BY MARK GIBSON OBE
Twenty years ago I stumbled upon the 3000 acre Craigengillan Estate, a forgotten fold of British history, hidden between East Ayrshire’s rugged hilltops and screened behind years of neglect. The neighbouring village of Dalmellington is a former coal mining community, hard hit by the closure of the mines a generation earlier but with spirit and talent. Its life and that of Craigengillan are closely interwoven.
Today, after two decades of hard work, Craigengillan is an award-winning estate. Its 3,000 acres of new native woodland, pasture, wetlands, heaths and lochs are thriving. Using methods steeped in centuries of tradition coupled with modern innovation, we administer interests including an organic sheep farm, notable riding stables, idyllic holiday cottages and responsible forestry. We are home to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory and Fort Carrick.
My underlying vision is to build on the importance of Craigengillan in history and in the present and to enable it to become a model for the future. It should be a prestigious and successful undertaking, the outcomes of which will I hope influence beyond our boundaries. I hope that as many people and organisations as possible may support the plan and become part of our story, helping us work towards a legacy worth remembering and a present the community can be proud of.
Our ambitious aim is to make Craigengillan a living model of environmental excellence within the
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Dark Sky Park.
“… CRAIGENGILLAN CLAD IN SUMMER GREEN ADDS LUSTRE TO THE WILD, ROMANTIC SCENE.
Craigengillan was first established as an estate in with a crown charter in 1611 and remained a seat of the McAdam Family and their descendants for almost 400 years. Craigengillan is a rare example of a complete and unfragmented estate. It includes a Category A listed mansion house and stable court, as well as formal policies and a celebrated Pulham rock and water garden.
In 1757 John McAdam, the great engineer and innovator, took over the estate. He and his cousin, John Loudon McAdam, invented tarmac and became road and bridge builders.
John McAdam was a popular figure in the local community, providing employment and doing much good. A sponsor of the arts, he subscribed to the works of Robert Burns and invited him to stay at Craigengillan in 1786.Burns wrote a poem to McAdam, thanking him for his support.
The McAdams were enthusiastic horse breeders and sportsmen. By 1800, the Category A listed stable block was built. During the Boer War, the estate shipped 40 horses to South Africa, which were employed in the Relief of Mafeking.
In 1905, Jansen of Paris were contracted to remodel and redecorate much of the house interior. Jansen interiors can also be found in Buckingham Palace and the White House.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince Rainer III of Monaco, Somerset Maugham, Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin, King Gustav and Queen Helena of Sweden, Lord Halifax former Viceroy of India and Lord Redesdale, father of the Mitford sisters are just some of the guests who have stayed at Craigengillan in the last century.
“I AM NOT SURE I HAVE EVER SEEN A BETTER SPECIMEN OF OUR SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS – I WISH I HAD CRAIGENGILLAN!” – Lord Cockburn 1844
Today, Craigengillan welcomes visitors from all walks of life. When the estate changed hands in November 1999, the new owner, Mark Gibson, took down the ‘Keep Out’ signs and embarked on a policy of encouraging public access. Over 100,000 visitors now enjoy the unique beauty of this very
special place each year.
“AN AGREEABLE PLACE… THE FIELDS BEING BROUGHT TO A GOOD VERDURE AND THE RISING GROUND PLANTED. WE WERE ENTERTAINED WITH A HEARTY WELCOME” – James Boswell 1762
IT’S BEEN OUR PRIVILEGE TO BRING THIS WONDERFUL ESTATE BACK TO LIFE
Some places in the world you fall for instantly. Craigengillan is one of them. We found the estate at the turn of the century. The roof leaked, dry rot had set in, the fences and dykes were horizontal. Keep Out signs and barbed wire guarded the houses and bridges. The stable clock was silent.
Since then, we’ve had some good days, some bad days, some highs and some lows. But the motto of the house is ‘Steady, Calm, Forever’. It’s a good one, and we’ve followed it as we’ve worked to put Craigengillan back together.
All of the restoration work we have carried out has been respectful of the estate’s history and location. Where possible, we have sought to use original materials and techniques.
Reslating and releading the roof. Rebuilding the dormer windows and chimneys. Sanding and oiling age-stained panelling and floors. Restoring the Jansen designed interiors and wall paintings. Installing a biomass heating system, incorporating the original German radiators. Rewiring and
connecting the house to mains water.
“CRAIGENGILLAN WAS LIKE SLEEPING BEAUTY: A MARVELLOUS JEWEL WAITING TO BE
REDISCOVERED.” – Mark Gibson, owner
When we first took over the Estate, the two cottages were nothing more than ruins. Stone by stone, we’ve restored them both to mint condition, paying close attention to the period character that is such an essential part of their charm. When Transforming two ruined cottages near the Glessel Burn into exceptional holiday cottages, we used as much of the original stone as possible. One of the cottages has a water reed thatched roof, reflecting the traditional roofing of much of Dalmellington in past centuries.