From a Highland wilderness with its own train station to a house that Mary, Queen of Scots, may or may not have set fire to, the Scottish market was on the up in 2019.
Tom Stewart-Moore of Knight Frank in Edinburgh was in festive mood as he signed off on a year that promised little, but delivered more than anyone expected.
‘This year, despite all the uncertainty, the Scottish property market has surprised us all,’ he said. ‘Although stock levels were down, the majority of properties that we brought to the market – from cottages to country houses and estates – have all found buyers, not only from Scotland, but the south and overseas. For the first time in years, we have seen quite a few American buyers, some looking to buy houses in Edinburgh or St Andrews, or larger houses in the country. We expect to see more of them in the coming year.’
For Knight Frank, the icing on the cake was undoubtedly the successful launch, in October, of the 28,202-acre Auch & Invermearan estate, a spectacular wilderness that straddles the counties of Argyll and Perthshire and is the largest Scottish estate (‘by a country mile’, say agents) to be offered on the open market in the past eight years. The fact that it went under offer within a matter of weeks is a measure of the underlying strength of the Scottish market, adds Mr Stewart-Moore.
‘What grander way could there possibly be to arrive on your Highland estate?’
Bounded by deer forests on all sides, the estate, located within the southern Highlands in one of Scotland’s most dramatic landscapes, offers some of the finest sporting ground in Scotland, together with sustainable potential from a diverse portfolio of profitable enterprises, including farming, eco-tourism, forestry and rewilding.
It even has its own sleeper train service, the famous ‘Deer Stalker express’, which departs London Euston in the evening and arrives at Bridge of Orchy station on the Auch estate the following morning. What grander way could there possibly be to arrive on your Highland estate?
Renewed demand for good Georgian houses within commuting distance of Scotland’s major towns and cities saw the sale – through Knight Frank at ‘offers over £1.125 million’ – of B-listed Strathenry House near the conservation village of Leslie,24 miles from Perth and 31 miles from Edinburgh.
Originally built in 1824 for Robert Douglas by Scottish architect William Burn, the imposing, 9,243sq ft house, set in more than eight acres of gardens and woodland on the southern slopes of the Lomond Hills, has wonderful views over the Fife countryside and the Forth estuary – from the Bass Rock and Berwick Law to Edinburgh and the Lammermuir Hills beyond.
Robert McCulloch of Strutt & Parker, who has been crunching the numbers on Scottish estates, finds the market in that area to be ‘a model of consistency’. He explains: ‘The average number of estates offered for sale each year since 2000 is 30, with 32 offered for sale in 2019, and 22 sold, at an average price of £2.8m.
A recent development has been a reduction in the number of off-market transactions, with a five-year average of 14% private sales, compared with a long-term average of 25%. The five-year average total spend on estates in Scotland is £70.9m; in 2019, it was about £62m.’
Strutt & Parker handled eight estate sales in Scotland in 2019 and, with several instructions secured for 2020 and buyers registered with them from 23 countries worldwide, Mr McCulloch anticipates continued consistency in the market in 2020.
One of the headline sales to be achieved by his firm in 2019 was that of the romantic, 14,949-acre Pait and West Monar estate at Glen Strathfarrar in Wester Ross, a gloriously remote Highland sporting estate, 36 miles from Inverness, for which a buyer was found at ‘offers over £2m’ for the whole.
The market for Scottish islands is highly specialised and it was a positive indicator of the health of the market that Strutt & Parker closed a deal, at ‘offers over £1.4m’, for the 662-acre, picturesque and peaceful Inchmarnock Island estate. This island, which sits in the Firth of Clyde a mile or so off the west coast of the Island of Bute, has a mix of buildings that takes in some charming ruins, and even has its own ferry.
‘The enduring demand for Scottish estates continues, with opportunities to buy remaining rare,’ says Emma Chalmers of Scottish agents Galbraith, who handled seven successful open-market sales in 2019. Applicants included not only traditional sporting buyers, but also those interested in conservation, wildlife or simply enjoying the privilege of owning a private and remote part of Scotland to enjoy with family and friends.
One of the biggest estate sales completed last year was that of the 12,800-acre Glenlochay estate, for which Galbraith found a buyer in September 2019, at ‘offers over £4.2m’. Originally launched in June 2017, Glenlochay is a traditional sporting estate tucked away in a secluded corner of Highland Perthshire. It offered double-bank salmon fishing over 5½ miles, the potential for walked-up grouse shooting, deer stalking and viable farming and forestry enterprises.
Among the picturesque smaller estates and country houses sold by Galbraith last year was the 70-acre Coul estate, near Auchterarder, Perthshire, comprising a laird’s house, gardens, orchards, stables, woodland and paddocks in an idyllic setting. Launched in June 2017, it sold in July 2019, for ‘offers over £1.375m’.
Then there was the charming Rannoch Lodge estate on the shores of Loch Rannoch, Perthshire, sold in June 2019 for ‘offers over £1.25m’, with a principal house, five cottages and 100 acres of land, including loch frontage, a jetty and private beach, parkland and woodland.
There was also the beautifully restored, A-listed, late-16th-century Melville Manse in the coastal resort of Anstruther, Fife, which boasts sea views over the harbour and the Firth of Forth – it sold in February for ‘offers over £1.15m’.
Savills dazzled the market in the summer with the launch of the majestic, A-listed Seton Castle near Longniddry on the Firth of Forth – Robert Adam’s last Scottish master-piece – for which ‘offers over £8m’ were sought. The same agents showed dour Scottish resolve in securing the sale of one of the country’s most historic houses – The Craig, near Montrose, Angus – which found a buyer in July 2019 at ‘offers over £1.65m’, having been on the market since 2016.
The magnificent castellated stone house, set in some 21 acres of delightful walled 17th-century gardens and grounds 130ft above the Montrose Basin, had been the subject of a continuous programme of restoration, improvements and modernisation since 1986.
Tradition has it that Sir James Douglas spent his final night in Scotland at The Craig protecting the heart of Robert Bruce before transporting it to the Holy Land in battle against the Saracens.
Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have stayed there twice, once during her initial Northern Progress, then later, when she may have set fire to the house, believing it to be an enemy stronghold.
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The Bolfracks estate includes a beat of salmon fishings on the Upper Tay, one of Scotland’s ‘big four’ salmon rivers.
Pait and West Monar is a Scottish estate of enormous proportions that's full of all sorts of potential.