Restoring history is a passion shared by Robert Pooley and his daughter, Katharine, both of whom have helped breathe new life into one of Scotland’s near-forgotten fortresses
Amid the backdrop of lush, Scottish verdure stands the majestic Forter Castle. Once laid to ruins, the Scottish Baronial castle now stands proudly in the heart of Scotland’s Cairgnorm National Park. This 460-year-old fortress is home to a rich history coloured by both romance and bloodshed. Having first been erected by the Ogilvys of Airlie in 1560, Forter Castle was destroyed in 1640 by the Campbells of Argyll in the midst of a clan war. For over 300 years, this fortress, once proud, had lain in ruins until its restoration in 1988.
Spanning a little over three decades, Forter Castle’s restoration was undertaken by one of United Kingdom’s most sought-after interior designers. Katharine Pooley and her father, Robert Pooley, had meticulously brought the castle back to life after centuries of dormancy. “My father had driven past the crumbling castle for 30 years, always dreaming of restoring a small piece of Scottish history,” Katharine said. “[Forter Castle] has proven to be the love of [my father’s] life. Undoubtedly, the reconstruction has been a huge undertaking, but he is a man of incredible vision and passion.”
In 2020, the Pooley family dream has finally been realised. Today, Forter Castle attracts attention from all over the world; it is a choice location for films, weddings, fashion shoots and intimate events of all kinds. Despite its tumultuous history, the fortress now stands as a rich and romantic testament to history. Its thick stone walls, turrets, large fireplaces and towers are examples of the traditional Scottish Baronial style developed in the 16th and 17th century that is rarely preserved today (but which often dotted the Scottish landscape during the era). Now, through the meticulous eyes of the Pooleys, this castle has been able to maintain its authenticity while offering guests all the luxuries of the 21st century.
“I wanted [Forter Castle] to transport [people] back in time, with all the romance that it entails, but with all the comfort of modern life too,” Katharine says. “Personal touches make the stay even more special for our guests as it feels as though they are being welcomed into a characterful home. Every room has really personal one-of-a-kind objects, artworks, photographs, books and antiques.”
This kind of personal touch shows just how much care the Pooleys took to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for their guests. “Often, Baronial-style interiors can be too traditional, stark, or cold,” Katharine admitted. “I wanted to avoid this and add layers of personal touches, soft furnishings and sympathetic lighting.” Combining traditional Baronial pieces with the cleaner shapes of Georgian antique furniture, the Pooleys have managed to create friendly interiors that pay respect to the castle’s history.
Upon entering the castle, guests immediately find themselves in the heart of this grand edifice. The Great Hall, with its vast stone fireplace and mahogany book- shelves, is no hyperbole. It spans the entire width of the castle and is filled with intricate, antiquated personal touches that include antique books, an antler candelabra and crystal goblets that glimmer below wrought iron chandeliers. Two large classic sofas face the fireplace next to wing back chairs that have been upholstered in the finest goatskin leather. A dining table that seats 16 can also be found in The Great Hall, making it the perfect setting for a grand dinner with loved ones.
Arguably two of the most significant touches in The Great Hall are the handpainted ceiling mural and the Pooley swords that hang elegantly over the stone fireplace. The mural, which depicts scenes from the traditional Scottish song The Bonnie House of Airlie, was done by artist Jenny Merridew over the course of six weeks. “Jenny first prepared the timbers to give them a limed oak look,” Katharine explained. “The paint used is a high-density pigment that dries with intense colour and a completely matte finish. Observant eyes may look closely at the mural and see the rich narrative that it traces of the castle’s visual history.”
Mounted elegantly above the inlet log fireplace are two sets of Pooley swords that feature crimson detailing. These fine swords are traditionally forged British weapons that meet the rigorous standards of the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces. A personal touch, these blades come from Robert’s own enterprise. After discovering a passion for swords during his time in aviation, he swore to help protect the invaluable practice of sword making. Today, Pooley Swords is considered a major player in the industry; it provides swords, dirks and lances to the armed forces of Great Britain and Her Majesty’s Commonwealth.
Up through a narrow staircase at Forter Castle, guests are led to the various bedrooms that have been refurbished by the father-daughter duo. There are six in total, five of which have been named after the Robert Pooley children. Each of them reflects a distinct personality that also mirrors its namesake. The colours of the room, for example, is indicative of the sex of the bedroom’s eponym. “My sister has a gorgeous lavender-coloured room,” Katharine explained. “That of my brother, Julian’s Room, is navy blue with hound’s-tooth cashmere on the walls.” Julian’s Room also features printed cushions and chequered throws.
Sebastian’s Room, named after another of Katharine’s brothers, houses many interesting wood and antique furniture. These complement the room’s stately leather armchair, setting off a refined atmosphere. Robert’s Room, on the other hand, incorporates built-in bookcases and a deep buttoned sofa. It is often considered to be the castle’s best hideaway by those who enjoy solitary time.
Katharine’s own room balances the feminine and the masculine with rich purple hues and a carved wooden four-poster bed. Her sister’s room, Samantha’s, is an inviting boudoir furnished with buttoned stools, a dressing table and a cosy armchair warmed by the fireplace nearby.
On the same floor as these five rooms is the spectacular Laird’s Room, which houses a king-sized four-poster bed by Ralph Lauren. Its open-plan bathroom comes with a roll top bath and a free-standing brass Drummonds shower. Katharine shared that the four-poster bed in the Laird’s Room had to be sawn to pieces and winched up through the window as the entire structure could not fit through the narrow stairwell. Sophisticated and intimate, Laird’s Room also offers guests a spectacular view of the undulating Highlands.
In the basement of Forter Castle lies the Chapel. Couples around the world have travelled to Scotland to celebrate intimate weddings at this very location, which can welcome up to 24 guests. The terrain that surrounds Forter Castle is also popular among travellers and locals for its vast array of daytime activities. These include horseback riding, golf, mountain biking and skiing in the winter. Katharine recommended a visit during the late summer months when the hills come alive with blooming wildflowers. November is also a choice time for those seeking to host events, as the Highlands are framed with delightful autumnal trees and romantic sunset views.
The father-daughter duo, who share a very close relationship, are lauded for having rebuilt a local monument in Scotland. Although they were unsure at first, Katharine admits that she loved working with her father. “We are very close and I share his passion, vision and tenacity. We work well together,” she says.