Friday, 18 October 2013

Dumfries House

Dumfries House
In April we visited the impressive Mount Stuart house, home of the Marquess of Bute, on the Isle of Bute. Whilst there we heard about the sale of Dumfries House near Cumnock in East Ayrshire and its restoration by the Dumfries House Trust. As well as the John Adam designed House and bridge over the river Lugar there is an estate with 2000 acres of landscaped grounds which butts onto the town of Cumnock. It also had been owned by the Marquess of Bute until 2007 when it was sold to the Trust headed by the Prince of Wales. He made available £20m of the £47m purchase price for the unseen purchase of Dumfries House with its collection of Chippendale furniture which otherwise would have been sold by Sotherby's to a buyer in the United States . It is a long time since I studied Chippendale for my Woodwork 'O' level but I have always had a notion to see the original pieces.

Chippendale Rosewood sideboard
By a curious coincidence I was asked in August by a group of Northern Ireland councils to organise a study tour of Ayrshire to see the fruits of Community Planning in Scotland. In discussions with the East Ayrshire Council we decided to include Dumfries House into the two day itinerary as an example of combining heritage tourism with skill training schemes for the young unemployed. The House and its extensive grounds have undergone a remarkable transformation over the past six years. Last week the group from Northern Ireland were given an enthralling three hour tour of the grounds including a superb lunch served by trainees at the hospitality project.

I was bowled over by the place. We spent a couple of hours visiting the many projects on the estate that had been resuscitated by the restoration of former buildings and structures. These included the bridge designed by Adam and a walled garden. Thirty six young unemployed from the locality had been recruited and given high quality vocational training in hospitality, woodland skills and traditional construction. There was a high level of success in gaining full time employment for the youngsters at the end of their training. The entire project had a vibrancy which augers well for the future of heritage based tourism. We even managed to squeeze a quick tour of the House at the end of the day. The visit allowed us to see the Chippendale collection although one or two of the female visitors were maybe hoping it to be more muscular!

Throughout the grounds every effort had been made to provide high quality education facilities including the hospitality centre and the accommodation for youth groups in the centre. A partnership has also been established with Morrisons, the supermarket group, to farm 1000 acres by sustainable farming methods and establish a research facility with the Scottish Agricultural College. Together with the walled garden they provide fresh vegetables and meat for the Dumfries House cafes and restaurants.

Even more ambitious is the plan to build a sustainable village of 700 houses at Knockroon within the grounds of Dumfries House adjacent to Cumnock. It is contained at the eastern edge of the estate, which has free public access and the character of a royal park. The first thirty or so houses are now complete and a few remain available for sale. I was told by the estate manager that there has been a recent agreement to build another tranche of houses so that there is a critical mass of development. East Ayrshire Council as well as approving these developments have agreed to renovate the Town Hall as part of the wider regeneration of the area. It is an upbeat decision and it was good to see that one of the new walkways in Knockroon has been named after Jimmy Boyd, a recently deceased local Councillor whom I worked with in the 1980's.

The Prince of Wales has not only acted as philanthropist but also has driven the project with meticulous attention to every detail and secured sponsorship for many of the restored developments on the estate. It is a spectacular exemplar of heritage tourism and rural regeneration and will become a great attraction in this largely forgotten corner of Ayrshire.

Restored Bothy cottage by the walled garden

High quality furnishings in the education centre

Wall paintings

Restored walled garden

Hello little weed

Outdoor Centre available for youth groups

Cookhouse

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