Foresight, Fire and Flood

One hundred years ago, Mac, that prolific of scribes whose journals bear witness to his thoughts and observations, wrote:

Think not of far off duties

But of duties which are near

And having once began to work

Resolve to persevere.

In 1916, Mac had dedicated the output from his Mills in India to supporting the war cause. He and his 30000 empolyees worked round the clock to keep the army supplied with its requirements. Such was his diligence that this effort was recognised at an Armistice dinner when the Lieutenant Governor of the Provinces paid tribute to the efforts of Cawnpore – and to Mac’s patriotism.

But of course his thoughts did stray to his family at home. At about this time, he wrote to his wife Rachel, lamenting that they were in danger of outgrowing Douneside. With Alasdair almost three and Roderic soon to be one, there was a need for extra nursery space and also accomodation for staff. He was sorry they had not succeeded in purchasing a neighbouring estate and had come to the conclusion that they should extend Douneside.

Thank goodness they did, because 100 years later, this grand old house, standing sentinel over the Howe of Cromar, will soon extend its hospitality to a wider circle of guests.

The MacRobert Trust has long been guardians of Douneside, purchased in 1888 by Mac and lovingly cherished and inmproved by Georgina and Rachel. Today, it is about to enter a new chapter in its life. Renovations are almost complete, and Douneside will soon become a hotel and leisure club, where not only will the quality be superlative, but its history and that of the family, together with the most stupendous view imaginable, will ensure its guests will want to return time after time.

Would Mac, Georgina and Rachel approve? I think so. Rachel was oft heard to quote – ‘New situations create new challenges.’ The MacRobert Trust as one of Britain’s most respected charities has had the vision to keep abreast of the challenges presented whilst remembering Rachel’s original wishes.

At certain times of year, rooms at Douneside will still be reserved for Ex Service personnel.

I think the venture would have their whole hearted support.

This winter saw an almost unprecedented disaster on Deeside when the River Dee burst its banks causing severe flooding all down the valley. The village of Ballater was particularly badly affected and my thoughts go out to all whose lives were instantly turned upside down. I’m sure though that the resilience and stoicism of the residents and business owners will see them through these challenging times. Bryn from Deeside Books in Ballater was one business badly affected. What he has been able to salvage can be purchased online so do visit

Sadly, earlier this year, fire badly damaged Alastrean House, owned by the MacRobert Trust and operated by Balhousie Care Homes who looked after the residents, including those ex service personnel for whom a quota of beds was still kept. If you’ve read the book, you’ll remember the fascinating story of how the House of Cromar came into MacRobert ownership and was renamed Alastrean. Rachel had intended it as a home for her sons when they came home to Tarland, but after their untimely deaths,and having no more use for it, she offered its use to the R.A.F. where those who came to say, could rest and recuperate from the ravages of conflict.

It’s sad to think that this is not the first time fire has struck this property. In November 1952, Alastrean House was gutted by fire and a member of staff perished.

On a happier note, all those in residence and working at Alastrean escaped this fire safely.

And in the immortal words of the onetime doyenne of the House of Cromar, the much loved Ishbel, wife of John Campbell Gordon, seventh Earl of Aberdeen whose home it was prior to falling into MacRobert ownership, – ‘Onwards and Upwards’!