A Visit to Skibo Castle--
Mr. Carnegie's "Heaven on Earth"

Having slept in Mr. Carnegie's bed at Skibo Castle, awakened to the morning music of the castle piper, eaten at the Laird of Skibo's breakfast table, perused the books in his library, walked through his gardens, inspected his Victorian swimming pool and beautiful golf course, and supped with friends in his grand dining room, your editor hastens to file a report.

As one of 37 Americans on a recent tour from Pittsburgh to Carnegie's Scotland to celebrate The Carnegie Centennial, I shared with my companions a grand highlight of the trip: a day and night at Skibo Castle. Another highlight of the trip, Dunfermline, Carnegie's birthplace, will be discussed in the future.

Andrew Carnegie bought his Scottish estate in 1898 as a summer retreat for himself, his wife Louise, and their infant daughter Margaret, and soon turned it into a grand country house that allowed him to entertain scores of guests in an informal style. Every spring he migrated there with the family for the summer, and did not return to New York until the fall. He called it his "heaven on earth," and indeed it was, and still is, a kind of pastoral wonderland with a sunny climate in the Scottish highlands, kept mild by the warming influence of the Gulf Stream and the Firth of Dornoch where Carnegie sailed his yacht.

An ancient place dating to the tenth century, its placename can be traced to Old Norse "Schytherbolle" and earlier Irish Celtic origins, meaning "land of peace" or "fairyland." What remained of the ancient castle at the site disappeared under the massive Victorian manor house of semi-Gothic design constructed by owner Evan Sutherland-Walker in the 1870s. It was this house and estate that Carnegie bought when the estate fell upon hard times, and upgraded dramatically by adding grand new wings and extensions.

Perhaps the happiest and most satisfying period of Carnegie's life was spent at Skibo, and after his death in 1919 his wife and daughter continued to enjoy it. After Louise died in 1946, Margaret continued to use it into her own last years. Finally, after heartfelt attempts to keep it associated with the United Kingdom Trust for educational or charitable purposes, she sold it in 1981 to a developer who hoped to maintain its identity as Andrew Carnegie's house, and use it to boost the tourist trade in northern Scotland. But the upkeep of the 19,000- acre estate proved a financial burden and again it was sold, this time in 1990 to the Peter de Savary family.

Entrepreneur Peter de Savar quickly fell under Skibo's old magic, just as Carnegie had nine decades earlier, and bought it five days after seeing it. Living in it with his family, he restored to it the charming details of the Edwardian country house, and went to great lengths to buy back furnishings which had been sold off by the previous owner. Today Skibo has the beauty and style of the gracious manor which once housed Carnegie's mixture of guests--people from many walks of life, old friends and acquaintances, and the celebrated leaders of his time, such as Rudyard Kipling, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller, the Rockefellers, Lloyd George, and King Edward VII (who granted Carnegie special permission to fly his double-sided flag--with the Union Jack on one side and the Stars and Stripes on the other). Returned with the flag are other Carnegie traditions such as the piper who leads guests into the formal dining room on Saturday evening.

Peter de Savary has reinvisioned Skibo Castle as the Carnegie Club--a unique and private club which offers members complete refuge from the hectic world, where they can stay in one of the 28 castle guest rooms or nine private lodges, use the library and exquisite dining rooms, or roam some 7,500 acres pursuing their interests, from hiking to fishing to boating to hunting to falconry to tennis to swimming--but especially, if they are so inclined, to playing golf.

Carnegie personally attributed many health benefits to "Dr. Golf," and created his own nine-hole course on a beautiful peninsula at Skibo, thereby putting down his claim to an excellent course in a country famous for great golf courses. The legendary Royal Dornoch course is in the nearby town, and other courses are nearby. Dedicated golfers who want to play in Scotland can now put the links of the Carnegie Club on their agenda. An expansion of the nine-hole course to an 18- hole championship course has already been skillfully accomplished, and another 18-hole parkland course with tree and water obstacles, is planned for 1997.

Will this all work? Will an exclusive club membership of 450 people, with perhaps a corporate membership program seeking "heaven on earth" in Scotland for its members, make Skibo a unique resort, and be a tourist blessing for Northern Scotland? The experiment began in the spring of 1995, and the early reactions in magazines and newspapers have been favorable. A golfing magazine gave it its highest praise, and a fashion magazine used it as a wonderful stage set. Great Britain's Sunday Express offered a competition with the prizes being 25 two- night stays at the club. The reviewer in Conde Nast Traveler struggled to find any fault with an otherwise perfect visit, and finally decided that the mirrors in Carnegie's bathroom were too low (Carnegie was only five-foot two), and the carefully restored Victorian plumbing took extra effort to operate.

The travellers on the tour from Pittsburgh received special treatment-- in addition to being steeped in the informal but finely detailed attentions of an excellent club management staff. The group from Pittsburgh occupied nearly the entire facility, and club manager Stephen Toon made special arrangements. One was a ceremonial tree- planting near Carnegie's garden--another Skibo tradition--where President Ellsworth Brown helped plant a memorial to the first one hundred years of the Carnegie Library and Institute in Pittsburgh. This also happened to be the very day, 81 years earlier in 1914, that Andrew Carnegie had bid goodbye to his Skibo staff for the last time, as he left for America and World War I prevented his return.

Andrew Carnegie's great granddaughter Margaret Carnegie Miller Thompson, who lives nearby and bears a striking resemblance to her famous ancestor, very graciously greeted the Pittsburgh group at the ceremony, and wore the Carnegie tartan for the special occasion. Angus McLaren, who served at Skibo under Andrew's daughter Margaret and still oversees the details of the guests' comfort, shared his knowledge of daily life at Skibo. At the formal dinner (the piper pipes in the traditional dish, the haggis) the Pittsburgh-Skibo connections were full of associations for the Americans.

A new connection developed between The Carnegie Club and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which had in its files a good copy of a 1911 article written by Carnegie on "Dr. Golf." The Carnegie Club will reprint this story from The Independent magazine in one of its club newsletters--including rare photographs of Carnegie demonstrating how to play the game. The photo essay in magazines was in its infancy when Carnegie posed for these pictures.

As luck would have it, my wife and I passed the night in Mr. Carnegie's own room, and the following morning, at 8:30 a.m., Isnapped a picture from Mr. Carnegie's balcony of the piper parading through the mist on his wake-up call. This was the way to start the day at "heaven on earth."

--R. Jay Gangewere

Information about Carnegie Club membership can be obtained by contacting The Carnegie Club, Skibo Castle, Dornoch, Sutherland, Scotland IV25 3RQ; telephone: 44-1862-894600