What is Guisachan?

M  any Golden Retriever owners are unfamiliar with the term Guisachan, unless they have made an effort to study the Golden Retriever’s history.Guisachan may be said to have two identities

First, it is the Scottish Highland lands dating back to the 14th century owned by Lord Lovat and then passed along to his son Thomas who in turn passed it on to his son William known as William Fraser, first of Guisachan. The clan history and the passage of the property through several families is well documented in the book Guisachan: A History by Donald Fraser, a Fraser clan descendent. It was first published in 1990 and it is sold by Golden Retriever Clubs throughout the world.

These were stalking lands, where nobleman and local farmers alike, stalked the Monarchs of the Glen, the red deer stags. They were fishing lands too, passed from generation to generation until 1854 when Dudley Coutts Marjoriebanks, later known as Lord Tweedmouth, purchased the property for 60,000 pounds or approximately $93,000 US dollars. Other accounts say it sold for 52,000 pounds. At the time of this sale, Guisachan Estate consisted of about 20,000 acres.

Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, Lord Tweedmouth albumen print, 4 May 1861

Dudley Marjoribanks was created Baron Tweedmouth of Edington on 12 Oct. 1881. Lord Tweedmouth undertook a vast building program during which he built Guisachan House, the mansion now in ruins, as well as several service buildings for the estate. These included a farm steading, a dairy, kennels, stables, a laundry, brewery, meal mill, school (which also served as a church), a meeting house, a hot house, a deer rendering hut, the residences in the village of Tomich and several other dwellings. As Donald Fraser relates, when Lord Tweedmouth died, the estate was passed along to his son Edward the 2nd Lord Tweedmouth, a renown sportsman known for his hospitality and good sportsmanship. Following the death of his wife at Guisachan, heavy financial losses and failing health meant that Lord Tweedmouth lost his love for his Highland Estate and Guisachan, along with other assets, had to be sold. According to Donald Fraser, the details of this sale are not well known, but the estate was purchased by Lord Portsmouth who used it as a recreational site for 27 years. By now, something of an orphaned child, largely uncared for and declining in its beauty, the property was once again put on the market but there were no buyers.

In 1935 the property was sold to Mr. Hunter, who was Lady Aberdeen’s lawyer, she being the daughter of the second Lord Tweedmouth, Edward. This sale perpetuated the demise of the property. Parcels were sold off to several parties including the Forestry Commission, but no one wanted Guisachan House and its 150 acres of land. In 1938 it was rented as a training camp becoming the first Keep Fit Summer School in Britain. But storm clouds were on the horizon. Lady Islington, who resided at the former Tom Guisachan dwelling renamed Hilton Lodge, “was not enamored with the proceedings of the Fitness Campaigners.” Village lore tells of skinny-dipping being a common activity in Hilton Loch, so Lady Islington bought Guisachan House for 1500 pounds, striped it of its furnishings, and had the lead and slates removed from the roof. The denigration of this once lovely mansion was now complete.

Lady Tweedmouth
Courtesy of the Lafayette Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Still more of the once grand Guisachan Estate was sold to private owners and to the Forestry Commission. The home farm including the steading and the dairy were sold in the 1950’s to Michael Waddell and on his death in 1960, to Euan Fraser, who in turn sold it to Colonel James Fraser. Colonel Fraser’s son Donald, author of this detailed history, now makes his residence there together with Donald’s son Nigel. The dairy and steading have been converted to self-catering residences known as Tomich Holidays. Lady Islington’s heir still owns the property, but the grand old dame, Guisachan House, sits forlorn among the trees and tall grasses which have overtaken most of the elegant rooms once found there.

That is the story of Guisachan , the property. But Guisachan has a second identity which is far more cheerful in nature. When people speak of “going to Guisachan” or attending the “Guisachan Gathering” it is the mystic of the property to which they are referring. This is the ancestral home of the Golden Retriever and people make pilgrimages to stand in awe before the Guisachan House ruins. It is symbolic of what began here. That first litter of puppies, Primrose, Cowslip, Crocus, sired by Nous, a yellow Wavy-coated Retriever and Belle, a Tweed Water Spaniel became the origins of one of today’s most beloved breed of dogs the world over.

Young Simon Munro with Nous


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