Morvern Lines – 4.2.21

Glencripesdale House in ruins shortly before it was completely demolished in 1963. Photograph supplied: Iain Thornber

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Continued from last week.

‘The woods are a great feature of this unique Demesne, they have not been touched for 30 years. The main land for many miles along the windings and indentations of the south shore of the beautiful Loch Sunart, and in a south and south-easterly direction.

The banks of the picturesque and sheltered inlet of Loch Teacuis, are alike adorned by fine natural copses of oak, birch, and other indigenous trees, rising from the water’s edge, in some places most precipitously, for from eight hundred to a thousand feet. The whole of the growing timber is included in the purchase. Among the amenities of the estate is a lead mine in the hills, which was profitably worked in the past, the old store house still stands at the junction of Liddesdale River with the loch – this might be a source of revenue in the future. There are oyster beds at several places along the shores of Loch Sunart and at the head of Loch Teacuis.

‘It is as a sporting estate that this property especially commends itself to the capitalist, its possession affording the opportunity for indulging to the utmost, that most alluring and pleasurable pastime. The deer forest. A tract of land about six miles in length and extending to about 3,000 acres has been cleared from sheep and cattle, and from natural configuration, woods, &c affords perfect shelter and forms a breeding ground for red deer, which get water in abundance from the rills and rivulets scarring the hillsides and from the lochans on their summits. Forty to forty-five stags are shot in season, with an average of over sixteen stone weight, and from six to eleven points each; a ‘royal’ being occasionally brought down. The grouse moors are extensive and prolific sport, yielding good bags through the season. In addition to grouse, are pheasants, black game, wild duck, snipe, and hares in abundance; woodcock which breed on the ground, and rabbits by the hundreds. Also excellent sea-trout fishing with an occasional grilse and salmon. Yachting can be enjoyed to an unlimited extent. The Lochs Sunart and Teacuis delightfully sheltered resorts, the Sound of Mull and other tributary lochs are a never failing change; while in and out among the Western Islands, and further away to the Hebrides, or the vast Atlantic itself, longer cruises can be obtained.

‘The property is carrying at the present time over 9,000 sheep, for which there is continuous pasturage at all seasons, the mountains and valleys alike contributing to their sustenance and well being, and even the hill tops, from the basaltic formation of many of the mountains, afford, directly the snow is off, fresh and eagerly sought-after pasturage. There is also a pedigree herd of Highland cattle, somewhat reduced just now by recent successful sales, but there is scope for maintaining a large number. Access can be reached by yacht to Oban, and thence by express dining and sleeping and saloon trains. The journey from Oban can be accomplished to London in about thirteen hours; Edinburgh in about four hours and Glasgow in about four hours. A public steamer leaves Oban for Salen on Loch Sunart, on Tuesday and Friday throughout the year at noon, and puts off at Glencripesdale about five o’clock. It returns from Salen Wednesday and Saturday mornings early. On other days a second-class steamer plies from Salen to Oban, calling at Tobermory in time to catch the fast steamers direct to Oban.

‘From within a short distance of Laudale House there are public roads to Fort William and Lochaline, where there is a pier at which steamers to and from Oban call several times daily; both these roads are readily reached by launch from Glencripesdale House. There is a daily delivery and collection of letters at Glencripesdale House, and a private telephone to the post and telegraph office at Laudale.

‘Intended purchasers can arrange for viewing by writing to the factor, Laudale House, Ardgour R.S.O., Argyllshire; he will also arrange for their accommodation, if desired, at Laudale House, and otherwise for their meeting the public steamboat and supplying ponies for mountain excursions’.

There is no indication in the sales particulars of what offers were expected but a starting bid of £100,000 on the day of the auction was referred to in a contemporary newspaper report. It fell to £75,000 but was withdrawn and the sale postponed. Although the Newtons, who lived much of the year in and around Birmingham, adored Glencripesdale, the illness and subsequent death of a senior member of the family brought home to them the practical difficulties of having a distant holiday home. This, coupled with the tremendous expense of maintaining a remote working estate and a defaulting lawyer, who was imprisoned, began to take its toll. Following the death of Horace in 1920 the whole family way of life changed and no one amongst the beneficiaries was in a position to take over.

Glencripesdale estate and house whittled down to 1,792 acres was offered for sale in 1921. That fell through and a further attempt was made four years later (when prices were at a particularly low level) to sell for £5,000. An offer was received but the prospective buyer cried off when he realised just how isolated it was having heard that on one occasion the Newtons had been marooned there for some days when the steamer, the Lochinvar, failed to turn up owing to bad weather.

The Kelpie (120 tons) off Glencripesdale. Photograph supplied by Iain Thornber.

The family fortunes weren’t helped by Horace who didn’t trust any woman with money resulting in him creating a very complicated family trust which was not liquidated until 1968 – 48 years after his death. When the Newtons first bought Glencripesdale, or Glen as they always referred to it, they travelled in great pomp and luxury. Horace’s family hired two special railway saloons – one a sleeping car – brought to Redditch Station on the Midland Line. There they were hitched onto connecting trains which eventually brought them to Oban, where they boarded the Kelpie, their own 98ft long, 102-ton, twin-screw, steam yacht which took them on to Glencripesdale. She was extremely expensive to run, and very little used. She was eventually sold and a launch named the Invicta purchased instead. The family were always having to go for cruises to ‘exercise’ the crew when they were really much happier messing about in the Glen. It was said that to keep the Kelpies crew occupied, they would get up stream simply to lift lobster pots behind Carna.

Eventually the Newton’s 26,000 acres were broken up into five separate units – Carna, Rahoy, Kinlochteacuis, Laudale and Glencripesdale, all of which have had a number of owners except the 600 acre island of Carna which remains in the hands of Horace’s descendents. Glencripesdale House was requisitioned by the military for special training purposes. Seven officers and 100 or so men from the naval commando unit at Dorlin on Loch Moidart, occupied the house for about a year. The interior of the house was so badly vandalised it could not be occupied again without an expensive refit. Looting was rife and when the Newtons returned after the war they discovered many of their possessions had disappeared.