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Byline: Cash in on a luxury residence that Queen Victoria would dearly have loved to own. NAN ENSOR reports

NOT a lot of people know this, but John Brown wasn't Queen Victoria's only secret Scottish love.

It seems Her Majesty also had a passion for a property in Bridge of Weir.

According to historical records, when the Queen first started hunting for a Scottish residence and saw Ranfurly in the late 1840s, she was enchanted by the turreted building and the beautiful views across Lochwinnoch to the Kilpatrick Hills.

Victoria's medical advisers were also impressed with the location, reporting that the fresh bracing air in Renfrewshire would benefit the Queen's health.

But Prince Albert was more interested in a brace of grouse so Balmoral, with its rolling acres and excellent hunting, shooting and fishing, got his vote and Deeside became home to the official Scottish royal residence.

Despite being rejected by Queen Victoria, other wealthy Victorians enjoyed some right royal times during Ranfurly's chequered history.

In 1882, the building was converted into a luxury 40-bedroom hotel, with Russian and Turkish baths, a ballroom, conservatory and billiards room.

During World War One it became a hospital for wounded officers then, after a brief period as a private school, it was turned into shops and flats in the 1920s.

Fifty years on, the grand country house was looking rather the worse for wear, but to seven-year-old Gary Pearson, on a day trip to Bridge of Weir from his council home in Linwood, the elegant spires and turrets of Ranfurly looked like his idea of a storybook castle.

Three decades and almost pounds 3 million later, Gary is king of Ranfurly Castle.

He told us: "When I bought the building it was so dilapidated the council were talking about demolishing it.

"Apart from serious deterioration to the stone work, there was widespread fire damage, whole walls and part of the roof had collapsed, and there were trees growing out of one side.

"So what had once been my dream castle looked more like a crumbling row of tenements. But it's such a spectacular building, it would have been criminal not to preserve it."

Because Ranfurly Castle Terrace had been divided up and sold off piecemeal, it took Gary three years and 22 separate conveyancings before he became the owner of the whole property.

Then it took another two years hard labour to restore it.

He said: "It's a B-listed building, and practically the first thing you see when you drive into Bridge of Weir, so I wanted to make it a worthwhile first impression.

"I've been more than 10 years in the construction business and have a great team of professional tradesmen working for me. But Ranfurly was such a massive undertaking that I had to bring craftsmen in from all over the country.

"I also took on a dozen young apprentices to train as stone masons, carpenters, cabinet makers, French polishers, slaters, wood carvers, blacksmiths and joiners."

Gary's dream was to restore the exterior to its original Victorian glory.

Inside though, he created seven luxury apartments full of period features but with the added attraction of mod cons such as designer kitchens, Jacuzzi baths and, in the tower of one of the penthouses, a pine-lined sauna.

Before he could start work inside, Gary and his gang of workers had to clear away all the rubble, cure the dry rot, replace the drainage system and re-roof the castle, which meant dressing thousands of Ballachulish hand-cut slates.

The restoration of Ranfurly was to be perfectly in period, so no reconstituted stone or concrete was used, and the crumbling walls were rebuilt using sandstone blocks, with all the ornate carvings, corbel stones and fluted columns on the building carved by hand - a job that took a team of stonemasons eight months.

Having restored the magnificent exterior, Gary was equally painstaking over the interiors. He said: "Each apartment is very different, with one thing in common: the quality of the finish.

"We made everything to suit the building, and I'm really proud of the work our team of apprentices have produced.

"They've learned skills that were dying out, such as hand-turned wood finishes. Someone said we'd never find furniture to suit, but the lads have even turned their skills to making four-poster beds and ornate carved tables and cabinets.

"The door frames are more than a foot thick, and we've hand built each one, then carved and decorated them with hand-cut glass , brass and marble insets.

"The floors are solid wood and, in some of the apartments, we laid insets, including Queen Victoria's favourite thistle and rose emblems."

The kitchens are also hand-built, and again Gary has made each one stylishly different, using brass and copper for splashbacks, and granite and marble for worktops.

There are details such as solar lighting and electronically-controlled temperature and humidity systems, ceiling downlighters and skirting lights in all the rooms, a video entry system, jacuzzi baths with built-in speakers so you can be awash with music as you scrub up.

The refurbishment was a business venture for Gary, but also a labour of love. He said: "I know I was using my heart and not my business head, and refurbishing Ranfurly has taken a lot more time and money than I intended. But it's been worth it to know I've helped preserve one magnificent piece of Scottish history."

The Ranfurly Castle Terrace apartments are now on sale, priced from pounds 140,000, rising to pounds 190,000 for the luxury penthouse with sauna. Call 01505-615050 for details.

Gary's team of craftsmen will soon be operating as Carerra Interiors - the new business venture he has set up in the ground floor of the castle in partnership with his cousin, Peter Pearson.

As well as interior design, they will offer a wide range of exclusive kitchens, bathrooms, furniture and accessories.

Gary has four other companies making and supplying everything from metal gates and stairs to etched and stained glass and from hand-crafted kitchens to fine furniture. Telephone 07971-027428.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2001
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