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‘It’s a family legacy’: Inside look at Newburgh’s Udny Arms Hotel after million-pound makeover

Bringing the decades-old building back to its former splendour was no easy task, but the new owners were determined to get the project across the finish line.

Lorna Younge (owner) photographed outside the recently revamped Udny Arms Hotel in Newburgh.
For the last three years, Lorna Younge has worked tirelessly to transform the derelict hotel at the heart of Newburgh into a family haven. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“Guess what I bought?”

Lorna Younge’s brow furrowed as she looked down at the text message from her dad.

It wasn’t any old purchase one would expect – an item plucked from the middle aisle of a supermarket on a whim or a bargain spotted in a charity shop.

Instead, it was the hotel the family had spent their lives next door to.

For years, Lorna’s parents, Douglas and Agnes Kinloch, had watched Newburgh’s Udny Arms Hotel fall into decay – often becoming a target of vandalism and break-ins.

Udny Arms Hotel in Newburgh
The hotel had been vacant for nearly a decade before Lorna and her family took it on. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

And seeing the once vibrant landmark fade away, they felt compelled to take matters into their own hands and restore it to its former glory.

Little did they know that one decision on a cold February afternoon was the beginning of a life-changing few years…

‘Getting the keys to the Udny Arms Hotel was the easy part’

Walking through the freshly painted hallways of the Udny Arms Hotel, Lorna tells me of all the twists and turns they have gone through since getting the keys in March 2020.

The revamp has been a real family affair – with her husband Robert and two children Amy and Callum also playing their part in resurrecting the building.

While many were cooped in at home during the pandemic, binging yet another TV series, they were ripping down wallpaper, clearing out debris and plotting their big project.

Lorna’s grand project began with a simple message and a set of keys three years ago. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Buying it was the easy part,” Lorna smiles.

“What came after was the challenge – it was a lot more work than we ever anticipated.

“As we were taking away things, we kept uncovering more and more problems. It was the gift that kept giving.

“The roof and floor were rotten, there were punches through the walls, paint peeling, fires had been lit – it wasn’t looking its bonniest and everything had to be renovated.”

The hotel as it looked when the plans got under way. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson 

Derelict hotel needed complete makeover

Fixing a 19th century building is no small feat, and the family had to go down to the rock to salvage it – while trying to preserve its original features as much as possible.

As Lorna shows me around the glossy tables in the refurbished restaurant, it’s hard to imagine this place was nothing but a pile of rubble just three years ago.

The graffiti that once plagued the crumbling walls of the derelict Udny Arms Hotel is long gone – with landscape paintings now hanging in its place.

The smell of “new” fills your nostrils as you walk into the transformed private function room, which can now be used for various celebrations and meetings for local groups.

There are 12 bedrooms, as well as a separate cafe bar where families can come and play a board game or enjoy live music during the weekend.

The bakers in the hotel make special cookies for every room to add a personal touch to customers’ experience. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Meanwhile, the restaurant and ground floor bar have also been upgraded with wheelchair ramps so visitors of all abilities can try the delicacies on offer.

And just to make customers’ experience all the more special, Lorna has added some personal touches to make them feel at home, as if they are “stepping into their house”.

What has been the response so far?

We are about to go into the front room when a man walks through the doors, looking to treat himself with a cold beverage while reading a book.

A staff member, dressed smartly, gives him a warm greeting and he is quickly seated at a window spot with views of the Ythan golf course.

This is the lovely view of the nearby Forvie Nature Reserve from the back of the Udny Arms Hotel. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

The hotel has been open for just over a week, and Lorna tells me they have seen a “fantastic” flow of customers and are fully booked for the next three weeks.

And there are already plans for dozens of Christmas parties, baby showers and weddings in the months ahead.

She says the “brilliant” response they have received so far has made their “enormous” efforts – as well as the seven-figure sum they have put into the revamp – worthwhile.

“We see it as an investment into our legacy as a family,” Lorna adds.

“It would have been heartbreaking to see the hotel demolished, which might have been likely, and it’s lovely to see people enjoying it again.

“Almost everybody that has come in so far has said it’s beautiful, warm and welcoming – but also familiar.

“It feels like a step back in time for those who knew it previously. It takes them back to when they used to come here as children to enjoy some sticky toffee pudding.”

Udny Arms Hotel, which is famed for its sticky toffee pudding, will still serve the dessert – offering diners a tasty trip down memory lane. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Udny Arms Hotel history inspires million-pound makeover

Lorna’s face lights up as she talks about all the stories people have shared with her since the doors of the Udny Arms Hotel reopened.

Some have been from former workers who knew the venue in its heyday, while for others it brought back memories from happy occasions they had celebrated there.

And this is why the family strived to preserve the character of the notable hotel, combining old and new.

As we walk up the recently fitted stairs to see the bedrooms, Lorna points towards a shiny stained glass window with bright colours.

While looking a lot more polished now, it is one of the oldest features of the building and something many in Newburgh remember the Udny Arms Hotel by to this day.

And Lorna was determined to restore it as a symbol of its history.

The stained glass window is believed to date back to when the hotel was first built. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

She mentions there are more original “bits and bobs” that they have repurposed in different places around the building – but what exactly is a surprise she keeps for later.

“It’s not just a hotel – it’s a piece of history,” Lorna says.

“The first week we opened, we had one lady in who had worked here 55 years ago. She just stood at the front door with tears in her eyes because she got to see it operating again.

“And to hear her stories of the building, and how things used to be, was just amazing.

“I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”

The road to success wasn’t easy…

As we head to the final stop of our tour – the cafe bar – Lorna explains the last three years have been immensely rewarding, although challenging and exhausting.

Like many others, the family faced a number of hurdles along the way due to the pandemic – with a shortage of materials and rising costs just a few of them.

Delays in deliveries also meant they had to postpone reopening the hotel by six months, having first hoped for this to happen in May.

Lorna Younge photographed in one of the newly revamped rooms of Udny Arms Hotel.
Lorna is excited to bring something special to Newburgh, offering “good old-fashioned quality service”. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Their success with the Trellis cafe, which was the first to open in the hotel’s former function room, was a huge boost with generating the cash for the overhaul.

But as more bills kept coming in, most of them doubled in price, the chances of getting the project across the finish line began to look slimmer and slimmer.

“It’s been stressful at times,” Lorna recalls.

“And there were so many moments when we thought this is much bigger than we expected and we are never going to actually finish it.

“But we would just get together as a family, talk over the challenges, how we can get across them and get it done.”

Udny Arms Hotel
Local tradesmen and decorators helped bring the hotel back to its former splendour. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

With a cheeky grin, she jokes: “We are still talking and my husband and I are still married – so safe to say, we didn’t let any of that break us.

“Now, we look back on the last three years and just think ‘wow – we really did it’.”

What do you think of the Udny Arms Hotel makeover? Let us know in our comments section below.

‘This is only the beginning for our revamped Udny Arms Hotel’

The mood lightens as we enter the cafe bar and Lorna tells me how the place was bustling with people and lively music a few nights ago.

This was once the beating heart of the Udny Arms Hotel so they wanted to carry out the necessary repairs, but keep most of it as it is.

To reflect the traditional character of the place, the bar top was specially made from the original roof joints they removed from one of the Victorian villas attached to hotel.

This is also the surprise I had been impatiently waiting for.

The ground-floor restaurant in Udny Arms Hotel.
The restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel serves for about 40 diners – with most dishes made with local produce. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

And as she looks across room, Lorna basks in the tales of this place once again – thinking of all the new memories that will be created here in the next 20 years.

With a gentle smile, she adds: “I often catch myself looking at people laughing, joking and having fun with their friends and family in the restaurant or in the cafe bar.

“In those moments, I think to myself: ‘Yes, this is why we did it. This is why I had all those sleepless nights, and went through all that stress. This is why it was all worth it’.

“And I’m excited to see what the next few decades will bring. This is just the beginning.”

Read more about how Lorna came to take on the massive feat of bringing the Udny Arms Hotel to its former glory:

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