents own the building, and she is the manager.

Lorna’s 21-year-old daughter Amy helps in the cafe, and her 24-year-old son Callum lends a hand when needed too.

Lorna will be on hand to greet guests with a smile when the venue reopens. Picture by Kath Flannery.

Refurbishment is a labour of love, but will it pay off?

Lorna gave up her job as north-east area manager for Slimming World to lead the project.

She is optimistic the gamble will pay off, coming at a time when the pandemic has put paid to trips abroad for many – and opened eyes to the pleasure of touring the UK.

She told us: “I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason.

“We are hoping this is the right thing to do, the area has beautiful golf courses and is popular for fishing.

“I really believe that more and more people are coming to appreciate the beauty of the north-east coast.”

The Ythan Estuary is just a short walk away from the Udny Arms Hotel.

Cafe’s success a sign of things to come for Udny Arms Hotel?

Another crucial part of the project is the Trellis cafe, which opened in May in the hotel’s former function room.

Lorna estimates about 80% of customers are repeat business, meaning it has quite a following already.

But staff have even welcomed people from as far away as Shetland – popping in on their travels as they saw it on Facebook.

Trellis has become a hit. Picture by Wullie Marr

That success is due in no small part to Lorna’s “right-hand woman”, Mechelle Clark.

Mechelle used to run the popular Melt cafe in Aberdeen, and now serves up the same mouthwatering meals at Newburgh.

A recent “festive toastie” innovation, cramming as many Christmas dinner ingredients as she can fit between two slices of bread, has proven especially popular.

Some of the cinammon buns on sale at Trellis.

While the cafe is one way of generating money towards the hotel renovation, another is selling the two Victorian villas attached to it as new homes.

They were once used for additional bedrooms, but now one has been snapped up by new owners and the other is on the market.

But speaking of cake… What about that famous sticky toffee pudding?

The hotel is famed for its sticky toffee pudding, claimed to have been invented by Nancy Stott many decades ago.

In her time at the Udny Arms it is estimated she served up more than 500,000 of the legendary desserts.

The Udny Arms Hotel was known for its delicious desserts.

The cook behind the pudding still lives in the village, and Lorna has been given the hand-written recipe from more than 50 years ago.

And yes, it will be back on the menu to offer a tasty trip down memory lane when the Udny Arms reopens.

You can see the plans for yourself here, and keep up with the revamp at the Udny Arms Hotel’s Facebook page.

Read more about efforts to bring other derelict hotels across the north-east back to their former splendour: