Country houses for sale

Scotland’s sweet secrets: The estates that lit up the market north of the border last year

The number of estates for sale in Scotland increased last year and, while fewer sold overall, the market saw an increase in private transactions, says Penny Churchill

As Strutt & Parker’s head of farms and estates for Scotland, Robert McCulloch is accustomed to keeping his ear to the ground. His latest analysis of the arcane workings of the Scottish estates scene identifies some significant recent trends in the market north of the Border.

A stellar year in 2022 saw 23 estates, with an average size of 5,133 acres, either sold or going under offer at an average guide price of £8.2 million. In 2023, the number of estates sold fell slightly to 22, despite a 33% increase in the number of estates for sale. The average acreage of estates sold in 2023 was 3,904, whereas the average sale price slipped to £7.2m, a 12% decline year on year.

It was a difficult year for selling agents, with re-calibrations of land value impacting sale prices and volume.

Overall, the conversion rate of estates sold fell from 77% in 2022 (23 estates out of 30 for sale) to 55% in 2023 (22 estates out of 40 for sale), with Strutt & Parker claiming market leadership with seven out of 22 sales. At the same time, an increasingly jittery market saw the number of off-market transactions jump from 39% in 2022 to 55% in 2023.

It all made for a tough year for selling agents, a view confirmed by Evelyn Channing of Savills, who reveals that ‘demand for land suitable for commercial tree planting was re-calibrated, leading to a drop in upland farmland values by up to 25% from their peak in mid 2022’.

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Of six major estate sales achieved by Savills in 2023, five were to private UK-based buyers, four of whom were buying for natural capital. Meanwhile, arable land and lowland pasture sales remained strong, as agricultural buyers sought to acquire additional acreage, especially in strong farming areas such as the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, and Aberdeenshire.

880-acre Danna Island, part of the Tayvallich Estate, contains a boathouse, jetties, houses, small islands and more than five miles of coastline.

For Strutt & Parker, 2023 kicked off in style with the sale of the remote, 3,380-acre Tayvallich estate near Lochgilphead in Argyll, which came to the market in September 2022 with a guide price of £10.465m for the whole. Another prime target for natural-capital buyers, the spectacular mixed-use coastal estate occupies a little-known, but picturesque and ecologically important peninsula between the Sound of Jura and Knapdale peninsula on Scotland’s west coast.

Tayvallich’s assets range from the 1,686-acre Drimnagall farming estate, several native woodland sites and various houses and buildings, to the scenic, 880-acre Danna Island, which comprises a boathouse, jetties, houses, small islands and more than five miles of coastline. It went under offer in November 2022 to Highlands Rewilding, one of a series of environmental enterprises founded by climate campaigner Jeremy Leggett; the sale was completed in spring 2023.

The Drimnagall Estate, part of Tayvallich, extends to some 1,686 acres.

A further two remote and scenic coastal estates found buyers through Strutt & Parker in 2023. The first of these was the 2,396-acre Husabost estate near Dunvegan, on the north-west coast of the Isle of Skye, which came to the market in May with a guide price of ‘offers over £1.25m’ and sold in the autumn to ‘a British buyer with local roots’, Mr McCulloch reveals.

Once part of the land holdings of the MacLeod family, whose seat is the nearby Dunvegan Castle, Husabost comprises a main house in need of complete refurbishment, a home farm, tenanted crofts and some five miles of sea frontage, with magnificent views to the Cuillin Mountains and the Outer Hebrides.

Sheep, scenery and green grass. the 1,863 acre Grigadale Estate.

The other was the 1,863-acre Grigadale estate on Argyll’s Ardnamurchan Peninsula, the most westerly point of the British mainland, known as ‘the headland of the great seas’. Launched in May with a guide price of ‘offers over £1.2m’, it was sold by the autumn, again to a British buyer.

Described by the agents as ‘a magnificent amenity estate in one of the most peaceful and unexplored parts of Scotland’, Grigadale comprises a three-bedroom farmhouse and farm buildings surrounded by pasture, rough grazings and open hill; sport includes deer stalking, rough shooting and trout fishing on three lochs.

The central loch of Grigadale.

With the Cheviot Hills to the south and the more open farmland of Berwickshire to the north, the central Scottish Borders not only offers some of the most beautiful countryside in the south of Scotland, but is a region renowned for its productive farmland, forestry and exciting country sports. Here, Savills handled the sale of Linton Burnfoot Farm, a ring-fenced 540-acre farm in an unspoilt and tranquil valley spanning Kale Water, seven miles from Kelso and 12 miles from Jedburgh.

Run in recent years as a stock farm producing fat lambs, it was also the setting for an excellent driven-pheasant and duck-flighting shoot. Launched onto the market in July 2022, as a whole for ‘offers over £3.1m’ or in three lots, the majority of the land was acquired in 2023 by the Foresight Sustainable Forestry Company, which plans to repurpose the hill ground for forestry. The handsome Georgian main house was sold separately with about 50 acres to a lifestyle buyer for ‘offers over £800,000’. Some 40 acres of arable land was bought by a neighbouring farmer.

The ‘fat lambs’ of the 540-acre Linton Burnfoot Farm.

There was strong interest from southern buyers in two well-run traditional farms in prime Border locations, which sold for 20% more than the asking price in the latter half of 2023, Mrs Channing reveals. The first of these was the 303-acre Old Graden Farm, which sits in a private and picturesque setting to the south-east of Kelso, overlooking rolling farmland with views towards the Cheviot Hills. Strategically planted woodlands and the varied topography produce challenging driven pheasants, with ponds providing excellent duck-flighting and walked-up snipe shooting also available. Launched in July for ‘offers over £2.1m’, Old Graden was sold by September. 

The 303-acre Old Graden Farm was sold in September for more than £2.1 million.

Howden Farm near Selkirk was a late entrant to the market in mid September at a guide price of ‘offers over £2.3m’. Following 29 viewings and five offers, an early November closing date resulted in a December sale, with entry in January 2024.

The immaculate, all-grass livestock farm comprises a late-Georgian farmhouse, two semi-detached cottages, traditional and modern farm buildings, 323 acres of grassland and 67 acres of amenity woodland and shelter belts. It sits amid peaceful rolling countryside on the southern lower banks of Ettrick Water, a tributary of the Tweed, two miles south-west of Selkirk in the heart of the Scottish Borders.

After 29 viewings and five offers, an agreement on Old Howden was reached in December.

Owned by the same family for 300 years, the 1,962-acre Finegand estate at Glenshee in the Cairngorms National Park, 20 miles from Blairgowrie and 32 miles from Perth, was the pride of Galbraith’s farms and estates portfolio when it came to the market in September 2022 with an asking price of £5m. ‘The vendors were delighted when a UK buyer with traditional farming and sporting interests bought the estate in February 2023,’ says selling agent Emma Chalmers.

The 1,962-acre Finegand Estate can be found in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.

The impressively diverse Highland estate boasts farming, forestry, sporting and conservation interests, centred on the original Finegand Farmhouse, with a range of farm buildings, six cottages and a former steading at the north offering a potential development opportunity. The lands at Finegand comprise permanent pasture, rough grazings, heather hill and woodland, rising from about 310 metres (1,017ft) above sea level to some 794 metres (2,605ft) at its highest point.

The farming enterprise is currently run in conjunction with a shepherding contract for some 500 ewes. The estate offers a range of traditional sports that include red, roe and fallow deer stalking and walked-up grouse shooting.

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