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Grouse shooting, conference centre and more planned for mysterious multi-million-pound estate

Tillypronie House in Aboyne.
Tillypronie House in Aboyne.

If walls could talk, Tillypronie House could tell an interesting tale or two.

The likes of Queen Victoria, Neville Chamberlain, Henry James and  Sir Thomas Royden have walked the halls of the impressive home, which sits at the heart of the 12,000 acre Tillyproine Estate.

More recently, in 2017, the Tillypronie Estate was bought for £10.5 million by a “mystery buyer”.

The purchase came amidst rumours that former Prime Minister David Cameron was interested in the land, situated near Tarland.

Now, plans have been approved to create an “estate hub” at the site, featuring grouse shooting facilities, conference space, workshops, a beater’s bothy, gun-cleaning facilities and a secure armoury.

It is hoped the increased pheasant shooting that should follow from the development could economically benefit nearby communities.

In addition, organised shooting events could provide employment for up to 50 people.

The Tillyponie estate was on the market at offers over £10million in 2016

The applicant’s details are blacked out on planning documents submitted to Aberdeenshire Council, meaning the estate’s ownership remains shrouded in mystery.

Agents Harry Taylor and Co have, however, offered a little insight into the estate, stating that it has been “sorely under-invested in” over recent decades.

Planning documents state: “The estate has lacked adequate facilities over the years.

“The applicant, seeing the potential from this long established yet under invested asset, wishes to increase its presence to a wider community that would ultimately benefit the local economy.

“The proposals, along with providing workshop facilities, will also act as a meeting point of pheasant shoots.

“The resulting footfall from guests and staff during these events will bring potential benefits to the local communities of Tarland and Logie Coldstone as well as Aboyne and Ballater, with retail sales and accommodation.”

A site photo

The development is planned for Tillypronie Estate’s Knocksoul Wood, near to Migvie Castle, and near where a sawmill was once situated.

Harry Taylor and Co say in the planning documents that they hope Tillypronie could one day “be ranked highly as a premier shooting estate” where its potential could be maximised “for years to come”.

Last week, Aberdeenshire Council granted full planning permission for the venture, subject to drainage and road improvements being undertaken before development.

Queen Victoria, a playboy bunny and Britain’s former Prime Minister walk into the Tillypronie Estate

In the late 15th century, the estate was part of the lands of Mar, belonging to the Erskine family.

They were dispossessed of their estates and title by the Crown – though they were later reinstated as the legitimate heirs by Mary Queen of Scots in 1565.

Centuries later, in 1867, Tillypronie House was built on the land by Sir John Clark, diplomat son of Queen Victoria’s physician, Sir James Clark.

Queen Victoria herself laid the foundation stone of the new house and used to visit Tillypronie with her servant and confidant, John Brown.

In 1925, the estate was bought by Sir Thomas Royden, chairman of the Cunard White Star shipping line.

The Astor family – knows as one of the world’s most prominent business and political dynasties – then took over the land in 1951.

Their investment grew it into one of the most prolific grouse moors the country had ever seen.

In 2014 the Tillypronie Estate Trust controversially received £385,279 from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for “afforestation of agricultural and non-agricultural land”.

The Hon Philip Astor and his wife Justine Picardie.

After decades of Astor ownership, in 2016 the property was back on the market.

Rumours flew across the north-east that former Prime Minister David Cameron was interested in the estate, due to the fact his wife, Samantha, has family connections to the Astors through her mother’s second marriage.

The property was then bought by a mystery buyer the following year.

In 2018, the estate’s head gamekeeper was banned from working for three years amid claims a bird of prey was illegally trapped on an estate in 2014.

And the most recent update for the estate concerned a giant Playboy Bunny that had been etched onto the hillside of the estate by former owner Philip Astor.

Last March, the 300ft iconic rabbit silhouette logo of Hugh Hefner’s magazine went up in flames.