We’d trekked up to Scotland to see what it was that lured Montague, his father and brothers to this remote part of the British Isles for nearly fifty years.
Alas, the building they called home was long gone, seemingly replaced with a more modern version which lacked the status and power the original building had.
I was disappointed, but consider the environment we were in. Stood on top of a hill overlooking a luscious green valley; we were probably the only people for miles around. What an escape from London this was. Its beauty unchanged from its destination as a bolt hole from Kensington all those years ago. Once we’d taken in the views, a realisation came to us. Our orienteering through the bracken and forest had created tiny problems. Thousands of them.
A word of warning to fellow explorers – the forests of the Highlands are infested with ticks. Not the Lyme disease carrying variety fortunately enough for us, but a tick is a tick and as we got back into the car after surveying the huge trees that Sir John himself planted when he set out his estate – we realised we were covered in the blood sucking little bastards.
It must have been quite the sight to see two grown men strip down to their pants and scream in abject horror at a nearby layby. Oh the disconnect of modern life to rural living – this must have been a daily occurrence to our historical heroes!
Regaining our composure, we decided to consult the local archives and see what else we could find. We found out an awful lot – including the fate of the house we’d travelled so far to see. The imposing house had succumbed to dry rot by the 1960’s and had met its end with a wrecking ball not long afterwards. The estate, as a hunting ground, boasted some of the finest Stags in Scotland so it’s no wonder the likes of painters and politicians were frequent visitors.
We also found out Monty had tried to sell it in the 1920’s after we found the sale catalogue, including tantalising information such as Brunel’s study, originally installed at his office in Duke Street, Westminster, which Sir John had installed in Braemore as a probable tribute to his friend and colleague.
But one thing we also wanted to investigate was on our minds. Ever since I’d written about it in a post during our World War One Month, Ben and I had wanted to see if we could find the ‘private family burial ground’ that lay somewhere in the Braemore Estate.
After much aimless driving, we found it. Hiding away off the main road to Ullapool.
The gates were ajar and it acted as an invitation for us to enter and explore. Thick bracken and grasses had long since taken over any careful or thoughtful planting that may have originally been maintained when those gates first swung open and its jungle-like flora made it resemble something from Jurassic Park rather than a cemetery. A knee high headstone to someone by the name of Alice Mitford was the first grave we came across and then a celtic cross to a lady named Marjorie; followed by another cross to Alice, and then, at the top of the clearance, a massive cross to Captain John Fowler.
Subsequent research shows that this was little boneyard used by the wife, children and descendants of Monty’s eldest brother, John Arthur, who by rights should have been buried here too but instead prematurely died in The Corinthian Hotel by Charing Cross Station in 1899 – only months after they’d buried the patriarch of the family. He’s in Brompton cemetery, with the rest of the Fowler boys.
The following day we drove to the fantastic Ullapool museum; set in an old church designed by Thomas Telford. There was a wealth of information on the Fowler family, including the sale catalogue of Braemore and the revelation that Monty tried to sell it in the 1920’s. A City vicar maintaining an estate as big as this must have kept him awake at night.
Further research showed that Monty’s nieces and sister in law visited the same photographic studio as Lady Malcolm of Poltalloch – it’s nice to put a face to the memorials that commemorates them.
We popped into a bookshop afterwards and began chatting with the bookseller behind the till, making full use of how much friendlier people in shops are compared to back home in dear old London. After sharing our exploits with the cashier, we were shown a biography about Sir John which was written in 1900. It was missing a page though, and an insert from another, complete copy wa sinserted into the book.
“We get the odd Fowler fans in here from time to time – this page is from a copy held by Sir John’s great-great granddaughter – she runs this place. Do you want to speak to her?”
We glanced at each other. HELL YES.
To be continued…