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Lochailort couple John and Jan Bryden could do little more than watch helplessly as thousands of gallons of water and huge boulders swept through their property last week, destroying a lifetime’s work dedicated to their children’s charity.
The Brydens had put their heart and souls into building Kirsty’s Kids retreat, for use by disabled children and their families, and which was run in memory of their late daughter, Kirsty.
Little was left of the model village the couple had painstakingly created, while substantial structural damage was caused to various buildings, including a hydrotherapy centre for youngsters, a greenhouse, and garage as the torrent cascaded down the hill behind their home.
Most of the work John and Jan had done to ensure their garden had full wheelchair access was also wrecked.
Kirsty’s Kids came into being a decade ago to honour the memory of 19-year-old Kirsty,
who was killed when her car skidded into the loch just a few miles from home.
Kirsty, who worked with her dad in his business of drying and repairing flood damaged properties, had already spent time in Mozambique working with youngsters and also helped sick children and their families in Scotland. The charity was set up to continue her good work.
In the early days John and Jan travelled the world on what was Kirsty’s motorcycle, raising a massive £100,000 to set up and run the charity.
They also moved out of their own home into a flat above their garage so the main property could be used by visiting children and their families.
With the help of volunteers almost everything in the garden was specially handmade, from quiet seating areas and accessible buildings to a model railway, which could be remotely operated by a child in wheelchair as they followed alongside, even passing a miniature ‘Harry Potter’ Glenfinnan viaduct and highland village.
All this now lies in ruins. A dejected John told us: ‘Last Thursday I was in the workshop making parts for the model railway when there was a loud crack and a bolt of lighting shot across the room from the metal stove, luckily not towards me.
‘I ran outside and the rain was just pouring down, heavier than I have ever seen it anywhere in the world. There was also a huge rushing noise, so loud that Jan couldn’t even hear me shouting to her.
‘Thinking the bridge under the main road may be blocked I ran down the drive but only
managed a few feet before I was literally waist deep in water.
‘When I forced my way back to the house I found that the wall under our flat actually was cracked and the ground floor door was burst in the middle – from the inside outwards. Given the force of the water it was a miracle we weren’t swept away.’
John estimates that in just a few minutes there must have been tens of thousands gallons of water sweeping all before it. Its destructive power was such that it gouged out a 30-foot deep ravine through solid rock where there had previously been a small burn and waterfall popular with visiting youngsters.
‘Boulders the size of wheelie bins were carried along as if they were just gravel, while fully grown trees were obliterated, with their bark stripped off in the torrent,’ added John.
‘We’ve had our house damaged, our annex, our garage, green house and model village destroyed, the driveway washed away, sheds washed out and and the children’s respite hydrotherapy centre ruined.’
Just 30 feet behind the Brydens’ property, the world famous West Highland Line rail route was also undermined in several places, leaving the track hanging in mid air.
The main house itself, while flooded to a depth of about two feet, was spared further damage thanks to a thick stone wall completed at the back of the house just days before. Built by John based on research into the construction of ancient castles it broke the force of the rushing water and deflected it around the building.
John added: ‘I am so glad the house wasn’t damaged other than by flood water, which I am already drying out with the equipment I normally use at other people’s floods. We are due to have a family for respite care early next month and I don’t want to let them down.
‘In five minutes we saw a lifetime of work washed away, but we will not be giving up. We have welcomed over 200 children and their families here and their stories are all so touching. Messages from them said they really enjoyed their time here and for some it was their last trip.’
Unknown to the couple, one of the charity’s volunteers put an appeal on social media which raised almost £6,000 in just two days, along with many kind messages.
‘Jan and I were really overwhelmed by this,’ added John.’We are a no-overheads charity and 100 per cent of what we raise goes directly to those who need it.
‘We are not getting any younger and at this moment I don’t know how all this is going to be fixed, but we will continue to give our all to help people, just as Kirsty would have.’
Jan and John Bryden, founders of the Kirsty’s Kids Charity. PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE.
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The disabled access greenhouse beside the devastated site of the wooden castle and tree house PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE. NO F27 FLASH FLOOD HIT CHARITY 05
The undermined West Highland railway line which runs just feet behind the Kirsty’s Kids garden PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE. NO F27 FLASH FLOOD HIT CHARITY 07
Part of the wrecked model railway. NO F27 flash flood 10
John Bryden beside the gouged out hillside. PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE. NO F27 FLASH FLOOD HIT CHARITY 02
Garden barbeque and drinks shed. PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE. NO F27 FLASH FLOOD HIT CHARITY 06
A youngster on a previous visit enjoys having fun with the model railway. NO F27 flash flood 11