Highland Fling

21.02.17

A magnificent example of the golden age of country house living, Fasque Castle offers guests a luxurious insight into the grandeur of a bygone age. Laura Henderson pays a visit.

As I look out of windows open to manicured lawns stretching down to the loch, the only thing I can hear is the patter of early evening rain on the leaves of the towering oaks outside. A few moments later, the sound of rustling heralds the appearance of a herd of timid white deer taking shelter under a thick stand of low pines, their twitching ears on alert as they observe their woodland domain.

This is just one of many standout memories I have of a recent visit to Fasque Castle Estate located in the rural heart of Aberdeenshire. Others include a heavenly supper of beech smoked salmon in the local village hostelry, warming up in front of a roaring log fire with a post-walk hot toddy, and discovering my wardrobe to be in its very own turret. Located between Dundee and Aberdeen at the foot of the Grampian hills; this is a slice of enchanting Scottish countryside: 400 acres of majestically wooded grounds and an immaculately kept park with several estate properties converted to smart self-catering cottages.

In the 19th century, it was the family home of British Prime Minister William Gladstone, and was considered the most sophisticated building in the country at the time. Gladstone served as prime minister four times and regularly clashed with Queen Victoria as he introduced his liberal reforms to expand voting rights and improve the legal system. Now Fasque, a dramatic sandstone building in the style of a castle with spectacular public rooms and 19 lavishly furnished bedrooms, is recapturing its historical heyday as a welcome place to come together; this time as an exclusive venue for private hire. As apt, certainly, for cabinet meetings as for family gatherings, weddings and formal functions today - the property can accommodate up to 150 people; the elegance of the mansion as intended by the people who originally built it over 200 years ago.

The brainchild of Fasque House Properties managing director, Douglas Dick-Reid, Douglas and his wife Heather purchased the Georgian mansion in July 2010 and reopened the magnificent baronial property in 2013 following an £11 million refurbishment.

The finished result is captivating. Enter the imposing arched entrance way and the first glimpse of blue-blood grandeur is the classically decorated Great Hall; its sweeping cantilevered staircase leading onto a spacious drawing-room, library and billiard-room complete with blazing wood fire.

Upstairs, the panelled high-ceilinged corridor unfurls into a suite of sumptuously appointed bedrooms; each one combining traditional luxury with a modern twist (Nespresso machines, Arran Aromatics toiletries, Egyptian-cotton bedlinen and bathrobes). Walls, adorned with textured wallcoverings mesh accents of velvet, tweed and organza, all harmonising beautifully with the restored period furniture. The ultimate in boudoir decadence, the luxuriant bridal apartment, characterised by its curved walls, allows for the inclusion of a hidden annexe, a discreet space for quiet contemplation.

For Douglas, the restoration of the property and the estate has been a challenge but a “hugely rewarding.” one: “We’re delighted with the popularity Fasque has enjoyed as a venue since our opening. Like all such historic buildings we’ve paid scrupulous attention to detail with all elements of the restoration, taking our time to get things just right. The end result hopefully speaks for itself.”

The well-being of guests clearly extends beyond the inviting accommodation, with a wealth of estate activities to enjoy.

Those content to don wellies and explore the grounds and woodland will find Fasque’s four hundred acres are the natural home to a host of Scottish wildlife. You may catch sight of the deer herd on the banks of the lochan. Keep an eye out as well for otters, eagles, red squirrels and woodpeckers as you stroll the paths around the estate. There’s also the peaceful pleasure of wide, open spaces, from wild expanses to riverbanks.

Camera at the ready: everything is already in close-up. Country pursuits such as clay-pigeon shooting, fishing, horse- riding or wildlife-spotting walks can also be arranged by the quietly attentive staff.

For avid golfers, the championship golf links of St Andrews and Carnoustie are tantalisingly close and several local golf courses at Brechin, Letham Grange, Stonehaven and Montrose sport fine fairways, magnificent views and a good challenge for all types of players. Fettercairn Distillery, one of Scotland’s oldest malt whisky distilleries lies only a few miles away and just over an hour’s drive away is Royal Lochnagar Distillery located next to Balmoral Castle in Royal Deeside.

Out with the castle’s unique accommodation offering, delightful self-catering cottages for holiday lets on the estate allow for a different way to experience country living at its best. Property sizes range from a luxury one to a spacious three-bedroom cottage; each sensitively restored with plenty of homely gadgets on hand to keep all ages happy after days discovering what the surrounding area has to offer. Calm retreats to relax and restore energy.

As to future plans for the estate, Dick-Reid doesn’t appear to be reigning in his development ambitions any time soon, with an enterprising vision including the conversion of steading and stable blocks to create additional holiday lets, as well as the creation an equestrian centre, farm shop and museum.

Adds Fasque Castle General Manager, Kendal Matthews: “We’ve respected the history, integrity and legacy of the estate, whilst bringing everything up to date in style. We’re really looking forward to growing Fasque’s potential in the coming years. With such a fascinating past and a promising future to shape, it’s going to be a rewarding journey.”

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