Fairburn Tower is the latest magnificent building to be saved and given new life by The Landmark Trust. Mary Myers is watching.
For those who dream of restoring a Scottish castle but suspect that steep spiral staircases, small 6-foot-thick windows in walls, and vertically stacked rooms with turret cabinets may not be exactly practical for permanent living, the Landmark Trust has the perfect answer: rent. one for the holiday. The conservation charity, founded by Sir John Smith in 1965, has a portfolio of 200 unusual buildings ranging from the 15th century Llwyn Selin in Monmouthshire and Wyatt’s model dairy farm in Cobham Hall, Kent, to the gothic temple at Stowe in Buckinghamshire. Anderton House in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright in Devon.
Among the gatehouses and avenues, decorative poultry houses and pigsties, chapels and banquet pavilions, Scottish castles are especially popular. The trust’s latest triumph, the Fairburn Tower in the mountains, joins Saddell Castle, Monreith Old Place, Park Castle and Rosslyn Castle as the fifth attraction in this category. Recently resplendent in pink lime plating, the slender pepper turret shaft is an inspiring example of how a 16th-century fortified dwelling can be sympathetically adapted to contemporary domestic use.
Fairburn overlooks the River Orrin and offers magnificent views of Ben Wivis and Black Isle, one of a succession of Mackenzie towers strategically placed to guard the fertile farmlands of Easter Ross. Built in the 1540s by a courtier of James V, the castle was abandoned in the 18th century and became an uncovered shell that was sometimes used as a stable.
The Trust began work here in 2020 with the help of Country Life Top 100 Architects Simpson & Brown. Fairbairn has since been restored to its 17th-century form, retaining the fortified ground floor with its weapon hinges and the rare swivel mount for the gun trunnion still in place, as well as restoring the spiral staircase. The interior – just one room on each of the four floors – is decorated in keeping with the time, combining traditional features with discreet modern amenities.
The Trust is known for commissioning traditional craftsmen to create new works for their property, and Fairbairn presents two excellent examples of this contemporary patronage. The hall was decorated with a supposedly decorated ceiling, painted by Paul Mowbray with texts and motifs based on historical precedents, and textile designer Duncan Tattersall created a fabric based on a Brahan seer’s prophecy that a cow would one day give birth. the chambers of the tower – a prediction that almost certainly came true.
Four nights at Fairburn Tower, which sleeps four, start at £424. To book, visit www.landmarktrust.org.uk
Credit: Round Tower – Strutt & Parker
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