Fingask Castle is an idyllic little slice of Perthshire. Nestled in the Carse of Gowrie hills with views across the Tay, its grounds sweep up a wooded gorge, where a stream tumbles and flows down into a pond.
The woods aren’t the boring sitka spruce monoculture you find in Forestry Commission plantations. Imports such as giant Californian redwoods mingle with native oak, ash and beech, apple, pear and plum trees to create a woodland that is a joy to explore. Wander far enough and in a quiet corner you’ll find David Young’s workshop. Built using huge cuts of timber from storm-felled estate trees, it fits perfectly into its setting.
In fact, nearly all of the wood David uses to build furniture comes from deadfall on the estate. “Every time there’s a storm we have some fresh timber,” the 54-year old from Fife says. “Even if it’s somewhere quite hard to get to we’ll hike down there with a sling and drag the tree out using one of the estate’s tractors.
“We’re lucky to have a fantastic amount of diversity here. We’ve got ash, oak, Douglas fir, beech, and holly. There’s a guy who comes in with a planking machine and mills it on site then it’s just a matter of seasoning it. I usually stack it in our drying shed for a year and then transfer it into the castle’s boiler room, where the heat gets the rest of the job done in a few months. I do buy in a small amount of timber but we’re largely self-sufficient.”
It’s clear from a few minutes inside David’s workshop that he’s a master craftsman. A slab of perfectly sanded and polished timber is ready to be joined to another by a beautiful band of blue resin. Whoever commissioned this piece is going to have one of the most stunning kitchen tables in Scotland.
“The resin is something new that we’re experimenting with,” David continues. “You can have it in any colour – green, red, purple and so on – but I think it looks best in blue. It creates a lovely effect but at the same time it’s hard wearing and can be used like any other kitchen table.”
It’s no surprise David’s good with his hands – he was raised with a saw and hammer in his hands. “My dad was a cabinet maker at Gateside Mills in Fife and I grew up with it,” he explains. “From the age of 12 I was helping with the machine after school and during the holidays.”
After leaving school David joined the YTS scheme and went to work at Gateside Mills, learning cabinet making working alongside his father. When his dad was made redundant they went into business together, basing themselves in Perth.
“We had customers all over the UK wanting us to make bespoke pieces for us,” David recalls. I was up and down to London all the time, we had pieces in Harrods. It was exhausting but exhilarating.”
After his dad retired, David worked for himself, with a workshop in the Carse of Gowrie.
He’s the first to admit he never planned on being fortunate enough to have a woodland workshop in the grounds of a castle.
His current idyllic working arrangement came about quite by chance when he and the castle’s owner, Andrew Threipland, were strolling through the grounds together.
“There was this area in the woods at the back that was really just used as a dumping ground,” David continues.
“It had an old shed and piles of rubbish all over the place. At the time I had a workshop down near Errol but the overheads were pretty high and I was thinking about getting rid of it. I wanted to find a plot of land to build my own workshop on, or buy a house with a garden big enough to put a workshop in.
“When Andrew and I were walking I joked that this would be the perfect spot for me to set up my workshop. He had a think about it then phoned me and said let’s do it.
“We gutted the shed, got a digger in and moved something like 400 tons of topsoil, levelling the site and clearing some trees to make a bit more space.”
It’s a beautiful spot, occupying a quiet clearing amid century-old trees. A burn tinkles merrily down one side of the yard and the occasional dog walker passes by, getting a wave and a hello from David. I’ve brought my golden retriever along with me and she happily scampers through the woods while David and I sit on wicker chairs outside the workshop drinking coffee on a pleasant early autumn day.
Full of state of the art equipment such as laser cutters and CNC machines, his workshop is a busy place. David makes a startling variety of products. There’s the bespoke furniture, of course. But he also makes display shields for clan crests and small wooden cows which are sold by the Hairy Coo in Inverness.
Anyone who visits the castle or stays in its accommodation will be seeing and touching David’s work. He recently completed a bespoke kitchen for the castle made – of course – out of timber from the estate, with work surfaces made from reclaimed slate from old snooker tables.
The “potting sheds” a row of nine en suite bedrooms backing onto the castle’s walled garden have beds that were handmade by David – complete with a clever slide-out wooden shelves to place luggage on.
David also makes bespoke pieces on commission, mostly from people in the Carse of Gowrie, Perth and other nearby areas. “I’ve never advertised and I’ve never been short of work,” he continues. “Word of mouth does a good enough job of keeping me busy.”
While furniture making is David’s first love, he’s also a capable teacher and enjoys sharing his expertise. “I divide my time between making things and delivering training,” he explains. “I’m an HSE assessor and I renew safety certification for council workers and the private sector all over Scotland – I’m up as far as Orkney and Shetland.
“I carry out training for the Scottish Men’s Shed Association, which also takes me across Scotland, and I train school teachers. Some technical teachers might have a degree in physics, or something unrelated to woodwork, so I can help fill that skills gap.”
David’s vision is to host training programmes at his workshop. “We’ve got plenty of space here, I love teaching, and this is the perfect place to do it.
“We could host residential courses. During the week when there aren’t weddings on the castle has plenty of accommodation. Partners of people here for the training could come and stay as well – there are loads of woodland walks and activities to keep them entertained.”
David lives in the gardener’s cottage at the bottom of the estate and his commute to the office is a five minute walk up the hill. As we stroll down the path above the ravine so I can enjoy a look at the puppies his spaniel gave birth to the previous evening, he picks an apple from one of the many fruit trees that line the track. “It’s not a bad journey to work,” he says, taking a bite. “Quite often there’s a buzzard on one of the trees and he’ll take flight down into the gorge below, so you can look down on him from above.”
If all goes to plan, David’s commute will get even shorter – he’s hoping to build a house for himself directly behind his workshop.
“I can do pretty much all of the work myself and it will be great to be right by the workshop. How long will it take me? No idea, but I’ll get there in the end.”