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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Countryside gunning for change
By Martin Collier
BBC News Online Scotland

Heritage chiefs are celebrating a restoration of their fortunes, built on a boom in the number of couples choosing to get married in stately homes.

And the great houses of Scotland are also cashing in, not only from their traditional roots, but by devising quirky money-making sidelines.

Haddo House, designed by William Adam for the 2nd earl of Aberdeen in 1732, happily welcomes tourists, who are guided about its grand rooms and magnificent gardens.

Guy Ritchie and Madonna
Thousands are following Madonna's lead and tying the knot in Scotland
But out in the Aberdeenshire estate's vast grounds you can take part in an activity not readily associated with Celtic tradition - tank driving.

The mucky outdoors adventure, which can be booked by individuals, families and businesses looking to do a bit of corporate team-building, is now proving a novel money-spinner.

Latest annual figures show that hospitality from the country's stately homes resulted in a gift of more than 755,000 to the National Trust of Scotland (NTS), compared with 300,000 the previous year.

Cash from couples getting hitched in NTS properties represents a "major" part of the total, which is desperately needed by the charity - Scotland's second largest landowner - for carrying out its conservation work.

Trust bosses say weddings in posh places have been booming since it started throwing open the doors of its country houses, castles and palaces about four years ago.

Changing face

One of the most popular is Culzean Castle, set on cliffs between Turnberry and Troon, where General Eisenhower paid several visits - one when he was president.

It is diversification for the estate and is bringing folk and income to the area
Iain Adair
Tartan Tanks
A spokesman said: "Being close to Prestwick Airport, Culzean offers an excellent alternative to the remote Highland settings favoured by high-profile celebrities, such as Madonna."

The decision by the international pop star to tie the knot with Guy Ritchie at Skibo Castle, near Dornoch, is credited with being a critical factor in dragging the NTS back from the brink of financial crisis.

Her example was followed not only by other celebrities - such as racing driver Dario Franchitti and actress Ashley Judd and then Stella McCartney and Alasdhair Willis - but thousands of other visitors to Scotland.

Chieftan tank
Conservation officials are training their sights on alternative ventures
A spokesman for the General Register Office for Scotland said that in 2002, nearly a third of the 30,000 marriages north of the border involved couples who were neither born nor living in Scotland.

Further evidence of how the character of the country's heritage is changing is borne out by a restoration scheme at Kenmore, in Perthshire.

Planning permission has been given to turn the crumbling A-listed 19th Century Taymouth Castle, on the banks of the Tay, into Scotland's first six-star hotel.

Diversification

At Lord Aberdeen's historic Haddo Estate, Chieftan tanks have fitted in neatly next to traditional wildlife and shooting parties.

The adventure centre, where visitors can also drive armoured personnel carriers and amphibious trucks, is the brainchild of former fireman and oil rig worker Iain Adair.

By renting the 35 acres occupied by his activity holiday project, Tartan Tanks, he is not only boosting the estate's coffers - but also giving a lift to the local economy.

Mr Adair said: "It is diversification for the estate and is bringing folk and income to the area.

"It is all helping land to get more income than it would otherwise have made. It's an excellent partnership and seems to work very well."

Change in the countryside, it seems, is on the march.


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