At Katharine Pooley’s striking Scottish escape, historic details, tradition and heritage combine to create a rural idyll
Deep in the Scottish countryside, this stunning castle is steeped in history and tradition
Roaring log fires, flickering candlelight, sumptuous decorations and plenty of foliage foraged from surrounding woodland: these are the magical ingredients that make the season special at the home of interior designer Katharine Pooley.
A fortified house located in the Scottish Highlands, this is no ordinary escape. Built in 1560 to protect the entrance to the Balloch Pass to Glenshee, the house was destroyed in a fire around a century later. The building’s chequered past stirred the imagination of Katharine’s father Robert, who bought it and began a painstaking restoration in 1988, rebuilding it brick by brick, before passing it on to his daughter fifteen years ago.
‘The castle truly comes alive at Christmas, when the sitting room, known as the Great Hall, is decorated with swags of greenery above the fireplace and tumbling from the chandeliers,’ says Katharine. ‘There are six bedrooms, but the extended family stays for the festivities – my siblings and their children, my mother and father, myself and my husband Daniel and our boys Jack and Charlie – and we all squeeze in together.’
The family return to age-old traditions at this time of year. ‘There’s no phone signal, internet or TV at the house, so we enjoy listening to music and playing board games,’ Katharine explains. Accents of red and green abound – from the cosy
FAVOURITE ROOM ‘The main bedroom, known as the Laird’s Room. It runs the length of the castle and I used the space to its full advantage’
upholstered armchairs to tactile linens and velvets throughout, making this a naturally festive Christmas hideaway.
References to its setting, including the dining chairs covered in the Pooley family Gunn tartan, are mixed with contemporary comforts such as generous showers and oversized sofas. ‘ When my father passed the house to me, my brief was to turn it into a home, while retaining its sense of history,’ says Katharine. ‘So the modern touches sit alongside antiques and my father’s oil paintings. I asked artist Jennifer Merredew to paint the mural on the Great Hall’s ceiling. She spent eight weeks lying on her back on scaffolding, working on the design based on the words of an old ballad that describes the burning of the original house.’
Decorating for the festivities is a pleasure – the Great Hall is home to an impressive tree, making it a magnet for family gatherings. In the bedrooms, four-poster beds are juxtaposed with modern check rugs, tartan screens and soft lamplight. Period touches, including beamed ceilings, original fireplaces and stained-glass windows, add plenty of character and charm.
‘It’s wonderful to be out in nature here, too,’ says Katharine of the stunning landscape, part of Cairngorms National Park. There’s so much to do, including horse riding, fishing, biking, and even skiing, but we love to take a bracing walk on Christmas Day. It makes returning to the house, with a large fire blazing in the inglenook fireplace, even more rewarding.’
OUR CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS ‘We enjoy long walks on the Cateran Trail and gathering round the fire in the Great Hall in the evening’
Forter Castle is available to rent through fortercastle.co.uk
GUEST BEDROOM The addition of a sofa creates a cosy corner for guests to relax in. Browse City Plaids carpets by Brintons to get this look. Canopy and headboard upholstered in Antique Paisley, £218.52m, De Le Cuona
BATHROOM Part of the master suite, this luxurious integral bathroom is discreetly screened. Severn freestanding shower, from £22,740; Spey cast-iron bath tub with ball and claw feet, from £3,570, both Drummonds