Liv­ing a fairy­tale

Will and Sarah Les­lie in­her­ited a ba­ro­nial-style cas­tle in poor re­pair, and are slowly turn­ing it into a fan­tasy fam­ily home

Period Living - - Contents - Words Ali­son Gibb

Com­plete with round tow­ers and spires, this ba­ro­nial-style Scot­tish cas­tle is as en­chant­ing on the in­side as it is on the out­side

Ward­hill Cas­tle has been in Will Les­lie’s fam­ily for 850 years, although its mag­nif­i­cent ba­ro­nial ex­te­rior bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the mod­est house that was first built on the site by Will’s an­ces­tor, Wil­liam Cruick­shank, in the 12th cen­tury. Orig­i­nally church land, the es­tate was gifted by Wil­liam the Lion of Scot­land as a re­ward for Cruick­shank’s ser­vices in the Cru­sades. It was in­her­ited by his only de­scen­dent, Janet Cruick­shank, who mar­ried Wil­liam Les­lie, a King’s Con­sta­ble and dis­tant rel­a­tive of King Mal­colm of Scot­land. The Les­lies of Ward­hill re­main hered­i­tary bailies of the re­gal­ity of Gar­rioch, a duty awarded by James IV to the chief­tain of Clan Les­lie af­ter the bat­tle of Flod­den in 1513.

The prop­erty was vastly ex­tended over the en­su­ing cen­turies and be­came grander in scale un­til its zenith in Vic­to­rian times, af­ter which the build­ing fell into dis­re­pair. Will’s great-grand­fa­ther’s gam­bling left the fam­ily’s debts in­sur­mount­able and half of the build­ing was de­mol­ished in the 1970s. ‘My grand­fa­ther had the choice of spend­ing sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand pounds on roof re­pairs or pay­ing a fine to His­toric Scot­land for de­mol­ish­ing half of the build­ing,’ Will ex­plains.

‘He de­cided on the lat­ter, still leav­ing a sub­stan­tial prop­erty, but one that’s much more man­age­able to main­tain.’ His par­ents still had the ma­jor task of treat­ing the re­main­ing build­ing for dry rot.

Will took over Ward­hill in 2014 when he mar­ried Sarah, and his mother and fa­ther Se­bas­tian - the 15th Laird - moved to another prop­erty in Aberdeen­shire. The lat­est cus­to­di­ans of Ward­hill were de­ter­mined to up­date and re­store the build­ing as fully as pos­si­ble, ini­tially giv­ing them­selves five years to make a dif­fer­ence. ‘Each gen­er­a­tion has done their bit,’ says Will. ‘My par­ents made the build­ing as hab­it­able as they could, but heat­ing it was im­pos­si­ble: you lit a fire in one room and you stayed there. If you needed some­thing from another room, you lit­er­ally had to run there and back, it was so cold!’ In­stalling a biomass boiler has solved that and helped the whole build­ing.

The task the cou­ple were faced with was daunt­ing to say the least, but both sets of par­ents have been ex­tremely sup­port­ive. Sarah’s par­ents live in York­shire and have years of ex­pe­ri­ence of ren­o­vat­ing properties. ‘They come up for a week at a time and are a force of na­ture,’ says Sarah. ‘You can­not help but be swept along by their en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. It was my dad’s idea to con­vert the game larders into the fam­ily kitchen, for in­stance. We hon­estly could not have done it with­out them.’

The pair tack­led the Bow wing next. It was al­most a ruin and there was no light­ing, heat­ing or plumb­ing in that part of the build­ing and two of the ceil­ings had col­lapsed. ‘The rooms were piled high with junk and dead birds. One room had been locked for 150 years,’ says Sarah. ‘It turned out to be full of trunks, all stuffed with pa­pers and ephemera dat­ing back to the 1700s. Will’s mum, Can­dida, had to help me sort it all out. There are trunks all over the house now, put to good use as bed­side, cof­fee and side ta­bles.

‘The prob­lem was that the house was twice the size at one point, so when half of it was knocked down, the con­tents were stuffed into this di­lap­i­dated wing,’ she adds.

Sarah is en­joy­ing dec­o­rat­ing and restor­ing the house, but ad­mits it is daunt­ing choos­ing de­signs for such a splen­did his­toric back­drop, and the ex­pense of pur­chases on such a vast scale is eye-wa­ter­ing. Luck­ily, she found one sup­plier, Shuf­fle­botham & Son, in Mac­cles­field, that sells end-of-line fab­ric at a re­duced price. ‘They’ve been a life­saver,’ she says.

A lot of the fur­ni­ture and wall­pa­per is steeped in fam­ily his­tory. The bed in the Span­ish room was given by the Queen of Spain to Will’s great­grand­mother, who was lady-in-wait­ing to Em­press Car­lota of Mex­ico. The bed was car­ried around Europe for the Queen’s com­fort and con­ve­nience. The well-trav­elled fam­ily bought cur­tains in the Paris Ex­po­si­tion in 1889 – some have dis­in­te­grated, but oth­ers sur­vive – while wall­pa­per dat­ing back to the 1920s is still in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion.

Up­dat­ing the prop­erty, Will and Sarah walk a tightrope be­tween pre­serv­ing fam­ily his­tory and adding their own stamp. The re­sult is a com­fort­able home full of pe­riod de­tails. ‘At the end of the day, it is our home and we want it to suit us.’ Al­ready a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for spe­cial oc­ca­sions and fam­ily get-to­geth­ers, the cas­tle will soon host fit­ness and well-be­ing boot-camps. ‘Noth­ing too bru­tal!’ prom­ises Sarah. ‘We want guests to come and re­lax – and per­haps drop a dress size – but we aim to make the re­sults for our clients sus­tain­able.’ Sus­tain­abil­ity is a good aim, whether for their fu­ture busi­ness plans or for their his­toric home, and it’s one Sarah and Will Les­lie are se­ri­ous about.

Top right: The cas­tle had a close shave in 1746 af­ter the Bat­tle of Cul­lo­den, when ad­vanc­ing Hanove­rian troops were bribed by the cham­ber­lain to burn bales of straw around the out­side to make it seem from afar that it was on fire

Right: Painted cab­i­nets from How­dens are paired with han­dles from Pushka Home, Sile­stone work­tops, and bar stools from Ikea. The elec­tric Aga didn’t need a chim­ney, but Sarah felt it needed fram­ing. On the shelf is a collection of Sophie All­port ce­ram­ics. The dresser was Will’s mother’s, now up­dated with An­nie Sloan paint. The wall lights are by Jim Lawrence

| Pho­to­graphs Dou­glas Gibb

Spied through the gap in the trees, Ward­hill, with its mag­i­cal spires and tur­rets, looks ev­ery bit the story book cas­tle, and even con­tains a room that was locked for 150 years. The faded stonework is full of his­tory and char­ac­ter

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