Liv­ing it up in the High­lands

A new book by our Fine Arts and Books Edi­tor re­veals that High­land shoot­ing lodges aren’t all gaunt, freez­ing mon­strosi­ties put up by philistines. Adam Ni­col­son is gripped

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Ar­chi­tec­tural/so­cial his­tory

High­land Re­treats: The Ar­chi­tec­ture and In­te­ri­ors of Scot­land’s Ro­man­tic North Mary Miers (Riz­zoli, £45)

Schol­arly, orig­i­nal, witty and beau­ti­ful to look at; clear-headed about the whole phe­nom­e­non of the Bri­tish rich colonis­ing the High­lands and amaz­ingly knowl­edgable; sub­tle and com­plex in its trac­ing of the var­i­ous roots and vari­a­tions of this love af­fair with a beau­ti­fully up­hol­stered ver­sion of the wild; alert to ab­sur­dity; in love with the ro­mance of it; per­fectly de­signed by robert Dal­rym­ple and richly fur­nished with lus­cious and flat­ter­ing pho­tographs of the houses and their land­scapes by Si­mon Jauncey and the late Paul Barker: what more could one ask from a book?

There is only one an­swer: noth­ing. All you need do, hav­ing ab­sorbed the riches of Mary Miers’s pages, is go on the kind of as­sid­u­ous tour she has clearly been em­barked on for decades, vis­it­ing the as­ton­ish­ing build­ings— or at least those that re­main— whose flow­er­ing she has chron­i­cled.

It’s easy enough to laugh at the great lumpen houses scat­tered across the High­lands, pre­ten­tious be­yond be­lief, freez­ing, leak­ing, grey-souled, as pompous as a clutch of bea­dles at a ban­quet, im­pos­ing their plu­to­cratic vul­gar­i­ties on the serene land­scapes around them, but this book turns all of that—or much of it any­way— on its head.

It all be­gins much ear­lier than you might ex­pect, in the late 18th cen­tury, with a light and del­i­cate ver­sion of the Pic­turesque, al­lied to a vi­sion of free­dom in the wild. This was the era of the ‘shoot­ing cot­tage’, filled with pale fab­rics and del­i­cate fur­nish­ings, fol­low- ing the en­tranc­ing ex­am­ple of the Duchess of Gor­don, who, from the 1770s on­wards, al­lowed her chil­dren to run rousseau-style bare­foot around her lovely Spey­side acres, while she danced of an even­ing with any man who would have her, at least if they promised to join up to fight the French. Only when they had agreed, would she pass them the golden guinea she held be­tween her lips. It was all for her ‘a dra­mat­ick eman­ci­pa­tion from the arms of so­ci­ety’.

The Vic­to­rian ver­sion loses some of that light-foot­ed­ness. The great in­doors be­came, all too of­ten, a theatre of amaz­ing ex­trav­a­gance and ridicu­lous­ness. In­dus­trial and im­pe­rial money rolled north. For­tunes cre­ated from sell­ing beer, whisky, tex­tiles, gin, coal, Worces­ter sauce, steel, iron, bi­cy­cle seats, ri­fles, ships and can­non, opium, tea, rail­ways, indigo, news­pa­pers, fi­nance, ra­zor­blades, bot­tling ma­chin­ery and cot­ton poured into dis­tant glens. By 1872, six sep­a­rate ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tices were op­er­at­ing in In­ver­ness to cater to the gush of cash want­ing to make the High­lands com­fort­able.

These hol­i­day­mak­ers brought not only their staff, but their hounds, their fur­ni­ture, their por­ta­ble fish­ing boats and their own food (in­clud­ing in one case a box of ‘pigs’ coun­te­nances’) with them. One English mine-own­ing fam­ily never came on its an­nual hol­i­day to Scot­land with­out a sup­ply of coal trans­ported by rail from its own col­lieries.

Shoals and herds of wild an­i­mals were sac­ri­ficed in ser­vice of this ideal, but the re­la­tion­ship be­tween in­side and out­side was al­ways a lit­tle ag­o­nised. At Vic­to­ria and Al­bert’s Bal­moral— not the ori­gin of the High­land love af­fair, but cer­tainly giv­ing it some oomph—this­tles in the decor were ‘in such abun­dance that they would re­joice the heart of a don­key’ and the more ten­der vis­i­tors were likely to end up with frost­bit­ten feet be­cause the Queen in­sisted on keep­ing all the win­dows open dur­ing din­ner.

later sybarites were more sen­si­ble, in­stalling fab­u­lous Ti­tanic-scale plumb­ing and heat­ing sys­tems be­hind the neo-ja­cobean en­crus­ta­tions and Tu­dor­bethan ceil­ings of their ba­ro­nial ha­cien­das. Baths were fit­ted with con­trols for douche, wave and spray, plunge sitz and jet. Hy­dro­elec­tric tur­bine houses were equipped with mar­ble-faced in­stru­ment pan­els. On some es­tates, the ken­nels wired up to the elec­tric­ity be­fore the es­tate cot­tages.

On the Isle of rum, Sir Ge­orge Bul­lough im­ported 250,000 tons of top­soil for the gar­den, kept hum­ming­birds in the camel­lia house and al­li­ga­tors and tur­tles in heated pools. The mar­ble swim­ming pool at Sk­ibo for the carne­gies could be con­verted to a ball­room by floor­ing over the heated sea­wa­ter and in­stalling a band in the gallery.

This is cer­tainly one of the most bril­liant so­cial his­to­ries I have ever read. Be­hind it all, not un­ac­knowl­edged, but not in the fore­ground, is the silent story of the clear­ances ‘out­side the scope of this book’. Per­haps the au­thor will bring her won­der­fully clear eye and amaz­ing en­ergy to that other story next. It could, oddly enough, bear the same ti­tle.

‘Sir Ge­orge Bul­lough kept al­li­ga­tors and tur­tles in heated pools

The artis­tic shoot­ing lodge: an en­sem­ble of Aes­thetic Move­ment taste at Wil­liam Leiper’s Kin­lochmoidart House in the West High­lands

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.