New laird is custodian not owner

ALDOURIE Castle's latest laird in its 385-year history should know a thing or two about caring for old buildings.

Back home in Yorkshire, Roger Tempest is the 31st generation of a family who have never moved from their ancestral home at Broughton Hall near Skipton.

In the Highlands, however, Roger is well aware of his incomer status.

"When I'm up here, I'm an immigrant, but it's been a real privilege to get involved here," he stated as he sat in the lavishly restored castle library.

Aldourie Castle has been part of Roger's life for eight years, ever since he took over the castle from previous owners the Cameron family initially on behalf of US clients Cliffs Legacy Club. Two years later, the Americans sold their interest to Roger's company Rural Concepts.

The first owner in almost 300 years with no family connection to Aldourie, Roger owns not just the 17th century castle, but 500 acres of grounds.

However, Roger views himself less as a laird than as a custodian.

"I'm not really big into ownership," he admitted.

"I would like to be in it for the long haul, but I'm just part of its history. I'll do my bit and then somebody else will come along and carry the baton on. I've always thought that heritage and environment should be there to be enjoyed. Life's tough, but you've got to be able to appreciate beauty and human endeavour."

Brought up in Georgian-era Broughton Hall, Roger learned about bringing old buildings back to life on his family estate, though initially his career was concerned less with historic buildings than up-to-the-minute technology which was changing the face of Britain's media.

"I worked for Eddie Shah in the early '80s when the whole newspaper industry was being redefined. I was there when they were putting the first computers in and we had the first digitalised presses in Britain," Roger said.

Roger stayed on at Shah's newspaper, Today, after it was sold on to Tiny Rowland's Lonrho group and then to media magnate Rupert Murdoch, but eventually returned to his family estate.

There he converted redundant outbuildings into award-winning modern offices, before he turned that expertise in renovating old properties into a business.

"The new use of old buildings is my big thing really," Roger stated.

However, he also has other outlets for his entrepreneurial energies. In a link to his media past, he owns Yorkshire radio station Fresh Radio, while, in contrast to helping bring a historic building back to life at Aldourie, he is also involved in building a brand new resort city in North Africa.

Yet even with his other interests, Aldourie is particularly close to his heart.

"Aldourie is not a hotel, it is not a private members' club and it is not a National Trust property," Roger stressed.

"If you go to a National Trust property, you can go and see it and interact with it on the surface, but you don't really engage with it."

Instead Aldourie Castle is hired out as a single unit, becoming in effect the client's Highland home for a short period, not just eating and sleeping in it, Roger says, but feeling and breathing it.

The castle has only been open as a commercial proposition for a few months, but so far its occupants have included wedding parties, business groups and even a Middle Eastern royal family who arrived in the Highlands aboard their own private Airbus jet while the producer of the Harry Potter films will soon take up temporary residence.

After the years of transformation, Roger is delighted to be able to at last open the castle up to the wider world.

"The house has got a life to it now," he said, something he feels is good not only for the continued healthy future of the castle itself, but the wider community.

Roger sees the restored castle as another jewel to add to the natural beauties of the area, along with music festival RockNess, which Roger supports and which makes use of some estate land.

"I think it's good for everybody and people can be proud of it. If someone from the area has got visitors from America they can come and ask if they can have a look round and we usually say yes we probably say yes too often, to be honest," he said.

Certainly Roger feels part of the community and visits the castle every month.

"The problem is when I'm up here that I always feel like I'm on holiday, but there's always plenty to do."

Aldourie does have a unique selling point beyond the lavish interior and spacious grounds. While Urquhart Castle may be the one on the postcards, Roger points out that Aldourie is the only inhabited castle on the shores of Loch Ness.

"It's pretty iconic, being on the banks of Loch Ness, the best known loch in the world," Roger said.

"I was in North Africa in January and I mentioned Loch Ness and everyone knew it. It's phenomenal."

To help in Aldourie's restoration, Roger has employed some talents from very close to home. Look around and you will find work by his artist sisters Bridget, who has adorned one of the castle's 17 bathrooms with paintings of the local wildlife, and Annie, regular cartoonist for Country Life magazine, whose witty work is also represented.

However, you would look in vain for anything by Roger's own artist wife, Kitty.

"She's a modern artist far too 21st century for a place like Aldourie," Roger declared.

Roger has exercised his owner's prerogative to add the Tempest family coat of arms to the Fraser-Tytler, Cameron, Dunbar, Macintosh and Barbour arms in the Laird's room as well as relocate some of his own ancestral portraits from Broughton Hall.

But Aldourie's historic family ties are not forgotten. Roger keeps in regular contact with Judy and Iain Cameron, the widow and son of the previous owner, Colonel Angus Cameron, while two very important visitors coming soon are Lady Morgan and Lady Erskine, who lived in the castle in the 1930s.

Both of them, incidentally, have done what many of Roger's visitors hope to do seen Nessie.

Though slightly sceptical, Roger might be open to persuasion about the monster's existence.

"I've met 15 people who have seen the monster and they are all absolutely convinced by it," Roger said. "But you can't argue with St Columba! If he's seen it, I can't say it's not there."

However, it seems that there is more chance of seeing Nessie these days than Aldourie Castle's own resident mysterious entity, the ghostly Gray Lady.

"I got a priest in to bless the house and the Gray Lady has never been seen since," Roger revealed. "Some people in historic houses feel things, but it's easy to imagine something at night when you shut one door and hear another opening somewhere through the house."

Never mind the ghost though. Roger believes Aldourie Castle might have a different kind of spirit.

"It responds to people," he said.

"When you get a group in, it becomes a very happy house."

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