Estate History

Quite densely inhabited from prehistoric times, Glenlyon’s earliest name was “Gleann-dubh” (the Dark Glen) and later known as “An Crom Ghleann”, (the Bent Glen). [1]  It possibly became known as Gleann Li’uinn which may be from lighe (the Flooded Glen), from where Glenlyon derives.

The original inhabitants of the Glen were the Fienne “who have twelves castles in the dark crooked glen of rough stones” and who were ruled from Cashlie.

From Neil Oliver’s History of the British Isles in 100 Places: “The glen beyond Fortingall and the yew (the one beneath which Pontius Pilate might have sat as a boy) is Glen Lyon.  Celtic folklore has it that the glen was home to the creator goddess.  Not a creator goddess, but the creator goddess.  They called her Cailleach, the Celtic word for an old woman.  On Schiehallion –  the Fairy Hill, the Hill of the Constant Storm, where Nevil Maskelyne first weighed the world – the Cailleach rode the winds of inter, her face grey blue and her lips thin and white as snow.

“When St Adamnan found his way to Glen Lyon in the late seventh century to convert the locals to Christianity, he likely knew the place was already sacred, and for older reasons than his own.  Below the hill called Creag nan Eildeag is a tall upright stone, twice the height of a man.  It is split in two and has the look of hands brought together in an attitude of prayer.  They call it “the Praying Hands of Mary” but it is older by far than Christianity or any other religion we could name.  Elsewhere is a little stone structure called Tigh na Cailleach, ‘the old woman’s home’.  Inside it, between autumn and spring, are kept a set or stones worn and shaped by river water.  These representations of the Cailleach, the Bodach (‘the Old Man’) and their children.  Every May they are taken out of their house and left in the open until November, around the time of Samhain – the first day of November, marking the beginning of the Celtic winter – then they are put back instide.  The is the oldest pre-Christian ritual still performed anywhere in the world.  Glen Lyon has mattered to people for the longest time.”

Campbell ownership c.1500s – c.1700

From around the 1500s, Chesthill was owned by the Campbell clan. Robert Campbell the fifth Laird of Glenlyon (1630–1696) inherited large parts of the Glen and set about improving Meggernie Castle. This, along with heavy drinking, gambling and a string of unwise investments, pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy. In a last effort to clear his debts, he sold all the woods of Glenlyon which were part of the old Caledonian forest. Workmen arrived from the lowlands to fell the trees, which were sent floating down the Lyon, choking the river, causing widespread flooding and worsening his financial position further.  He sold almost all of the estate to the Earl of Tullibardine in 1684, moving from the grandeur of Meggernie Castle to the much more modest house owned by his wife at Chesthill .[2]  In a surprising co-incidence, Campbell’s wife was a cousin of Sir Charles Ramsay, 3rd Bt. of Balmain, an ancestor of the Ramsay family who currently own the house.

In 1689, on their return from the Battle of Dunkeld, the MacIains of Glencoe (a sept of Clan MacDonald), together with their Glengarry cousins, looted Glenlyon, stole his livestock, and razed his last remaining holdings, increasing his financial problems from gambling debts. In his subsequent appeal for compensation, Campbell showed he clearly believed the Glengarry men to be the more culpable, making no mention of Glencoe. In a final effort to support his wife and family, Robert Campbell, at the age of fifty nine, joined the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot and led the detachment of government troops responsible for the infamous Glencoe Massacre, of the MacDonalds of Glencoe in 1691. Some element of planning may have been undertaken from Chesthill House. The fact of the stolen cattle and Glenlyon’s involvement in the massacre were used by the English in an attempt to thinly veil the massacre as simply the outcome of thievery and clan rivalry. The available evidence, including the aforementioned appeal for compensation, shows that this was not the case. The Argyll Regiment was sent to fight in Flanders, in the War of the Grand Alliance, but was defeated by the French armies at Diksmuide in 1696, and Campbell died in Bruges on 2 August 1696.[3]

Blaeu 1654 Atlas of Scotland showing “Sestel”:

Blaeu 1654 Atlas of Scotland showing “Sestel”

Menzies ownership: 1700 – 1903

In around 1700, in an attempt to clear debts, Chesthill was sold to the local Colonel James Menzies’ of Culdares[5], who did not take possession until 1726 at the death of Robert Campbell’s wife [4]).

The Menzies of Culdares were staunch Jacobites: Colonel Menzies was a Royalist officer during the Civil War in the seventeenth century and was wounded nine times in various fights. He fought for the Jacobites in the 1715 Rising, but was captured after the rebellion and was exiled to North America.  He was too old to take part in the 1745-46 Rising, but sent Bonnie Prince Charlie a fine horse, delivered by his servant, MacNaughton. He also introduced the larch tree to Scotland , brought the first larches from the Austrian Tyrol in 1737: two of the original saplings, now grown to a great size, can be seen beside Dunkeld Cathedral.

Below is Roy’s 1747 Military Map of the Highlands showing “Sestel” and “Guldares”. The house appears on Stobie’s 1783 map as “Chestle”, and we therefore believe this is the correct pronunciation, rather than “Chest-hill”.

1747 Roy’s Military Map of the Highlands showing “Sestel”

The estate fell to the Colonel’s infant grand daughter but due to financial pressure it was sold in 1784 to her uncle by marriage, Alexander Menzies principal Clerk of Session, who moved there with his family and carried out many improvements on the property[6], possibly including extending it to include the front and back parts which are now derelict.  His daughter and heiress married Mr Joseph Stewart of Foss (who added Menzies to his name to inherit) and their son John Stewart Menzies succeeded to Chesthill, on his mother’s death sometime before 1824.  At this time, John Stewart Menzies lived at Duneaves near Fortingall (later sold to Marquis of Breadalbane), and Charles Stewart, perhaps his brother, lived there at the time.  Charles was described thus “Oh ! what an ardent Highlander he was, and what natural talents he had, and how many Highlanders owed him grateful thanks … [he] was a famous breeder of Highland cattle, and his blackfaced sheep stock was ranked among the best in Scotland”[8].

Alexander Stewart in his book a Highland Parish gives an interesting description of John Stewart Menzies;

‘In his younger days he lived a somewhat loose and dissolute life, but in his later years he settled down to more orderly habits and wielded considerable influence in the affairs of the county.’

Alexander’s daughter, Alexandra Stewart, was much more outspoken in her book Daughters of the Glen, where she claimed he was “a notorious lecher” with many illegitimate children.  She went on to explain how John Stewart Menzies threw her family out of Woodend, which had been the family’s home for over a century, to make way for a mistress and her child (according to the census, this must have been sometime after 1851). More dramatically, a few years earlier a Miss Christian Stewart took a case to the House of Lords in 1832[7], “of seduction and for damages” for her and her two children, where she presented a letter dated 25th March 1826, saying “Christy – You and I having lived together as man and wife for some time, I hereby declare you to be my lawful wife, in the event of a child being born in consequence of the present connexion betwixt us; I am yours truly, John Menzies, of Chesthill.”  John Stewart Menzies defended that he had written the letter in 1828 to provide a reason why he could not marry a Miss Macdougall whom he had proposed to in 1827.  The Lords concluded “the evidence no doubt proves the conducto of the defender to have been highly discreditable to him… but that circumstance cannot give a different legal character to a written document … to treat that document as a Scotch contract of marriage, nor does it establish per se the title of the pursuer to damages as for seduction”.  John Stewart Menzies seems to have got off lightly.

Other records show a more public spirited side of John Stewart Menzies “a true hearted Gaelic-speaking Highlander of the old stamp” who gave the community “a feu for church, manse, and school, at Cambusvrachan”[8].

The 1851 census shows John Stewart Menzies, his brother Joseph, five domestic staff, and six outdoor staff in residence at Chesthill, and by this time, Christian Stewart was living at the estate farm, Dericambus, aged 67.

John Stewart Menzies died in 1868 and the house was then owed by William Stewart Menzies “whom I have often seen in his picturesque Highland costume, wielding his fly-rod and cleverly avoiding the many obstacles growing on the high bank.  He never would try the minnow, preferring, even in January, to take his chance with a fly.”[9] At times the house was occupied by tenants including the Stainton Family whose game book is copied in the gun room, until Mr Menzies’s trustees sold it to Sir Donald Currie in 1903.  A Letting advert from this period mentions “Red Deer occasionally visit the grounds”. The dates on the garages is 1879 suggesting improvements were done at this time, but maps from the time show this was maintenance rather than extensions.

Currie / Wisely ownership: 1903 – 1956

Donald Currie (1825-1909), by Walter William Ouless.jpg

Sir Donald Currie (1825 – 1909) is an impressive individual who founded the Castle shipping line to South Africa, which in 1876 won a share of the mail service from Great Britain. He was a Liberal member of parliament for Perthshire from 1880 to 1900.  In 1881 for shipping/messaging services rendered during the Zulu War he was rewarded with a knighthood (KCMG).  He bought Garth in 1880, Glenlyon Estate in 1884 and set about building the hotel, church and several houses in the village of Fortingall from 1890-91. These were designed by architect James M MacLaren and is increasingly appreciated as one of the most important examples of ‘Arts and Crafts movement’ style in Scotland.  Sir Donald then bought the Chesthill Estate in the 1903, and much of the cast iron fencing dates from this period.  He shared some of the Lyon fishing rights with the Fortingall hotel which he rebuilt.  When he died in 1909, left one estate to each of his three daughters, Margaret who married Sir Frederick Mirrielees inherited Garth.  Elizabeth who married Percy Alport Molteno who inherited Glenlyon.  And Maria who married George Alexander Keith Wisely inherited Chesthill, and for a large part of their ownership, Chesthill was rented to Brigadier General Piggot, whose daughter Jean painted the penguins in the Penguin bedroom.

Taken in 1920s

Chesthill House taken sometime before a fire in the back parts in 1920s, after which it was left to go to ruin.

The estate was inherited by their son, Major George Leslie Keith Wisely, winner of a Military Cross in the First World War. In 1944 Major Wisely sold Culdaremore for £2,500, but retained the fishing rights.  Then in 1947, he sold Chesthill to his uncle, Donald Jervis Molteno of Glenlyon House, moved to Kent, but decided they had made a mistake and in 1949 bought back the southern element and the house. Chesthill Estate was thus split in two and became North and South Chesthill. Jarvice Molteno kept North Chesthill, which is now owned by his descendants, the Riddell family.


Leslie and Doris Wisely in the drawing room, May 1955, with a Turner on the wall behind

Roy ownership: 1956 – 1978:

South Chesthill Estate (and Chesthill House) was sold for the second time by the Wiselys in 1956 and bought by the Roy family (who had made their money from tea).  The Roys were family friends of the parents of artist Leesa Sandys-Lumsdaine, who in the late 1950s was commissioned to paint the murals in the Games Room.  They feature John Fisher, the wonderful Ghillie who served at South Chesthill from 1933 – 1980 (except for a short break in Kent with Major Wisely).  They also feature Jimmy an ex pit pony who was last used in 1970 for taking deer and grouse off the hill.  Some touch-ups to the murals towards the west end were done by local artist Alan Hayman in the 1990s due to damage caused by a leak.

Ramsay ownership: 1978 – present:

Mr Peter Roy died in 1978 and Major-General Charles Ramsay bought South Chesthill.  He later bought neighbouring Inverinain, so making an estate of some 7,000 acres and roughly 6 miles of fishing on which a record 105 salmon were caught in 2012.   In 2015 Chesthill House was refurbished, including adding four new bathrooms and central heating in all rooms.  The estate is now owned by his son Charlie, who would love to hear from anyone with suggestions for this page!









[9] Things I have Seen Whilst Fishing, Philip Geen 1904.