Bus firm founder buys clan chiefs' pounds 2m castle

JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

A businesswoman who founded Britain's biggest bus company in a council house in Perth has bought one of Scotland's great Highland ancestral homes and estates.

Ann Gloag paid pounds 2m for Beaufort Castle, the family seat of the clan chiefs of the Frasers of Lovat. The 24-bedroomed mansion lies in 800 acres of prime shooting and deer-stalking land on the banks of the Beauly Firth, near Inverness. She will move in later this year.

Mrs Gloag's acquisition marks the culmination of a remarkable tale of working-class business success and aristocratic tragedy and failure. In 1980 she used her bus-driver father's pounds 25,000 redundancy money to found the Stagecoach bus company with her brother, Brian Souter, when they were living in a council house in Perth.

From running a single route with second-hand buses in Dundee, Stagecoach expanded aggressively in the 1980s when Britain's bus industry was deregulated. Today it has 6,300 vehicles and employs 19,500 people worldwide. Profits last year were pounds 33m on turnover of pounds 350m. Mrs Gloag has a personal fortune of about pounds 70m.

As Stagecoach prospered, the Frasers of Lovat, one of Scotland's oldest families, were ruined by personal and financial disasters. Their downfall began last year when Andrew Fraser, 42, was gored to death by a buffalo in Tanzania and his 54-year-old brother, Simon, collapsed and died while hunting. Soon afterwards the wartime commando Lord "Shimi" Lovat died aged 83.

After his death, accountants found Simon Fraser had run up huge debts in bungled business ventures. An audit showed the family's liabilities had reached pounds 7m, including pounds 2.7m owned to the Inland Revenue, against assets of about pounds 8m.

Faced with ruin, the family announced the sale of Beaufort Castle in May. Yesterday Finlayson Hughes, the estate agents handling the sale, confirmed Mrs Gloag, 52, had bought the nineteenth-century mansion, together with the Fraser family chapel, 800 acres of land and 15 other cottages and lodges on the estate.

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