LISTEN: Anne MacDonald walks through the journey of restoring the manse
For many years the Old Blair Manse stood reserved from the public’s eye in numerous different conditions. That all changed in 2016 and the manse from before is very different from the manse of today.
Archie and Anne MacDonald took on the manse five years ago now and over that time they’ve brought it back into the opulent condition it once knew.
Anne MacDonald explained: “The whole story started when on a kind of dreich February day we were driving back from Inverness over the Drumochter pass and we had been looking for somewhere to live and to create a new business that was more family-friendly, we both grew up in a rural location in the Hebrides, and we kind of yearned for that for our young children at the time.
“And we had been looking at various propositions around the country, and then we’d have come over in separate vehicles and I’d driven over the Drumochter pass first and drove along past Bruar along the road and looked out for the manse and thought, ‘gosh, that looks scarily bleak and eerie.’ Quickly turned back onto the A9 and drove back to Glasgow. My husband was in the car behind me and said, oh no, no, no, no. I’m going in to have a look. I’ve arranged to have a look. And I was like, ‘well you carry on I’m going home.”
However, a second trip via the local villages, finding out the manse was not so remote, persuaded Anne and convinced her this was the place to live out the MacDonald’s dream.
Mrs MacDonald explained: “But at that point I had quite a good vision of what could happen, I could see the potential in the outbuildings and the land. And obviously as a destination, you’ve got two five-star visitor attractions, either site. So, you’ve got, obviously the House of Bruar and Blair Castle. You already have a huge, huge opportunity there.”
Now the house is fitted with 23 luxury en-suite rooms, but it took a lot of work to get the house ready for guests to enjoy. Preserving the building meant a back to brick restoration.
Mrs MacDonald added: “So, our main priority was to safeguard the main historic building. That was key. And we began that kind of work straight away, and basically took the majority of the building back to the brick work to try and make it future proof.
“In terms of before we seen the vision for it, in terms of luxury hospitality, the specification has to be much, much higher. So, all the infrastructure works, the likes of the plumbing and the electrics and everything had to be redone.
“And obviously that throws up a whole load of other things. Once you start pulling walls down and you’re finding other things, you come to the last room and you think, oh, great, this one look quite straightforward. And then you pull back the wall and it’s black it’s. So, it was a huge project to take on.”
After committing to the project for five years the house now welcomes people inside to enjoy the hard work poured into it by the MacDonald’s and local labourers.
Mrs McDonald said: “One of the nicest things was when we first opened the restaurant, a lady came in who’s in her eighties said that she’d driven past the manse almost every day, or at least once a week throughout our life, and had never been inside.
“And I thought, gosh, that’s really terrible. That a beautiful, historic, building like this is went reserved for so few people.
“One of the proudest things I am is that this whole project will our future proof the building and allow the public to access such a gorgeous building for the years to come.”