By the Shores of Loch Broom: The Fowlers’ Retreat


Somewhere deep in the Scottish Highlands was the retreat of one of  the greatest engineers this country has ever produced.

© Neil King 2012

This is Braemore House near Ullapool, north-west Scotland. Constructed out of gneiss stone (a blue-coloured rock which comes from the north of Scotland) and edged with durable sandstone from Glasgow, like many things in the Victorian era, it was built to reflect the status of its owner. Sir John Fowler; age’s most prominent engineer after cigar-chomping Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Fowler. Hmm. Now where have we heard that name before?


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Ever since we’ve been researching Montague Fowler here at Cemetery Club, one word kept popping up. Braemore. Braemore this, Braemore that. When we found out that Sir John Fowler was actually Monty’s father, the scale of the building captivated us and we wanted to see if it was still there. We found the image of the house on Google but there didn’t seem to be a more contemporary image. Was it still there? The hunt was on.

Whilst Fowler was chief engineer for the Metropolitan Line, he purchased the estate of Braemore in the 1860’s as a result of the sizable compensation he got for his efforts and over the next few decades entertained the great and the good of high society there – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edwin Landseer (painter and sculptor of the Lions of Trafalgar Square), John Everett Millais, the list goes on. Many clattered nigh-on five hundred miles from London to witness and be party to the stunning views the house commanded of Loch Broom, nearly seven hundred feet above sea level.

We’d never been to Scotland before so decided to marry this little bit of rural exploring with a holiday. We mentioned this to the owners of the B&B we were staying at and the legacy of the family came to the fore.

Oh, John Fowler? Fascinating man. Do you know he built a bit of the Metropolitan Line behind his house up here to try out different tunnelling techniques?”

Ben and I looked at each other and suddenly found ourselves in a car, hurtling towards where the Fowler’s of Braemore once roamed.

The view of the estate looking down the valley

We pulled into a quiet car park and , from what we could decipher from Google Maps, made our way to the boundaries of this Highland bolt-hole. Tall spruce and pine trees shielded the mysteries of the estate and what was there; with a gung-ho attitude we decided to venture inside the insect-riddled hinterland and go exploring.  What looked like a short walk on the app betrayed the topography of the Highlands – confronted by a slope of roughly 50 degrees ahead of us, our task of finding the Fowler holiday home suddenly made us want to have George Mallory on speed-dial.

Ben marched on in his wellies like some sort of mountain goat, whilst I delicately stumbled over bracken, heather and grasses like a timid heron. As we ascended, what we thought was the zenith of this land made way for another peak and then another peak, until we both found a picnic bench to collapse on; at which point I could contain my frustration no longer and swore very loudly. Where the hell was this house?


My legs were killing me. How did they manage this back in the day?  I was beginning to wonder if any blood transfusion services were nearby as the midges got bolder in trying to drain me of my blood. Resolving myself to his astute observation, we carried on until we reached the main gravel drive, which according to Google Maps was the main driveway. I’d run out of Irn-Bru by this point, and wondered what Monty would make of it all, resting peacefully beneath his granite cross in Brompton, probably wondering why two men in their late twenties would be doing this.


We followed the path for another twenty minutes and were confronted with a gate.

‘Braemore Estate. Keep out’.

Up ahead, a driveway stretched off into the distance and directly ahead we saw the outline of a house.

This was it.

Off I marched, opening the gate – Ben decided to hang back as the warning sign made him want to stay put but damn it, I wasn’t going to let that stop me – I wa sso fully invested in both John and Monty’s story I wasn’t going to let a sign stop me. If any questions were asked I would honestly state my intention and say I’d come to try and visualise the echoes of revelry that must have happened here a century beforehand.

The house slowly crept into view.



I was expecting a magnificent stone building. This did not underline the reputation and wealth of a great civil engineer. What must the Archbishop of Canterbury have thought if he saw one of the leading lights of British engineering living in a Barratt home?

Click here for part 2 – where we find out what happened to the Highland home of the Fowler clan and a rather surprising little feature of this Highland hideaway….

15 responses to “By the Shores of Loch Broom: The Fowlers’ Retreat”

  1. Ada Fowler born 27 Aug 1864 at Sitapur, India to Edward and Elizabeth M Thopson
    Died 23 July 1911 at 25 Chisholm Road, Richmond, Surrey
    Buried St Peter and All Saints, Petersham, Surrey, England on 27 July 1911

    Just love all your blogs.

  2. any one know if sir john have 2 other children out of wedlock while at ullapool one from a servant surname gordon

  3. hi sheldon ,my sister who lives in inverness often visits ullapool and has always spoken about my great grandma according to local gossip in ullapool and the gordon clan passed down that fowler had taken care of her after her father was lost at sea and fell pregnant they lived in a cottage on the sea front which is still occupied by a distant cousin it is well known in ullapool that this did happen when of age she was sent to london to train in nursing @ guys hospital i noticed on my heritage that he had two more siblings which were not named and presume that one of these may have been her she later married a local farmer surname lee in farnborough and went on to after the empress eugenie (napoleon 111 wife estate ) were my mother was born

    • This is a fascinating blog! David – that is very interesting that you are a relative of John Calder. I am currently researching Fowler’s Braemore estate and how Corrieshalloch Gorge passed from the Fowlers, via the Calders, to the National Trust for Scotland. Please could you tell me whether you have any information relating to when the Calders acquired Braemore, whether you know anything about the demolition of the house, and was that during the Calders’ ownership?
      Any information that you could provide would be much appreciated. Many thanks.

      • My great grandmother was John Calder’s eldest sister.
        I am keen to discover more about Braemore Estate and Calder ownership.
        My estimation of when John Calder bought the estate was 1920s, and to date I believe that when John died in 1962, Muriel, one of his daughters retained Braemore until she died 1991, when the estate was sold. My information is mostly heresay and I should like to know more.

    • Aye my 3rd great grandfather owned it before Sir John Fowler.He was Captain John Mackenzie, 6th of Ballone

  4. My mother was a Fowler, her father was J. E. Fowler.who Lived in Burma and was a Freemasom.He died in 1953?.My mother thought we were all Scottish because his aunt visited him and her name was Mrs Campbell. That was in 1925.We have a picture of our great great grandfather in a tweed chequered suit.I am told we were related to him.

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