Obituary – Sarah Holman
SARAH HOLMAN, who has died aged 65, stood out among a dwindling number of Highland landowners who hold the view that owning an estate comes with a duty and responsibility to the land and the local community.
She took an active part in the life of the villages of Ilmington in Warwickshire and Acharacle, Argyll, where the family trust made land available for a new primary school, a commemorative woodland-walk and an extension to the graveyard.
Her great love was stalking on the family’s Shielbridge estate, near Acharacle. There was nothing she liked better after a morning swim in the icy Atlantic waters than setting out for the high tops, often not returning until late evening.
Where deer were concerned, she was a traditionalist and upheld all that was best and grand about stalking. Not for her a short walk, an easy beast in the early morning mist or loosening off a few rounds from an all-terrain vehicle. She was an accomplished stalker and got involved in all aspects of the day, including the gralloching, which she once performed wearing a pair of Marigolds. She treated the deer with dignity and respect.
Nothing annoyed her more than being told by Scottish Natural Heritage that a larger cull was needed to make way for yet more trees, even although their numbers had already been reduced to an all-time low. She hated the commercial aspect of stalking and of deer being treated as pound notes in fur coats. These were views she made widely known as chairperson of the Ardnamurchan Deer Management Group and on the executive committee of the Association of Deer Management Groups.
The eldest of four daughters of Christopher Boot Holman and his wife Winifred, nee Ponsonby, Sarah Charlotte Holman was born in London on July 9, 1951.
Her great-grandfather was Jesse Boot, the first Lord Trent and founder of Boots the Chemists. In 1930, he had purchased the 50,000-acre Ardnamurchan Estate from the father of the art historian Kenneth Clark. The estate comprised a 70- stag deer forest and the south bank of the River Shiel, famous for its early run of sea trout and heavy salmon.
She was adored by her sisters, nephews, nieces and godchildren and welcomed them to the Old Manse at Acharacle each year. They, in turn, loved her, relishing her eccentricity and her attitude that when things went wrong it didn’t really matter as it was boring to have a day without a drama - even when she almost lost some of them at sea.
Family gatherings were always, ‘Have you heard about auntie? She’s been arrested, left Sporran (her old Norwich terrier) at the ferry and got 10 points on her driving licence in one journey.’
She developed diabetes when she was five, but never made a fuss, always telling her family that she was as fit as a fiddle, had her diabetes under control and that her doctor had recommended a bottle of red wine a day. A prescription she adhered to until this year when she announced that she was giving wine up for Lent, though when asked how she would manage she replied: ‘I’m drinking whisky, instead.’
Despairing of her ever getting married, her father asked her to take over the running of the Shielbridge estate when she was 35. Moving to the Old Manse at Acharacle, she provided generous entertainment where dubious starters of salmon mousse and mushroom and mackerel pate were washed down with lashings of fine red wine. She was a Deputy Lieutenant of Warwickshire and High Sheriff, as her father and several ancestors had been before her. She was always organising shows and events to raise money for her many charities. When her bank manager asked her what her job was she replied: ‘Compulsive fundraiser.’
For the past 20 years she ran the Cheltenham Countryside Race Day, raising funds for the Countryside Alliance and other rural charities. She raised more than £ 2 million and brought the attendance numbers up from 6,000 when it started to 20,000.
When the committee tried to retire her, giving her a huge farewell lunch, she took absolutely no notice and carried on the next year raising a record amount.
Sarah Holman had no airs and graces.
At a very smart charity lunch in Gloucestershire last year, where everyone was vying to impress everyone else with their guest list, she invited Steve her chippy, her gardener, her plumber, Barry her local taxi man, and her friend the rat catcher and had the most fun of all the tables there.
A woman of forthright views, described by a friend as ‘ 95 per cent wonderful and five per cent maddening’, Sarah Holman lost her keys, wallet and telephone on a monthly basis and was oblivious to any rules that didn’t suit her.
On one occasion, rushing back to her home in Warwickshire at high speed late at night, she was pulled over by the police. She explained that she had been playing the part of a tart in the village play and when she saw the lights of a car behind apparently giving chase, she was terrified that she was being pursued by two men in the audience who had been eyeing her up. The policemen were so impressed by her defence that they sent her on her way.
On another occasion, arriving at the airport checkin desk and finding herself barred from her holiday flight since she had an out- of- date passport, she demanded to speak to the pilot.
Sarah Holman was unmarried, explaining that she had two lovely proposals when she was younger, but had turned them down, as ‘things were great as they were’.
She is survived by Corrie her beloved Norwich terrier.