Castle for a peppercorn rent

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IT IS the chance of a lifetime - to live next door to the Queen and pay only a peppercorn rent.

But keeping up with the neighbours could be harder than they think for the prospective tenants of one of Scotland’s prime sporting estates.

Fifteen-bedroom Invercauld Castle, which sits opposite the Balmoral and is one the most sought-after venues for grouse shooting and salmon fishing, is being let for next to nothing.

Its former residents include the stylish late Highland socialite Frances Farquharson, once the fashion editor of Vogue in the US and a friend of the Royals.

But before you raid the savings account, there is a catch.

Whoever takes on the lease must agree to spend around 450,000 bringing the Scottish baronial pile up to scratch, pay for its upkeep and the costs of running the estate. The package - which could include a lease of up to 20 years - is likely to cost 250,000 a year or more.

The arrangement, described by property experts as "creative", is designed to modernise the Aberdeenshire estate so that it can be used by the children of the nephew of the current and sixteenth laird, Captain Alwyne Farquharson, who inherited it in 1941.

It is hoped the castle, which comes with a ballroom and 26,000 acres of grouse moor, can be used for private or corporate entertainment.

Trustees of the estate believe the offer of the best mixed sporting opportunities in Scotland and the chance for tenants to treat the castle as their own home is likely to generate considerable interest, if not from individuals then from sporting syndicates.

The ancestral home of the Farquharsons predates that of their Royal neighbours on Deeside by centuries. The 110,000-acre estate became a trust some years ago when it was made over by Capt Farquharson, 83, who has no male heir.

The estate factor, Simon Blackett, said the family rarely uses the castle and the prime object was to find a sympathetic tenant who in return for bringing it up to modern standards would have access to a well-balanced mixed sporting estate.

"We are letting the castle itself and the home ground shooting and one of four beats on the River Dee. Our main priority is to find a tenant for the castle. We have produced a figure of about 450,000 over say ten to 20 years for improvements like curtains and carpet, and central heating. The present tenants use open fires and are quite happy with that.

"Capt Farquharson’s nephew has young children and by the time they come of age, it is hoped the castle will be suitable for them."

Although the castle needs redecoration, central heating and some structural work, the interiors still bear the colourful hallmarks of the late Frances Farquharson, Capt Farquharson’s first wife.

Born in Seattle in 1903, she ran the castle as a sporting retreat for well-heeled paying guests with all the ancestral and Scottish trimmings.

She and her husband, who has re-married and visits Invercauld in the summer, were close friends of the Royal Family - so much so that it is said when their car broke down on the way to dinner at Balmoral they did not bother to telephone and simply never turned up.

Frances Farquharson was one of the first people to understand the design potential of tweed, and had a passion for tartan. She opened a shop in Braemar and established a theatre in a local church.

Her entire wardrobe, from pre-war Parisian shoes and evening dresses to the flamboyant tweeds she wore in Scotland, was donated to Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Nowhere did she dazzle more than at the annual Braemar Gathering where, for almost 50 years, she and her husband shared the heather-clad pavilion with the Royal family.

The castle’s 15 bedrooms are served by 11 bathrooms. There is also a self-contained, five-bedroom flat, a three-bedroom staff flat and a two-bedroom caretaker’s cottage.

Stalking produces between 50 and 60 stags a year plus 100 culled hinds.

There is the potential for an improved low ground pheasant and partridge shoot over 6,500 acres of the Dee valley with snipe, woodcock and duck shooting. The six miles of fishing on the Dee produce a five-year average of 45 salmon or grilse and 12 sea trout.

Guy Galbraith, of the letting agent FPD Savills in Edinburgh, said the rent and the length of the lease would depend on how much the prospective tenant was prepared to invest.

He said: "We’re flexible about this. The point is to encourage investment in the property so the rent could be just a token rent, almost free.

"We are looking for a long-term agreement for at least 20 years. It will be a major commitment, but a very rewarding one for the right person. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Running costs of a quarter of a million pounds a year are relatively low for those who are experienced in managing sporting estates.

Simon Fairclough, the director of marketing at the Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Centre, said the peppercorn lease arrangement was creative but could work well. "The idea of charging a token rent, such as 50p a month, and instead asking for an agreed amount of investment could be ideal for both parties. Although you have to hand the property back, you have still enjoyed 20 years of potentially very lucrative occupation of what is an extremely sought-after estate."

But he said the idea was unlikely to be suitable for ordinary residential properties.

He said: "If you had an old property that you did not live in and wanted to park it with somebody for ten years or so then it could be an option, but it is not likely to be worth it if you have a flat in Edinburgh’s New Town. You would be better off upgrading it and being careful over your choice of tenants."