After centuries of being an agriculturally based economy, the more rural parts of Scotland are having to come to terms with huge changes in the global economy. Many estates and castles that dominate them, traditionally were supported by a mixture of agriculture, forestry, sporting rights and a huge annual grant from the European Union. All these sources of income have come under attack and in some cases have disappeared. Agriculture is extremely volatile and does not produce the income it did, forestry is depressed, grants are being phased out and there is a glut of shooting and fishing available. This has all hit the rural economy over the last decade or so.
Combine this with a huge increase in equipment costs and maintaining old buildings, along with a certain amount of wear & tear that our harsh climate produces and you have a challenging situation facing the owners of Scotland’s old ancestral homes. Unless they have other income streams independent of the estate, they are facing a grim future. Many owners do indeed now work in other industries and channel those resources into maintaining their properties. Most do a combination of traditional farming and sporting activities, combined now with private lets and other commercial activities. These could include offering castles for rent, marketing the property as a venue for film shoots, weddings, concerts and corporate events.
Fortunately many are located close to wonderful golf courses, so make perfect venues for golfing parties, whilst others allow easy access from major cities so can welcome corporate groups to dine or to hold special events. More rural properties tend to specialise more in the sporting market, although Ackergill Tower, which is located near Wick, is the premier country house operation in Britain and you don’t get much more rural that Caithness. They manage this by offering amazing service, huge amounts of Highland charm and wonderful facilities. Other properties have followed their lead and many now enjoy high occupancy levels.
There are now properties available to suit all incomes and preferences and it has been the saving of many of our fine old homes. The improvements and re-investment that many have made over the last decade is astonishing and the market for private rentals is now very sophisticated, with many properties offering hotel level facilities (swimming pools, tennis courts, spa treatments, broadband internet access, fancy chefs and premier cru wines). The interiors of many have been totally refurbished and additional bathrooms, new kitchens, media rooms etc have been added.
It should be noted that ownership of many of these homes has changed hands over the last decade or so and many that were the old family homes of prominent Scottish families are now owned by admirers of Scotland from all over the world. It is their enthusiasm, energy and most importantly resources that have brought back many properties from the brink of ruin. They have also be sensible to look to the future and many realised early on that only by diversifying into new areas like private rentals and corporate events could they recoup some of their upkeep costs. Indeed many of the homes run at a deficit of around £100,000 a year and this is where new income sources come in handy for their survival.
Of course as Scotland prospers and there is more and more building going on, along with wind farms, electrical masts and other light industry and office developments, many estates have found yet more ways of bringing in much needed funds. However most still use a combination of all or some of the above and many now welcome guests to take over their homes for a family celebration or other event and to live like a laird, without the hassle of actual ownership!