Ancient and modern north of the border

The towers and turrets may have traditional appeal, but Scottish homes don't skimp on contemporary comfort, finds Dorothy Walker
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The Independent Online

For some buyers, the turrets and towers of Scottish houses add a stylish touch, which puts thousands of pounds on the price. For others, the pointy bits suggest that the house might have too many drips and draughts.

For some buyers, the turrets and towers of Scottish houses add a stylish touch, which puts thousands of pounds on the price. For others, the pointy bits suggest that the house might have too many drips and draughts.

The happiest compromise is a building which looks old but conceals a more modern and warmer way of life under its skin. There are some good examples - ancient and modern - on agents' books north of the border this month.

Neil McLauchlan is selling his 10-bedroom Woodhouselee, near Blair Atholl in Perthshire, where he and his wife Carolyn have lived since 1977. They originally built a Finnish log cabin on a field farmed by an ancestor more than 200 years earlier. As their family grew, the cabin became rather cramped and Neil decided, after looking at various damp and draughty old houses, that a new laird's house was the answer. He put up the present elegant building in 1993-94, incorporating and disguising the cabin as a self-contained wing.

The old Duke of Atholl, living at nearby Blair Castle, approved: "It's rather nice - another small castle in the area."

Woodhouselee's owner, who was formerly in the telecoms business, is now moving on, and expecting offers over £1m. As one visitor remarked: "For the view, you could ask another million dollars."

Although so modern, with deep insulation and efficient heating systems, the house feels traditional thanks to 500- year-old Brazilian mahogany floors, rescued from a building on Glasgow's George Square, and such touches as Jacobean-style plaster ceilings made by local craftsmen.

Looking back on the years of building work at Woodhouselee, Neil says: "There was so much scaffolding, towering up to 60ft, that you had to be a limbo dancer or a pole vaulter to get into the place. One morning we woke up to find a builder standing at the foot of the bed with a chainsaw, explaining that he couldn't get in through the door, so he had cut his way in through a window."

Now visitors driving up the A9, seeing the tower and crow-stepped gables, think it is a period house. And that mature feeling is just as convincing in the public rooms with their panorama of forest and mountains. Although the country-clothing firm House of Bruar has its headquarters nearby on the other side of the Bruar Water, and the railway runs across the back of Woodhouselee's 4.3 acres, the house is secluded and the views are wide open and wildly romantic.

The house has all the necessities, old and new, for country life in Perthshire: double garage, wine cellar, loose boxes, stable, tack room, greenhouse, kennels and a helicopter hanger, now used as a gymnasium. The big "H" of a registered helipad marks the centre of the front lawn. Abbots Tower, near New Abbey, Dumfriesshire, has been the subject of a 10-year renovation project by teacher Peter Kormylo and his wife Lesley, who have not only built in many modern comforts into a 16th century keep, but also rescued some historic features such as the abbot's prayer aumbrey, tucked into the bedroom wall, and a secret staircase.

The tower was built about 1540 by the abbots of Sweetheart as a place of retreat from the routines of monastic life. It fell into ruin at the Reformation and stood roofless for 400 years. Working mainly in the school holidays, with his father doing much of the joinery, Peter took five years to get to the stage where the tower again had a roof and he could move with his wife into a flat in the top of the building. From there the builders worked downwards. He says: "Without lottery funds or megabucks, we took it slowly, earned the money and then spent it."

The work on the three-bedroom tower, which stands in one acre of gardens, was completed to designs by Edinburgh architect Ian Begg. "His plans make it quite domestic, not too large. He is one of Scotland's finest architects; I just wish he had designed the new Scottish Parliament." Peter says: "The tower is not draughty or cold because the walls we put up are thick, with insulated cavities, so it is quite a cosy building - a sandwich of old plus new.

"It is not baronial, and that's what makes it different. It was a refuge. All our visitors tell us that they feel it is a place of peace." With the tower on sale (offers over £425,000), Peter is moving to a new project - a traditional Scottish cottage in appearance, packed full of hi-tech systems.

Woodhouselee and Abbots Tower are being sold by Strutt & Parker, 0131.226.2500.


Turrets sprout everywhere in Scotland, on country houses, small-town villas and city-centre merchants' homes. Standing in its 95-acre park, Sundrum Castle, is ancient but was divided and modernised in the 1990s. The East Wing is grand, with four bedrooms (offers over £575,000) and the one-bedroom Coach House is cosy (offers over £99,000). Nine miles away is Prestwick and flights to London. (FPDSavills, 0141 222 5875).

Cathay House, Moray, is super-baronial, built for an engineer who made his fortune in China. Very fine Victorian orangery, eight bedrooms, gate lodge, 6.5 acres. Offers over £875,000. (CKD Galbraith, 01463 224 343).

Whitehouse Terrace, does not sound much but the price is the highest yet seen in Scotland - offers over £2.6m for the former three-star hotel in the Grange district, about 1.5 miles from Princes Street. Once owned by the Usher brewing dynasty, this family home has eight bedrooms, plus stables annexe and gate lodge. (Knight Frank, 0131 225 8171; Rettie & Co, 0131 220 4160).