OBITUARY : Bruce Urquhart of Craigston
Friday 26 May 1995
Unlike most lairds of his generation, though, he did not care much for shooting or fishing. Instead, he planted hundreds of acres of woodland with his own hands. (The hands of his four children, too, they reminded him, as well as of his foresters.)
Craigston was mortgaged when he inherited it from his father during the Second World War, but while other, richer Scottish estates were being sold off, Bruce Urquhart painstakingly built this one back up, tree by tree. So it was natural that he later seemed most sure of himself, if not most relaxed, in his woods. He was always keen to talk about the minutiae of forestry and conservation - areas where his pioneering expertise was acknowledged by Fellowship of the Linnean Society and by an OBE. But with him the greenest thoughts in the greenest of shades could be startlingly disrupted. Well into his eighties he would break off in mid-sentence, scramble up a tree and attack some superfluous branch with one of the saws and hatchets which, whenever he was out of doors, seemed to grow out of the ends of his arms.
From an Aberdonian perspective, the least familiar Bruce Urquhart was the bohemian who, with his wife Bobs, romantically spent much of every winter among painters, writers and theatre people in lbiza. In the 1950s, the couple bought an old cottage behind Santa Eulalia, as dark and cool inside as a cave, surrounded by stony terraces which, over the decades, they turned into a dense, colourful, characteristically haphazard-seeming garden. Adam and Eve Urquhart themselves would have felt re-paradised here, and after a day of swimming and beach-combing with Bobs, Bruce was laid-back, gregarious, full of stories about the past.
After school at Glenalmond he had been at Oxford in the Bright Young 1920s, where he was taken up by ''Sligger'' Urquhart (no relation, he insisted). He spent four years in the colonial service in Nigeria, learnt forestry and applied his skills on the innovative Dartington Hall estate in the mid-1930s. Around now he met Bobs (Margaret) Koppel, the gifted and vivacious daughter of a diplomat. She had studied painting at the Slade School. They married in 1939.
In the war, which he ended as a Major in the Engineers, one of Urquhart's principal jobs was to help ensure the national supply of timber for pit- props. He took part in the invasion of Europe and was mentioned in despatches, but most of his memories of those days concerned liberating the wine cellars of northern France with Bobs's brother, Pat Koppel. During the war Bruce's father had died, leaving the debt- encumbered Craigston to be held together by a triple matriarchy consisting of Bobs, her mother and her mother-in-law. These were not easy times. Once, when Urquhart came home on leave and asked his small daughter what everyone had been doing in his absence, she replied, ''Carting manure.''
The post-war years brought a new optimism and the Urquharts tried out a Dartington-style experiment of their own, making over part of the estate in aid of an adult-education scheme under the patronage of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. But Urquhart continued to do his most inventive work in forestry and what would come to be called ecology. Writing in specialist journalists about his practical experiments, he contributed to a new understanding of natural regeneration, argued for the co-existence of forestry with farming, and disseminated his methods of cultivating certain kinds of tree, especially poplars.
As a consultant, he planned and managed forestry planting on many estates in Scotland and England, among them Mar (recently bought for the nation with funds from the National Lottery). He also promoted the use of wood in house-building and was an early advocate and successful importer of Scandinavian wood-burning stoves.
He drove himself very hard and it was partly to protect him from himself that Bobs encouraged the Ibizencan venture, which they first embarked on with their friends Michael and Lavinia Smiley, of Castle Fraser. There could not have been a greater contrast than between the magnificence of Craigston and the cottage at Santa Eulalia, and the new life enhanced the old one for them both.
Scotland always remained his true home. When away, he kept in constant, sometimes fretful, touch with Craigston through his son and eldest grandson. Even at his most cosmopolitan he never lost the Aberdonian resilience and parsimony which had enabled him to keep the estate going. One dark evening a couple of winters ago, before going out to dinner in Santa Eulalia, the octogenarian climbed up on the roof to mend something and fell 10 feet on to a stone drain. He was irritated to have cut his nose but otherwise quite untroubled. Nothing would deter him from the planned outing. And while he got ready, nothing distracted him, either, from noticing how many pine cones (Pinus pinea) were put on the fire, though outside they lay thick on the ground for miles.
Bruce Edward Arthur Pollard Urquhart, landowner, conservationist: born India 14 March 1908; married 1939 Margaret Koppel (one son, three daughters); OBE 1992; died lbiza 22 May 1995.
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