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PAST LIVES: David Lambie turned love of nature into growing business

By Gavin Musgrove

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David had a love of photography and produced a superb book called 'A camera in the Cairngorms National Park'.
David had a love of photography and produced a superb book called 'A camera in the Cairngorms National Park'.

David Alexander Lambie was born in Carmunnock on the outskirts of Glasgow – one of two adored sons for Helen and William Lambie – on January 23, 1938.

Then he was a treasured brother – to the late Robert, whom he was very close to.

David enjoyed a warm and close relationship with all of his family, and the bond between them was a special one.

From an early age Helen and William encouraged David and Robert to have an interest in nature and observe the flora and fauna around their home. This without a doubt influenced their lifelong passion for the outdoors and nature in all its forms.

David also enjoyed most sports, especially football, which he played in his youth… according to one report this earned him another nickname that of ‘Twinkle Toes Lambie’. Perhaps this is why he moved on to play golf.

Along with his brother David attended the local schools where he was always a popular pupil and proved himself to be more than capable in any subject that interested him.

In his teenage years, David played in a skiffle band and was also the singer.

On one occasion they were invited to play at a do in the village hall…

Thrilled they were going to play to a large audience, they duly arrived and set up the band on stage but minutes before they were due to play, the minister took to the mic and announced that the band were due to start so maybe it would be a good time to have a coffee break!

When David left school he started working for John Letters Workshops making golf clubs.

David really enjoyed working here but health and safety not being as it is today meant that he developed a lung condition caused by the inhalation of dust and fumes which led him having to spend 10 months in hospital.

When he recovered his parents encouraged him to seek a career in an outdoor environment which saw him secure a new job with Glasgow Parks Department.

David and Betty sampling the famous Clootie Dumpling with Jim McColl of Beechgrove Garden fame at a fundraising day.
David and Betty sampling the famous Clootie Dumpling with Jim McColl of Beechgrove Garden fame at a fundraising day.

This proved to be a really positive change, David became so interested that he was offered the opportunity to study for a degree in horticulture at the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in Wisley in Surrey and so spent three very happy years there making some lifelong friends.

When he had completed his studies David decide to specialise in landscape design and was offered a job in the Bahamas designing and leading a team.

This assignment was cut short when he received the news that his father was dying so he came home to see him and decided to stay.

David returned to work with the landscape design team with Glasgow Parks which was based within the city chambers.

A few months into the job, a young lady by the name of Betty started work in the adjoining office and from the moment they met, their future was sealed.

David and Betty were married on the 28th October 1967 and enjoyed no less than 56 wonderful and happy years as man and wife, a phenomenal achievement by anyone’s standards.

To their delight their family increased in size with the arrival of Craig in 1968 and was then made complete when they welcomed Iain in 1970.

David and Betty were over the moon and threw themselves into the role of being good parents,

To quote Betty’s own words: ‘No two people could have been happier as unlike some marriages we both believed that as well as being madly in love, we were the best of friends and soulmates… a combination that allowed us to live and work together, rarely being apart in over 56 years’.

The family initially settled in Carmunnock, however, David was never very happy working in the city especially as he was working at a desk and experiencing corporation frustration.

Through a friend, the late Bob Cameron of Nethy Bridge, David was offered the opportunity to join forces with Sandy Grant of Skye of Curr, who was involved in general contracting work.

It was around the same time that David applied for a job in Malawi which Betty was not too happy about but she did not say anything until it looked like they were really keen to have him.

She then suggested that they consider Dulnain Bridge again rather than Malawi and with just enough time to buy a caravan and give notice to the Parks Department, they moved north just six weeks later, arriving on December 2, 1972.

David worked alongside Sandy for a few years until Sandy retired. David then purchased the land that formed the first part of what was to become The Heather Centre.

David had loved the heather garden at Wisley and realised that in Scotland, possibly because there is so much wild heather on the hills, that it was not wildly acknowledged just how diverse and wonderful the colour range available from the cultivated heather plants could be.

David at work.
David at work.

David’s dream was to specialise in growing this lovely plant, so they bought in 2000 plants from a specialist nursery and his dream started to become a reality.

They planted the plants on the corner of the site next to the caravan. These formed the base plants to take cuttings from for many years to come.

In the years that followed, slowly but surely after many trials, tribulations and very hard work, the Heather Centre flourished into a success.

In 1989 another dream of David’s was realised. He continued to research other aspects of this wonderful plant and then designed as Alan Devereaux, chairman of the Scottish tourist board at the time, described as ‘The world’s first heather exhibition’.

This developed the Heather Centre from a nursery garden into a visitor centre.

The centre continued to develop and both Craig and Iain were very much involved in its growth.

David was always very aware of the importance of giving back to the community and committed himself for years to various local groups and committees, including the GITA (Grantown Improvement & Tourist Association) and the Highlands and Island Enterprise to name but a few.

Tragically in 2016 a devastating fire destroyed 44 years of hard work which was very hard for David to bear but it was also an opportunity to hand over the business to Craig and Iain, who were willing to take on the responsibility of the rebuild.

The Lambie family in front of the new premises – the Speyside Centre – developed after the devastating blaze.
The Lambie family in front of the new premises – the Speyside Centre – developed after the devastating blaze.

David was immensely proud of how his sons shouldered this responsibility, despite lots of tough decisions and so many stressful situations.

He also discovered he had some time to enjoy the fruits of their labour… just being able to visit the centre and have the time to blether to customers was very special and always filled David with huge pride.

David and Betty were delighted when the boys settled down and got married and welcomed Michele and Rosana into the family with open arms.

No one was happier than David when he experienced the joy of becoming a grandfather. He was a treasured Grampa to Siana, Torran, Ayla, Ciaran and Lilly… the apples of his eye!

He took such enormous pleasure just from spending time with them all.

David was a member of the Caledonian Curling Club for many years, enjoying the team spirit and camaraderie of his fellow players until the ice rink in Aviemore was closed.

He was also a member of both Grantown and Boat of Garten Golf club which he enjoyed until he had a heart attack.

He was involved with Beechgrove Garden for many years as their resident heather advisor, he was also asked to be involved with many other television programmes and channels.

It was probably when the family moved north that David really got interested in photography.

He spent many happy hours on gentle walks with his beloved camera.

His ‘happy place’ was in Achnahannet where he captured the most amazing images of Mother Nature in all of her glory, and he published ‘A Camera in the Cairngorms’ in 2021.

David and Betty loved to travel and took advantage of the winter months to visit exotic locations and photograph flora and fauna, especially unusual and interesting species of butterflies.

He also loved to capture the characteristics of native people on film and took lots of shots of local people.

A few examples include wonderful trips to Costa Rica, Cuba, Thailand, South Africa where Betty lost David when he wandered off while trying to photograph a butterfly.

In Burma he got totally lost in the jungle and a search party had to be sent out to find him.

David was also a talented artist and painted many of his favourite photos onto canvas.

Although his health had not been at its best for some time now, David accepted this with his usual good humour, courage and determination.

A more genuine, lovely man anyone is unlikely to meet.

David passed away on November 2 with his family by his side.


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