Interview: George Goldsmith on his successful holiday and sporting business

Job title I’m the managing director of George Goldsmith Limited, and we specialise in holiday rentals and sporting lets, dealing with some of the finest estates in Scotland. We also handle the sale and acquisition of estates and country houses throughout Scotland.
George Goldsmith with his canine accomplice, FigGeorge Goldsmith with his canine accomplice, Fig
George Goldsmith with his canine accomplice, Fig

How did you get started?I worked in an estate agency in Dorset, straight from school, selling country houses. But I have family connections in the Highlands, and I spent many holidays as a child around Loch Ness... I was really yearning to get back.

I spent some time travelling in my 20s and then, between jobs, I was filling in time working on an estate near Ullapool.

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I just loved being out of an office, working on the land, driving tractors, and catching trout in the hill lochs on my days off. I wanted to stay in Scotland, so when a job offer in an estate agency came up in Perth, I jumped at it.

Knock House on Mull.Knock House on Mull.
Knock House on Mull.

I did three years with them, based in the sporting estates department, and then I decided to set up my own business.

So I took the plunge and rented a little office in Leith, set up a website and here we are – 25 years later.

What does your business do? We are very focused on handpicked properties that sit within our portfolio. We let mainly for holiday rentals to families, large gatherings, and special occasions. Quite a big part of it is giving people access to the fantastic sport Scotland offers, whether that is fishing, stalking or grouse shooting.

Some clients might just want to rent a large house, but others might want to add on activities. It ranges from groups of six to up to 50 people sometimes, if it is a corporate booking.

Wyvis Lodge in Easter RossWyvis Lodge in Easter Ross
Wyvis Lodge in Easter Ross

We also sell properties on a low-key basis – there are always clients who take a holiday and then ask if there might be a property or estate available for them to buy.

How do you pick the places you represent? We meet the owners or house managers and visit every property that we represent. And we are looking for a certain standard, a style and how it is run.

Some houses come with staff – there might be a housekeeper onsite, others will be self-catered, but most people would love someone to cook for them so that everyone can have a break, so we will put them in touch with recommended chefs or cooks or through one of the specialist cooking agencies.

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And then there are all the add-on experiences, which are really why so many people are drawn to this sort of holiday. They may be keen walkers or hikers, want to try salmon fishing or field sports. These are special pursuits which people love the opportunity to do.

For example, some houses come with a boat – and a skipper – to be able to take you out to sea for sea fishing or wildlife spotting. And to say that a 50-foot motor cruiser is included in the rental, as it is with Knock House on the Benmore Estate on Mull, offers real opportunities for the holiday of a lifetime, with all the access to secluded beaches and inaccessible places.

Or you can find yourselfsitting in the heather on a hillside sharing a sandwich with an expert ghillie, not something many people get to experience.

​Who are your clients? The clients are a cross section of people from all over the world. They are about 70 per cent from the UK, but Scandinavians, Europeans, Americans are all drawn to Scotland for its beauty. It is really a global market.

What is your typical day like? It always starts with a cold shower, which I love. Then I head 45 minutes from Gifford into North Castle Street [in Edinburgh] to our office. The rest of the day is making calls.

We have a small team, but we are always busy. Key is keeping in contact with our clients – it is easy to write emails, but speaking to people is better. Personal contact ensures we know who we are dealing with and understand what they are looking for, and our personal knowledge allows us to recommend the perfect property for their group.

Some days I will be trundling up the A9 to look at a property and if so, I’m always accompanied by my dog, Fig.

How much does it cost to rent one of these properties? We have a range of prices to suit all budgets. Weekly rates for a smaller property start from around £1500, but for the larger properties, if it is fully catered with all the add-ons, it can be £75,000 for a week.

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What is planned for the future? Even after 25 years we are discovering new houses which I didn’t know existed and areas of the country to discover.

Last week, I visited a magical estate on the West Coast with views across to the Inner Hebridean islands which is being put on the rental market for the first time, so there are always new properties coming on to our books.

But a lot of our business is repeat – if people find a great house, and a perfect week with everything they want, they book it year after year. And not least, that is because of the local people they meet – the ghillie, the stalker, or the housekeeper will play a very big part in why people come back.

Personal properties

​Born and raised I was born in Pyrford in Surrey and moved to Dorset where I grew up.

First job As an estate agent in Dorset, I was based in Poole and selling homes on the [English]South Coast.

Family My wife, Catherine, is an interior designer, and we have two daughters.

​Where do you holiday? We have two little cottages on Loch Knockie at Brachkashie, which we managed to buy 12 years ago. Catherine and I renovated them and they are available to let. We also use them for family holidays for ourselves. And going up there to trout fish or split logs to replenish the wood pile is what keeps me sane.

Plans for retirement I would like to spend more time on my motorbike, but I don’t plan to ride off into the sunset just yet.

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