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Grand plans for Sutherland sporting estate

By Caroline McMorran

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An international entrepreneur has revealed ambitious plans to develop a traditional Sutherland sporting estate into a high-end holiday destination.

John Morphet, the sole owner of Pure Leisure Group, hopes to build 35 timber lodges, upgrade existing buildings and establish leisure facilities at the 7000-acre Gledfield Estate in Strathcarron.

The lodge at Gledfield Estate dates back to the 18th century.
The lodge at Gledfield Estate dates back to the 18th century.

The development, which has yet to be put forward for planning consent, has been welcomed in principle by the leaders of the area’s two community councils.

Preston born Mr Morphet, who spent part of the festive season at Gledfield, built his business empire up from scratch after starting work aged 14 on a small caravan park on his family’s Westmoreland Farm.

He founded Pure Leisure Group, which has its headquarters in North Lancashire, in 2004 after selling his previous company South Lakeland Parks to Legal and General for a reported £100 million.

Pure Leisure Group operates holiday lodge and caravan parks across England as well as two golf and leisure estates in West Yorkshire.

Its flagship leisure resort is the Royal Westmoreland in Barbados - a 750 acre resort with a world class golf course. It is the Royal Westmoreland concept that Mr Morphet hopes to roll out in Sutherland, albeit without the golf.

Mr Morphet bought Gledfield Estate, which was previously owned by the family behind crystal company Swarovski, in September, after deciding that it was “ideal” for his purposes.

As well as trout and salmon fishing on its six lochs and stretch of the River Carron, the estate has 2000 acres of woodland and around 5000 acres of hill ground. The main building is an 18th century, four storey, eight-bedroom mansion.

“It is out on a limb a little - it is 38 miles out of Inverness but the scenery is absolutely stunning and the main estate house is stunning,” said Mr Morphet.

He has already sought pre-planning advice about building lodges in the grounds, converting a derelict farm steading into a bar and restaurant and farm buildings into a fitness centre and swimming complex. Local people will be able to use the facilities.

John Morphet at the opening of the Yealands Holiday Park in Lancashire.
John Morphet at the opening of the Yealands Holiday Park in Lancashire.

“I like to move as quickly as I possibly can and we can start as soon as we get planning permission,” he said. “I would like to think we had some form of representation by next winter.

“It will create employment. We have got an extremely large database of people who visit our development in Barbados and I am hoping they will come to Scotland. I did carry out a survey before I started of people who either came to Scotland on a regular basis or have an interest in Scotland and there was quite a lot of demand.”

Creich Community Council chairman Pete Campbell said both he and Kyle of Sutherland Trust (KoSDT) manager David Watson had met with Mr Morphet to discuss his plans.

“I think his plans are sensible and ambitious and will do a huge amount of good for the local community,” he said. “He quite obviously has an enormous record of success in this sector and we’d do well to recognise and commend that.

“The prospect of an inward investment of this size into our community in these difficult times is something to be welcomed.

“The matter has not yet been discussed at Creich Community Council but will be at our next meeting in January."

Betty Wright, chairwoman of Ardgay and District Community Council, said: “We had a Zoom meeting with Mr Morphet and gave an initial welcome to his proposals and particularly his commitment to provide local employment opportunities.

“It is also to be welcomed that the farm buildings are to be renovated and facilities provided which will be open for local residents to enjoy.

“To date we have not been able to gather the views of our community which we need to consider before giving our full support. There will need to be a public consultation where the final plans are shared with the public either online or in person if Covid restrictions allow.”

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