Killundine – an old Highland estate (part two)

Killundine House, 1930s.

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On the death of the last of the Morris family the ownership of Killundine Estate passed to Mrs Dorothy Lees-Milne, who was well known at Corsons Mart, Oban, for her fold of pedigree Highland cattle and for introducing coypu – an animal looking like a very large brown rat imported to Britain from South America for fur-farming around 1929.

According to a local source, a few of them escaped from the ‘Coypu Field’ and the carp ponds above the Castle of the Dogs but were soon dealt with.

Mrs Lees-Milne did not own Killundine beyond a few years before leaving for Ardachy on Loch Etive-side. Whether the fast-breeding coypu and the cows went with her I am uncertain but it is surely no coincidence to read of one being seen crossing the A85 between Dalmally and Tyndrum in a letter published in The Oban Times in March 1974.

After this larger than life, pipe-smoking character left Killundine, the estate passed to the Forestry Commission in the 1930s; the southerly Salachan portion was planted with trees, while the other was leased through the Department of Agriculture to various farming tenants before being sold to the family of the present owners.

What of the estate itself? At one time it had the reputation of being one of the best farms in Argyll probably on account of the quality and quantity of the stock which must have been due in no small way to its sheltered position, natural drainage and the richness of the soil.

Col Charles Cheape of Killundine, 1807-1890.

In 1859, when Col Cheape was concluding the takeover from the Macleans, a notice appeared in the Inverness Courier announcing the sale of black cattle and horses. The black cattle, which were described as being of the pure West Highland breed and of a very superior quality, consisted of 40 cows – calved or to calve; 21 heifers, two-three years old; 40 stot and quey calves; two bull stirks; one bull, six years old and another aged three; four Ayrshire cows and five superior horses. The sale was to be held on Killundine at 11am on May 11. There was no reference to sheep.

The best snap-shot of Killundine estate in general is to be found in a set of sale particulars drawn up in 1933 for Mrs Lees-Milne by Messrs D M Mackinnon & Co, Solicitors, Oban, which, given its present condition, is worth reading:

‘The property extends to about 5,000 acres, of which about 80 acres are arable and the remainder hill pasture and heather.

‘A daily steamer (Sundays excepted) calls to and from Oban at Lochaline Pier, about seven miles distant, and at Drimnin, 3 and quarter miles.There is a daily service of letters. Telegrams, Drimnin. A resident doctor resides in Loch Aline.

‘Killundine House and offices. The house is compact and very easy to run. It contains three reception rooms, 12 principal bedrooms, five servants’ bedrooms, three bathrooms and four WCs. The house is lit by Acetylene Gas which has proved satisfactory. There are hot water coils [we’d call them radiators] in principal rooms.

‘There is an unfailing and excellent water supply by gravity. A garage for three small cars, or two large ones.  The garden is productive and consists of a good vegetable garden and three small greenhouses. Beautifully planned terraced gardens, with herbaceous borders, lawns etc. The gardens can be kept in fair order with one gardener.

‘The estate is entirely in hand (with the exception of one cottage feu on the far end of property) and is farmed by the proprietrix. The hill is good and carries a breeding stock of about 950 Black-faced ewes.

‘Killundine is very well known for its fold of pedigree Highland Cattle, which have won many championships and other prizes at the shows of the Highland and Agricultural Society, also at Oban etc etc.

‘The owner has spent large sums on the buildings which are adequate and has brought the land into good heart with heavy caking of show cattle etc. The farm house, situated conveniently, but unobtrusively near Killundine House, is in excellent order. There is also a bothy with two bedrooms and WC in the farm yard.

‘The farm buildings are as follows: stable with three stalls and loose-box; byre with ties for 19 cows and calf pens; adjoining the byre is a large shed for young cattle; one large open-sided shed for tying and feeding cattle and calving pens; one smaller open-sided shed; food house; cart shed; implement shed; hay shed; engine shed; threshing shed with loft over; killing larder; harness-room, work-shop etc etc.

‘Cottages; good lodge near house (occupied by ploughman); pair of cottages above garden (gardener and keeper); single cottage near farm (shepherd); two unoccupied cottages at either end of the property (one previously occupied by shepherd).

‘Shooting. The grouse are particularly good for this part of Argyll and are rapidly increasing. The owner has limited her tenants to 70 brace. Had the shooting been in hand, 90 to 100 brace could have been harmlessly killed for the last two seasons. The hill is particularly easy to walk and a pony can be taken over practically all of it.

‘The stalking is good and comes in conveniently after the grouse have been killed. Heavy beasts are obtained, one of which last season weighed 22 stone.  Winter shooting has not been let. Up to 199 woodcock have been killed during the past winters and wild pheasants are becoming plentiful again. Rabbits are numerous, and make very sporting shooting, the trapping of same being remunerative.

‘The fishing in the sea and the streams on the estate provide good sport.  Brown trout may be obtained from the Salachan and Killundine burns, also from a loch on the hill. There are salmon-netting rights and lobsters are caught. There is a good beach for bathing and a bathing hut. Also a boat-house.

‘There is a good summer anchorage for a yacht below Killundine House and a safe winter one in Loch Aline. The present occupants are: Mrs Lees-Milne (Killundine House and Offices; J McCallum (farm house); D Colquhoun (lodge); J Maclean (cottage); G Palmer (cottage); D MacGregor (cottage) and two vacant cottages.

‘Price  £12,000. Furniture, boats and other movables not included. The existing sheep stock will fall to be taken over by the purchaser on terms to be arranged.’

Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs Jessie Cameron, Carradale, Argyll,  holidaying at Killundine,  whose father had been on the estate for 47 years with Col Cheape and Sir John Morris.

What great stories she had of life and work there; of Col Cheape enlarging the house and having to take in paying guests to settle with the builder; her mother carrying 12 scuttles of coal upstairs to the guests’ bedrooms every day; her father saving  William Boyd, the estate manager, from being killed when he got his long beard caught in the gears of the old-fashioned, horse driven mill in the farm square and of Sir John Morris and his yachts –  the Gladys and the Myrtle.

Iain Thornber








Images and captions

1. Col Charles Cheape of Killundine (1807-1890) from a portrait by H F Lucas Lucas (Photograph  James Gray-Cheape)

2. Killundine House ca1920s (Photograph supplied by Iain Thornber)

3 The remains of Killundine House shortly before it was finally cleared away in the 1960s (Photograph supplied by Iain Thornber)