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We wanted a doer-upper! Meet the couple transforming a Crieff castle abandoned for 50 years

A couple have spent more than £1 million as they aim to transform dilapidated Culdees Castle in Perthshire into a luxury wedding venue.

The Crieff castle was designed and built in 1810 for Charles Drummond, whose clan was rewarded for fighting with Robert the Bruce.

But abandoned and unloved for more than half a century, it fell into serious disrepair.

A third of the roof was missing and there was extensive damage inside the 18-bedroom four-storey property.

A new home with a ‘wow factor’

Its saviours came in the unlikely form a couple from England holidaying in the area three years ago.

Tracey Horton and Rob Beaton had never discussed moving to Scotland before, never mind buying a castle.

But Culdees Castle met their requirements of being a “doer-upper” and having the “wow factor”.

Rob Beaton and Tracey Horton, Culdees Castle owners.

Tracey, who has a background in renovating properties south of the border, recalled the moment she set eyes on the magnificent building.

She said: “Rob had only lived in new build houses and he always wanted to renovate a house.

“So when we decided we’d move in together, we decided to buy a doer-upper.

“We never discussed moving to Scotland, but Rob said he had found a wildcard, so we came to have a look.

“We came down a tree-lined avenue and there was a big house which I wasn’t too taken on – the mansion house is not very pretty.

“But he then said ‘it comes with this’ and I saw the castle for the first time.”

Parts of Culdees Castle in Crieff remains in serious disrepair.

She describes it as being love at first sight.

“I thought ‘OK, this definitely has the wow factor’,” she added.

“We did the viewing and we texted each other with whether it was a yes or no. The rest is history.”

Early renovations

After viewing in the summer of 2018, they took ownership of the castle in early 2019.

They have been hard at work ever since, with the work carried out so far totalling more than £500,000.

That takes their investment north of £1 million, having paid £730,000 for the historic property.

Their initial work at the castle included stripping it back of the bushes and trees that had grown around the outside of the building.

Tracey, who previously lived in Kent, said: “We did a lot of work in the ground just to see the size of the building.

“It was horrific. It was completely covered in ivy and there was bushes and trees everywhere.

The courtyard at Culdees Castle has been transformed and could host weddings in the future.

“There were nearly 35 trees and bushes that needed pulled out. You couldn’t even see the back of the castle.”

The couple have renovated the courtyard, cleared out the rooms inside and work on those is ongoing.

‘We needed to bring money in’

They’ve also installed glamping cabins, a tea room and shop at a formerly derelict outbuilding and built a pond at the rear of the building.

As well as renovating the castle, the couple decided to launch their own business.

In addition to three glamping cabins, which arrived last summer, there are plans for another two.

One should arrive in September, with the fifth and final cabin in place early next year.

They are a way, Tracey said, of recouping some of the significant costs they have invested in the project.

“We need something to bring money in,” she said.

Culdees Castle renovations could last a lifetime.

“We have made a real point of not upsetting the nature here. The cabins are in the woodland but they are not next to each other.

“Each of the cabins has its own private pathway and they’ve all got their own private gardens.

“They are secluded. It’s really quiet and serene. We advertise as a rural romantic retreat.”

Next steps for castle refurbishment

One of their next plans is to obtain a license to allow them to open a whisky bothy and champagne bar.

The couple hope that when those are complete, they will draw local residents and tourists to the site.

“We want to give the locals somewhere really nice that they can come for a drink,” Tracey said.

“The next plan is to get a premises license for the outside bar that we are building.

Tracey Horton has big plans to turn Culdees Castle into a luxury wedding venue.

“We want to give the glampers somewhere to come.

“It will also give the locals can have somewhere really nice to have a drink.”

Tracey left her job as an area manager for an estate agent to take on the renovation challenge.

Culdees Castle to host first wedding

They have bookings for weddings in October and at New Year, as well as another one for next year.

“We’re hosting our first wedding in October which is just so exciting,” the castle owner added.

“We’re hoping that when the courtyard is done, we’ll generate a lot more money from weddings and events.

“So many places offer packages but we don’t really want to do that.

Culdees Castle owner Tracey Horton hopes many people will choose to marry there.

“We want to be flexible – we have got the courtyard where people can have about 50 guests and it is intimate.

“We’ve got huge lawns that we can put marquees. We’re quite versatile in being able to offer whatever people want.

“I’d rather someone came to us and said ‘I love the place’ and we work with them to find something that suits.”

Long-term aims for Culdees Castle

The couple acknowledge that restoring the four-storey castle to its former glory will be a long-term project.

Tracey harbours hopes of renting out some of the castle’s 18 bedrooms once the first phase of work is completed.

The couple also hope to create luxury apartments for their children to live in.

She hopes that will be within the next five years – but said the entire project could last the rest of their lives. They are happy to make that commitment.

“We knew it would be a big project but admittedly was a complete novice at doing it by myself, especially on a project of this scale,” Tracey said.

“I always said I wanted to run my own business.

“This place gave us that opportunity but it will be a lifetime project.”