Rachel and Chris Rowley knew that Perthshire was the perfect location for their new venture, the fabulous Ballintaggart Cookery School. They have since also opened the beautifully renovated Grandtully Hotel.
The family moved here from a tiny flat in West London, a slight culture shock, to say the least. A few years previously they had uprooted from Edinburgh, where Chris is from originally and their girls were born. They had run a highly acclaimed supper club called Charlie and Evelyn’s Table, from their spacious Victorian apartment there, as a weekend business. Ultimately, both Rachel and Chris left secure, corporate jobs and a comfortable home, with two young children in tow, in order for Chris to train formally as a chef at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. He worked in London for a couple of years, while they looked far and wide for a property where he could nurture his cookery ambitions and build a food business.
Perthshire was an obvious possibility: a beautiful location, where Chris enjoyed holidays here as a child and has family nearby. ‘We had been looking for a project, thinking that we might get more for our money if we were willing to take on a wreck, but honestly, wrecks do not come cheap’ Rachel explains ‘and with three young children and a growing business, we just felt we had enough to do’. When they saw this property it just seemed absolutely perfect: renovated by the previous owners to a high standard; the kitchen, in the separate steading was spacious enough to add stations for students and they have some B&B accommodation as well, for guests who have come from afar. There is an office, which is invaluable, and a rambling farmhouse, ideal for their family. The décor was neutral and in good condition generally, allowing Chris and Rachel plenty of time to focus on their business.
Being close to nature – you feel part of the landscape, we love weather watching and our proximity to the sky.
‘We instantly felt at home here’ Rachel shares, ‘the local village is extremely friendly and the neighbouring farmer, who once owned Ballintaggart has been extremely helpful. Locals are delighted with our repurposing of the buildings and that we live and work here. The previous owners only used it occasionally as a holiday home. It was rarely used, so the Rowleys bringing it to life again, as a family home and a destination cookery school has been widely well received.
‘Our plan for the décor was to go generally contemporary: scandi and modern, and we have stuck to that on the whole, but every now and then we find ourselves softening and adding rustic touches to the scheme. I think the landscape is getting to us. The views from every side of the house are out of this world. We have taken to watching the fields and are finding the seasons fascinating. Who would have thought that watching barley grow would be so interesting’ Rachel laughs ‘and of course the girls love playing on the bales. Last year there was not enough wind, which left the crops much wetter than they should be, the harvest was a real struggle’ she observed.
The area ticks every box – accessible as well as rural and is full of hidden gems. A paradise for foodies: Perthshire is a mecca for shooting and fishing, so fish and game are plentiful and being equidistant from both coasts, seafood is also abundant. Famous also for fruits, Perthshire raspberries are second to none and there are even wine producers nearby. The best local and seasonal produce is showcased at the regular feast nights thrown by Chris and Rachel at Ballintaggart. They are the talk of the neighbourhood: highly supported by locals, but equally popular with visitors to the area; with informal, but flavoursome menus created by Chris, continuing the supper club tradition started with Charlie and Evelyn’s Table.
It is layered with history, you are aware that generations of one family farmed here before we moved in.
The house also has everything on Chris and Rachel’s wish list. The fact that the original farmhouse and steading are two separate buildings would not suit every family, but they find the separation useful. ‘The space we have acquired is so valuable to us, we really feel our business can reach it’s full potential here’ Rachel states. ‘There is an existing orchard and we are planning to plant a vegetable garden. There is even a tennis court, we simply could not ask for more. When we first viewed the property, I could visualize our children growing up here, the village school is excellent’. They have involved themselves with the local community closely, starting an apple day, for instance, with a view to producing chutneys, juice and all sorts of baking, to be served at an annual festival.
Christmas provides a welcome break for Chris. For lunch, a crowd of 16 will gather and Chris will serve a seafood starter, for ease, then, with Rachel’s help, a turkey, with all the trimmings plus a sirloin of beef. After a break for crackers and games, they will enjoy a Christmas pudding and a Pavlova wreath, made by Chris’s sister. A cheese board always includes Rachel’s favourite, Brie de Meaux, Manchego, Gorgonzola and Isle of Mull cheddar.
Now that they are settled and have got to know their new home, and it’s glorious setting, they would like to extend the farmhouse to the west, with perhaps a conservatory or an orangerie, to enjoy the stunning sunsets. Rachel’s one complaint is the slow broadband, compared to West London, but otherwise, her only words are ‘blissed out’.