In 2004 Liza and her husband, Bruce MacGregor, started their business on his parents' Bogbain Farm near Inverness. Developed initially as a family visitor centre with emphasis on outdoor activities and agricultural heritage, it very quickly expanded and in 2006 they built a new wing onto the old byre to accommodate a cafe, gift shop and arts & crafts studio.
With a new farm shop in the byre and outdoor facilities including quad biking, paintballing, archery and play barn, it wasn't long before musicians Bruce and Liza added music and arts to the mix. With regular gigs, concerts, Sunday afternoon folk sessions, art and photography exhibitions, Bogbain rapidly developed into an artistic and cultural hub.
"Are you sure that was meant to happen?" There were many moments when Bruce and Liza asked themselves why they had ever started this crazy idea but in their hearts they knew they could create a truly wonderful venue, and so, convinced that their vision was worthwhile, they slogged on!
Three generations of MacGregors hard at work!
Liza and Bruce's toddler lends a hand
Waiting for the new kitchen to arrive
The clearing and renovation of Bogbain Farm's neglected old milking byre took many months of hard graft by the determined couple, but with help from friends and family, they went from that to this...
"Come on, Bruce, it's no' that heavy!"
The Dutch Barn finally cleared out
Outside there was even more work to do but they finally got the ground levelled, fences erected, go-kart track set up, play barn fitted out, the exterior painted, and a thousand other tasks.... and at last opened the venue to the public in June 2004.
Mrs MacGregor Jnr. puts finishing touches to the public notices
Busy summer days of family fun at Bogbain
Mr MacGregor Jnr. proudly checks out the farm shop
Bruce teaches digger school!
Big boy fun!
Big girl fun!
Always keen to support and promote the wonderful array of quality produce on their doorstep, Bruce and Liza held numerous food and drinks events and festivals celebrating local artisan producers, organic growers, the Slow Food movement, as well as top quality products from local wineries, distillers and the best of craft beers from the Black Isle Brewery.
Gaining a number of awards over the years for tourism and food from the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards and Highlands and Islands Food & Drinks Awards, Bruce and Liza, along with their loyal and dedicated staff, worked hard to make their business the best unusual venue they possibly could. With Bogbain's rustic charm and the attraction of a homegrown family business drawing many to hire the venue for birthdays, anniversary parties, and special celebrations of all kinds, along with the regular staples of Christmas functions, Hogmanay ceilidhs, Burns Suppers, Ladies' Lunches and numerous special kiddies' events, Bogbain Farm was quickly becoming a very busy place. They were even being asked to host weddings!
With their initial vision realised, Bruce and Liza turned their attention to another of Bogbain's dilapidated buildings. With a growing need for increased space and a desire to offer customers a more spacious cafe and better facilities - and a derelict barn on the side of the byre simply an eye-sore - the couple again went into action. With help from the Agricultural Business Diversification Scheme, and the small matter of re-mortgaging their house, they demolished the old barn and built a new wing onto the premises.
Opening in 2006 and accommodating a gift shop, arts studio and cafe / restaurant, the warm and cosy environment of the new building also enabled Liza and Bruce to hold concerts, folk sessions and functions of all kinds.
When accordion enthusiast and collector, Caroline Hunt, approached the couple with the offer of some of her three hundred-plus collections of instruments for display, accordionist Liza and fiddler Bruce jumped at the chance. With Caroline's collection judged to be second only to Italy's Castelfidardo, they gratefully took custody of sixty-five diverse and beautiful vintage instruments.
The unique nature of this little museum with its sparkling and colourful displays drew visitors from around the world as well as great interest from local folk, musicians and the media.
With Bogbain well-established as a music venue, Bruce and Liza decided the next natural step was to hold a full-blown festival, and so set about, with Bruce's father Brian, to clear the back barn he was using as a garage, renovating it as the main concert room. A tremendous natural space, its pointed stone walls and original rafters lent the new function room an authentic, down-home appeal.
Working closely with musical colleague, Brian O h-Eadhra, the first music festival was programmed and organised, and along with a host of other enthusiastic friends and volunteers, Bogbain Farm was transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing festival venue. Complete with Green Room, bars and late night club, and even a resident artist in the form of acclaimed artist Paul Taggart, doing on-the-spot paintings of all the musicians, Northern Roots Festival was born!
Other debut Northern Roots events included an acoustic stage, an open mic, after-hours sessions, the best in local food and drink, and of course craic aplenty. With their first Northern Roots Festival a sell-out success, Bruce, Liza and Brian O h-Eadhra immediately set about planning the next one, with the unanimous, number one priority being to move the festival from the still-Baltic month of April to the ever-so-slightly balmier days of June. Old farm buildings look and sound great, as well as oozing character, but have got to be among the most difficult places to heat!
Artist Paul Taggart at work in the main concert room
It was Liza and Bruce's mission at Bogbain to promote and celebrate roots music from both home and further afield, and so for their first Northern Roots Festival, as well as the best of Highland bands, they brought in top class acts such as The Groanbox Boys from the USA, who had played a concert at Bogbain the year before and gone down a storm, Martin Stephenson of The Daintees and the acclaimed singer-songwriter Dean Owens of The Felsons.
Headliners Sheila Henderson Band
Music promoter Rob Ellen enjoys a late-night acoustic session
Liza, Sofie Jonsson and John Mitchell, collectively the Cross-eyed Gals, wait to take the stage at the debut Northern Roots Festival
Bob and Anna Massie play the main stage
Liza and Maryann Frew play the acoustic stage
What started out as a side-project for Liza and Bruce happily grew an incredible number of arms and legs! They never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs, simply folk who could see the potential in Bogbain Farm's neglected byres and steadings, and had a vision for a unique venue that could at once be an arts & music hub, a wholesome outdoor activity centre for adults and children, and a welcoming space for events of all kinds.
The many years of challenging work in renovating Bogbain Farm, building the new wing and the time, effort and resources expended in creating a venue that many thousands of people have been able to enjoy, was not just hard graft but also a lot of fun. Bringing music, life and laughter back to Bogbain, a place that decades before had been a thriving farm, inn and drovers' tryst, is something Liza is immensely proud of. Although Bogbain's reputation and good standing within the community were sadly tarnished by actions and mismangement by individuals brought in later (see Postscript below), renovating and rebuilding the farm steadings brought Liza great satisfaction during her years of establishing and managing the couple's venture.