Hidden behind some unassuming iron gates in the Highlands of Scotland lies a long-forgotten path. Walk down that path and you are walking in the footsteps of one of the UK’s richest ever Dukes. Enjoying the same peaceful surroundings where Winston Churchill once holidayed. Walking towards Coco-Chanel’s former love nest and Highland Getaway.
Not a bad find for a sleepy Highland Estate!
Coco Chanel’s Highland Fling
This grand Highland estate was once home to the second Duke of Westminster and his long-time lover, Coco Chanel. With 22 rooms and over 700 acres it was the perfect, lavish holiday retreat for the famously ostentatious couple. “Bendor” as he was more commonly known was at this time one of the richest men in the world. Despite being married, he wooed Chanel with extravagant gifts and proclamations of love during the 20s. Chanel, who at this point was becoming one of the world’s most recognisable clothes designers eventually succumbed to his advances. The two became embroiled in a decade long affair. This estate fast became a favoured location for their trysts.
A strange feeling overcame us as we walked down what would have once been the driveway to the grand house. A million thoughts ran through my head as my feet crunched through the snow. Would anyone be watching the estate? Would we manage to make it inside? What cars had once driven down this track? A mixture of fear and excitement ran through my body as we quickened our pace towards the house.
First Glance of the Mansion
After around a fifteen-minute walk we rounded a corner and the back of the house magically appeared in front of us. The building is a fine example of a simple classical mansion house. Early listings of the building mention hidden underground passages with concealed entrances. On first glance the house looked almost perfect under a thick layer of crisp white snow. Under closer inspection it became clear it is a remnant of its former glory, with broken panes and a roof that sags under the weight of 40 years of neglect.
Despite its dilapidated state, the house still exudes a feeling of opulence. Perhaps the memories of A-list guests and the most illustrious of owners have left an enduring mark on the site where they once danced the summers away.
Designed by the queen of chic.
The interior of the mansion was designed by Coco Chanel herself after she was reportedly horrified by the original décor. It was tastefully decorated in her celebrated chic style and would have been revolutionary for that time in Scotland. It is the only known house in Scotland to have an interior designed by Chanel and there is a rumour that it contained the first ever bidet in Scotland! Very little of Chanel’s original décor remains and we lamented the tragedy of letting such a unique part of Scottish architecture and interior design history crumble into obscurity.
As we tiptoed through the front door, we were welcomed by a long concrete hallway with grand stone arches. Looking up and down the hallway I imagined different staff using it to quickly access areas of the house. We guessed this was perhaps the staff entrance with the front of the house being used by guests and Coco Chanel herself. As we walked into the first open room a leather chaise lounge commanded our attention. Sitting frozen in time in an otherwise barren room. A symbol of what once had been.
We made our way through to the largest of the front rooms. Its size and location signified it was probably one of the main rooms used for entertainment. It was a treat for us too as it was full of unique and interesting pieces of furniture. The most magnificent of these were huge, solid wood, ornately carved headboards. They were magnificent in size and style, but I couldn’t help wondering what sordid tales they could tell. The Duke of Westminster and Chanel did, after all, have quite the passionate affair.
They were many other treasures to be found in the room, but one of the most striking was a brown leather chesterfield couch. As I sunk back into its surprisingly soft cushions, I pondered who else had sat here. Could Winston Churchill have sat on this couch smoking one of his famous cigars? We know he enjoyed his time here as he once described the mansion as “a very agreeable house in a Highland valley” that was “quite different to England.” It is crazy to think I could be sitting in the very spot he once enjoyed a Cuban and a single malt.
We carried on exploring through the rest of the house. Some parts of the house were inaccessible due to rotten stairways and floorboards, but we were still able to access many of the rooms, some of which still had original features. We found beautiful old fireplaces, a spectacular aga, some old sets of skis, a quirky wooden trailer, and a bathroom complete with the legendary bidet.
Rumour has it that the estate was going to be turned into a luxury hotel, although it is now back on the market for a cool 2.5 million. It seems criminal that it has taken half a century for someone to want to restore the mansion to its former glory.
We left the estate exactly as we found it. Leaving what little remained of its past intact.
I really hope someone does come in and restore the at risk building and I hope if they do so, they remember to honour its past and the fabulous people who once walked, talked and loved within its walls.
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