Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Fasque: Rebirth of a Victorian House – The Scottish Banner

April 30th, 2012

FASQUE (pronounced FASK, with a long vowel) was, in its heyday, the typical Victorian Scottish country house with sporting estate. In that respect it wasn’t exceptional – many moneyed Victorians demonstrated their success with similar displays of wealth.

Its celebrity stems from its near 200-year association with the Gladstone family and in particular William Ewart Gladstone, parliamentarian, four times Liberal Prime Minister, advocate of Irish Home Rule and Free Trade, and probably the dominant figure of Victorian politics.

The castellated mansion you see today replaced a smaller 18th century house known as ‘Faskie’. It came into Gladstone ownership when John Gladstone purchased it in 1828 from Sir Thomas Ramsay of Balmain, who brought financial ruin on himself improving the house to gain the approval of the woman he hoped to marry – but who turned him down!

Fasque is situated two miles from the Kincardineshire village of Fettercairn, at the foot of the Cairn o’ Mount, the high mountain pass which was one of the ancient drove roads of Scotland over which cattle were driven, on the hoof, from as far away as the Hebrides to the annual markets, or trysts, at Crieff and Falkirk.

John Gladstone was the eldest son of a Leith (near Edinburgh) corn merchant and had left home in 1787 to seek his fortune in Liverpool. Following in his father’s footsteps he amassed a considerable fortune as a grain merchant, filling the hungry bellies of the rapidly expanding population flocking to work in the Lancashire textile mills springing up in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. He diversified into shipping and insurance and owned sugar plantations in the West Indies.

A lad o’ pairts they would have called him at home, a self-made man they likely called him down south.

John always wanted to return to Scotland and Fasque was purchased after a long search for a suitable property. When neighbouring estates such as Glen Dye, Phesdo and Balbegno came on the market they were snapped up, and at one point the Fasque Estates extended to well over 100,000 acres, stretching over the Cairn o’ Mount practically to Royal Deeside.

Known locally simply as Fasque, from the Gaelic meaning ‘Shelter’, it’s a grand rather than a beautiful house when seen from the main road, a mile away. Sir John added the colonnaded porch or portico to the front door, and made improvements and further additions such as new stables and the Episcopal chapel – close to the big house and dedicated to St Andrew – for family and estate workers’ worship.

It was a time of great agricultural improvements and Sir John’s passion for planting trees is evident from the stands of beech trees and Wellingtonias and red woods around the house, and the tree-lined main avenue or drive planted with lime, oak and beech.

With finely landscaped parkland to the front and the foothills of the Grampian Mountains as a backdrop, Fasque oozed Victorian stately home gentility and comfort. The Gladstone dynasty was established, and then embellished when John was created Baronet, becoming Sir John Gladstone of Fasque and Balfour. He had become the archetypal Victorian pater familias and Scottish laird.

Scottish laws of succession meant that the eldest son inherited and, on their father’s death, Thomas Gladstone succeeded to the title and the property. William Ewart Gladstone as the younger son entered politics – with outstanding success. For a period the brothers were estranged and W.E. Gladstone saw little of his childhood home. Happily, in their latter years they were reconciled and the four-times Prime Minister returned to his beloved Fasque.

To maintain such an impressive property, and the family who lived in it, required an impressive indoors staff, until the social upheaval following the First World War changed everything. Butler, cook/housekeeper, laird’s valet and lady’s maid, footmen, housemaids, kitchen maids, laundry maids, still room maids, scullery maid, boot and knives boy – every whim of the laird and his family could be attended to.

No less so outdoors, where there were coachmen – by 1914 they had been replaced by chauffeurs and ‘mechanicians’ – grooms, dairy maids, gamekeepers and gardeners. Forty servants – you couldn’t use that term today – sat down to lunch in the servants’ hall. And that didn’t take account of an agricultural force of farm and forestry workers.

The household was run along the strictest standards of Victorian morality. The unmarried staff lived in the servants’ wing which, at night, practically resembled a prison in which the two sexes were firmly segregated behind locked doors to prevent improper association.

The 1914-1918 War turned this kind of world on its head and it was no longer possible to maintain such households and grandeur of living. The family moved out and Fasque was effectively mothballed, becoming their Scottish holiday home, with just a skeleton staff.

Mrs Jeannie Gladstone was the last Gladstone doyenne to live at Fasque. She and her late husband Peter, another younger son, returned to Fasque in 1977 to manage the house on behalf of his brother, the present Sir William, and made their home in the west wing. The rest of the house, with all its associations with William Ewart Gladstone, was opened to the public under Peter and Jeannie’s supervision.

Architect for Fasque was probably John Paterson who admired the architect Adams Brothers Scottish castle style. Paterson had a particular flair for designing elegant interiors and the highlight of Fasque, admired by all visitors, is the spectacular double cantilevered staircase reputed to be the largest of its kind in Britain and modelled, it is said, on Robert Adam’s imperial staircase at Home House in London.

Following Peter Gladstone’s death, the family took the decision to dispose of the house along with the home policies extending to 380 acres.

The days when houses like Fasque could be run along patriarchal lines on inherited money are long gone. When Douglas and Heather Dick-Reid acquired Fasque it was in a forlorn state but vision, enthusiasm, energy and serious investment have restored and transformed it.

The old Fasque has taken on a new life and a fresh identity. Douglas and Heather have created a modern wedding and events venue within the atmosphere of a historic Victorian mansion which, in its day, welcomed and entertained Royalty. Nothing goes on for ever and change and regeneration should be embraced. Fasque proves it – it’s working for its living again.

Visit www.fasquehouse.co.uk

Written on Monday, April 30th, 2012 at 11:10 am for Claivers.