Grand designs in the Glens

For two years, teams of elite workers and suppliers have been travelling from Yorkshire to restore a Scottish castle for its new laird.

For two years, teams of elite workers and suppliers have been travelling from Yorkshire to restore a Scottish castle for its new laird.

Aldourie, in a 500-acre estate on the banks of Loch Ness, is the latest venture for Roger Tempest, the influential property reclamation guru whose work at the family land at Broughton Hall, in North Yorkshire, has been a blueprint for others encumbered by unused buildings from the past.

Aldourie, too, has ancient origins, with a succession of local lairds – Dunbar, Macintosh, Barbour – occupying it through the centuries. For most of this time it was a relatively modest house. The money for the transformation to baronial castle came in the 19th century from the Fraser-Tytler family. A tranquil private graveyard marks the demise of their boys, slain in bloody skirmishes in India. The Fraser-Tytlers owned it until 1948.

Roger Tempest bought it from the Cameron family in 2002, for a wealthy American client who couldn't complete the purchase. Panic? Yes, most of us would but Roger was accustomed to challenges. Raised in a privileged background into one of Yorkshire's oldest Roman Catholic dynasties, he

soon set the silver spoon to one side and got to work.

His professional life started as PA to the managing editor at Today, the seminal but short-lived 1980s tabloid newspaper established by Eddie Shah to challenge the power of the print unions. In time, Roger came back to the family estate at Broughton Hall. He brought the redundant estate buildings back into life as award-winning des-res offices and he has been busy resuscitating property for other landowners in the last 20 years.

Aldourie was in need of an owner with new energy and funds to give it a complete refit. This summer it opened as an exclusive location for holidays and events. There are 15 rooms but you cannot book in for the night. This is an all-or-nothing joint, aimed at groups of 15 to 25 people who take the property and its staff for several days. Reckon on spending 20,000 for the week. You can hitch your yacht at the marina or fly to Inverness.

Restoration problems included dry rot, and replacing most of the roofs. Roger explains in plain language: "Every 100 years historic houses need kicking up the backside, big time."

It is now all splendid, with "domestics" scuttling about the rooms, which have been refurbished in 19th century style to exacting standards. As the bedrooms became ready, the visiting workers from Yorkshire have been sleeping over, testing the experience.

Aldourie is not massive, like Skibo Castle where Madonna was wed. It was built by the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and opened as a high dollar clubby retreat by Peter de Savary. In feel it is more akin to Ackergill Tower, near Wick, another fine Scottish pile where guests hire all the rooms.

Most of us could imagine enjoying living at Aldourie, and that is what Roger Tempest was after. It has been a colossal job. Sideboards, chairs, tables, just about everything on view – and 600 or so paintings – have been brought to Aldourie to achieve this.

"It can be their home for a week, quintessentially Scottish," he says. A holiday castle then? "Yes. It is hard to find a completely authentic house which will take 15 to 20 people comfortably.

"It is not a hotel, it is not a private members' club, it is not National Trust. You come in and live the life, see how it works in a historic house — feel it, breath it, sleep and eat there. That's why I think Aldourie will be a winner. People are responding to that."

These people include a foreign royal family, a film producer, a Yorkshire spring maker, an Arts and Crafts residential course.

There are 15 bedrooms, plus nearby cottages to sleep another 16 people, which can be let separately. Each bedroom in the house is individually decorated. It is hard to choose between them. Lorimer is named after the architect who added a wing to the house a century ago. This room is large. The Arts and Crafts fireplace surround, by Arthur Smith of Kendal, is carved with the sentiment East West Hames Best. An old sewing box, as if left by its last user, is on a chest. A copy of an oil by JW Waterhouse's Dolce Far Niente (Sweet Idleness) is among a dozen or so works, some original, by Peter Kemplay, of Stainforth, North Ribblesdale. They include the mural in the Nymph bathroom.

One of the witty cartoon romps by Roger's sister, Annie, is to hand. The adjoining bathroom has massive original fittings, including the requisite overhead WC cistern, open topped and sprinkling the user playfully with water on each flush, when it sounds like a giant clearing its throat. Or maybe it's the monster from the loch?

It's the stuff of coverage in glossy magazines, almost inch-perfect in tone and substance and taste – allowing for a garish Murano chandelier in a drawing room, reduced to 12,000 at the factory. Portraits of Tempest ancestors have been brought North to a new audience, and the family coat of arms has been added to Aldourie peers on the ceiling of the Lairds Room, installed by Ryedale Plasterers, of Northallerton.

To refit Aldourie, Roger turned to firms he knew in or near the Craven dales, which have been employed by his Rural Concepts Group. Its present work includes renovating the stable block at Marske for holiday units. Then there's the new city in North Africa... rather hush hush at the moment.

The library bookcases were made and fitted by Dickinson Antiques, of Gargrave, each shelf fringed with gold embossed red leather from Nigerian goat skin. This is not any old goat. The leather edging looks good but serves a purpose in protecting the books from dust, explains David Richardson, ex Skibo Castle. He is general manager, a strong physique with hints of military service, clad in brogues, moleskin, country-check shirt and tweed jacket. His enthusiasm for Aldourie is as compelling as that which gusts from the boss. The drapery and curtains, hundreds of single items, were made by Ann Lister, of Historic Furnishings, Kettlewell. Peter Paley of Bolton Abbey was the upholsterer. Simon Myers of Gargrave, educated at Ampleforth with Roger, supplied period furniture. Anthony Steele, of Broughton, designed the bathrooms. Bill Haigh, of Rylstone, was the engineer in charge, and the gardens were replenished by Richard Preston, also of Rylstone. Painting and decorating was by Charles Hesp of York. Carpets came from London House, of Boston Spa. Bathrooms have bespoke features and in one the ceiling has wildlife paintings by Roger's sister, Bridget.

There's a modern circular shower in its own tower, and so on. A gilded mirror came from Denton Hall, near Otley. Scottish-based talent has been welcomed, and one turret, rather too small to do much with, has not been left fallow. The Russian artist Eugenia Vronskaya, living not far from Aldourie, has decorated the circular walls with flowing allegorical and historical images, including St Columba meeting a strange creature in Loch Ness in 565 AD.

From such chance events are legends born. The Loch Ness Monster now brings 25m in tourism to the area annually. "Two people who lived at the castle, Lady Morgan and Lady Erskine, have seen it," avows Roger Tempest.

Aldourie Castle, Loch Ness, Inverness IV2 6EL. Telephone 0870 625 0265 and www.aldouriecastle.co.uk