Gualin Estate looking NorthEstate History

The history of Gualin estate from the 19th century onwards is well known as it was once part of the estate of the Dukes of Sutherland. This history comes largely from information supplied by the current owners for Andrew Graham-Stewart's superb article on the estate which was published in the 'Trout and Salmon' in December 2002.

To 1829, Gualin was part of the 800 sq mile area known as 'Lord Reay's Country' - an area which included all of the parish of Durness Arms of the 1st Lord Reayand which was bordered by the parish of Tongue in the east and Eddrachillis in the south-west. The Duke of Westminster's estate, which boarders Gualin's western marches, is still known as Reay Forest today. An interesting local legend refers to a 'Lord Reay' but it is not clear which, according to which Lord Reay was a famous wizard from the local area. While the wizard was in Rome studying the black arts, the Devil is said to have stolen his shadow while trying snatch his soul. The wizard was exploring the first cavern with his pet dog on his return from Rome, when his dog went forward into the second cavern, let out a yelp, and came running back hairless. The wizard knew that the Devil lay in wait in the cavern to claim his soul, but just as the wizard was about to accept his fate, the first rays of sunlight filtered into the cave and a cock crowed, heralding the new dawn. The Devil, and three witches with him, blasted out through the roof of the cavern to escape, leaving the hole where the water runs to create the waterfall!

In 1829, Lord Reay (arms shown above) sold the estate to George Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford and the future 1st Duke of Sutherland (below) - and man of great good intentions that did not always translate into happy outcomes (the Highland Clearances, focus of much nationalist hatred in Scotland, were based on his highly progressive ideas for dealing with poverty in the Highlands but were implemented by corrupt and ruthless agents.) In 1833 the Lodge was built by the Duke as an inn. At the time, there was no road, just sort of track, so shelter and steadings for the horses were essential.

In the 1840's another well-intentioned scheme saw the netting rights of all the rivers from the Kyle of Tongue to Cape Wrath leased to an Aberdeen firm. Thousands of Salmon a year were trawled from the river systems to the point where natural stocks became almost extinct. Happily, the scheme didn't last long and this disastrous foray into the world of commercial fishing was replaced by a series of private tenancies on the Sutherland rivers intead, including the Rev. Meggernie (for the magnificent sum of £45 per annum), a Mr. Trevelyan who gave his name to Trevelyan's Burn (also known as the Gualin Burn) and to Trevelyan's Bay on Loch Dionard and the family Austen-Leigh.

In 1900 the 4th Duke of Sutherland sold the entire parish of Durness to Ewing Gilmour of Rosehall who let the Balnakeil part of the parish (which included Gualin and most of the River Dionard) to the Elliott family, who originally hailed from the borders. After the 1st world war, Gilmour sold Balnakiel to the Elliotts, who retain most of it to this day, and the other large sheep farm in the parish, Keoldale (cow-del), to the Robertson family. This included part of the lower river Dionard. In the 1920's, Keoldale was sold to the department of agriculture who still own it today. The Keoldale farmhouse became the Cape Wrath Hotel. In 1935 the river (excluding the Keoldale fishings on the lower river) and estate was bought by the redoubtable Marjorie Ferguson, a woman of legendary eccentricity, fixed views and a passion bordering on mania for salmon fishing.

In 1976, she offered the middle section of the river (from Rhigolter Bridge to the roadside gauge) for sale and this was bought by a syndicate who retain it to this day. Next, she offered the lower part of the river, opposite the Keoldale fishings for sale, and this was bought by Messrs. Higgs and and Grieve, who also retain their portion to this day. Finally, in 1978, she gave the remainder of the estate and river to her son Edmund. Within two months, he had died in a car crash and the estate fell into decline. in 1981, for the first time in year, Marjorie Fergusson failed to visit the estate and her grand-children put it on the market. It was bought by four families, now reduced to three, who are the Bladons, Allinghams and Nall-Cains.
When the current owners took over, there were agricultural implements stored in what is now the drawing room and there were floorboards missing upstairs - including one at the entrance to Mrs Ferguson's bedroom which, we were assured, she had been carefully stepping over for years on here way to and from her bedroom.

Since then, the period of neglect has been decidedly turned around. Improvements have included the creation of the flat, the extension of the keeper's house, the introduction of a new water system (including an ultra-violet purification system), the building of a deer larder, the diversion of the main road from the front to the back of the lodge, the building of the track and numerous bridges and the replacement of the various huts along the river bank.

2006 saw an ambitious set of works inside the lodge itself including an enlarging of the dining room, the creation of a spacious internal hall and, best of all, the replacement of the south drawing room wall by an enormous bay window, creating some of the most stunning views imaginable. This was accompanied by considerable redecorations and additional facilities for lodge users which must now make Gualin house one of the most comfortable and completely equiped in Sutherland.

The latest works were undertaken in 2009 with the installation of a new kitchen, making life very much easier for both professional and amateur cooks!