Hello folks, apologies for the extended radio silence – I’ve been rather busy this spring and in truth not really that arsed about keeping the blog up to date. However, a little itch has been niggling away at me for a while and it’s now time to give it a good old scratch. The itch in question is the recent closure of Jura House gardens.
Regular readers (yes, both of you) will know that Writesofway is a big fan of the splendid Isle of Jura (the island, not just the eponymous whisky) and has spent many happy days exploring the its wild and remote hinterlands. Jura is a paradise for outdoorsbores who like their landscapes rugged, elemental and inaccessible. However, you don’t need to be a rufty-tufty hill walker to appreciate Jura. There is also much for the less adventurous to admire: abundant wildlife, including 5000-odd red deer, wild goats, otters, seals, golden and white-tailed eagles, astonishing scenery, magnificent geology, the northern hemisphere’s second largest whirlpool and numerous prehistoric sites. (And, of course, the distillery.)
Here’s the rub – one of Jura’s most popular attractions, the Jura House Gardens on the Ardfin Estate, has been closed to the public for well over a year now and not because of an outbreak of Japanese knotweed. Instead, it has been closed at the whim of the estate’s new owner, Greg Coffey.
This is a very great shame, as the gardens are very lovely and their closure is likely to disincline many potential daytrippers from visiting Jura and spending a few quid while they’re there. So why have the gardens been closed? Well, let me tell you a story.
The sixteen-bedroomed Jura house was built by the Campbells in the nineteenth century and sits above the shore at Jura’s south-eastern extremity. The garden was designed as a Victorian kitchen garden and has boxwood hedges, a rose garden, vegetable beds and fruit trees grown against the walls. It is one of very few remaining, active walled gardens. Jura’s mild gulf stream-assisted climate and the gardens’ relatively sheltered situation have enabled many non-hardy plants, including a fine Australasian collection, to thrive.
Under the stewardship of the Ardfin Estate’s previous owner, Tony Riley-Smith, the gardens were open to the public, and during the summer months a tea tent provided refreshments. The estate employed a number of Diurachs who worked at the house, in the gardens and on the estate farm. Mr Riley-Jones was very much concerned with the islanders’ fortunes and when times were hard he introduced a number of initiatives, including rebuilding the island’s distillery along with Robin Fletcher, then owner of the Ardlussa Estate in the island’s north. In short, he took the paternalistic role of laird seriously.
Tony Riley-Smith died in 2010 and the 12,000 acre estate, which includes 10 miles of coastline and seven islands, was put on the market for £3.5 million. I would have bought it only I don’t have any money. One man who did have the readies, unfortunately, is the super rich Australian hedge fund manager, Greg Coffey. Hedge funds. Or gambling with other peoples’ money and creaming off a huge percentage for being tricksy. Just the kind of bloke you want to take over the reigns of a Scottish island estate he’d probably never heard of prior to purchase. What to do with an estimated personal wealth of £260 million? Obvious: buy a chunk of Scotland for starters, great place to park the yacht(s).
Mr Coffey has not confounded people’s worst expectations. He paid his money, visited twice, closed the farm, sold the livestock, closed the gardens, closed access to the shoreline on the estate (which may be illegal), sacked the gardener and the housekeeper. Last year, his ‘people’ said Jura House Gardens were being renovated and would be re-opened in 2012. Needless to say, this has not happened, and recent information (February 2012) suggests that the closure may become permanent; earlier this month it emerged that Mr Coffey is planning to build a golf course on part of the estate.
The island’s 200-odd residents are obviously concerned about developments, not least because of Mr Coffey’s lack of communication as to his intentions. Why is Mr C behaving in this way? Because he can. He has the order of personal wealth that makes it possible for individuals such as him to behave like tinpot dictators. He has so much money he doesn’t have to care what anyone else thinks.
But what if he cares what people say about him in the press? Well, then, he might use his money to sue you. Thus, an article that TLF wrote recently criticising Mr Coffey’s behaviour, and the culture of ridiculous wage and bonus packages that makes such behaviour possible, was spiked. The organ in question was fwightened that Mr C might take exception to her strident though fact-based views and take them to law. This demonstrates a further problem with excessive personal wealth – money is power if a situation obtains where people are fearful that criticism might lead to prosecution.
In my opinion, Mr Coffey should get his act together and re-open the Jura House Gardens immediately and restore access to the shore. An explanation and/or apology to the islanders would also be welcome, but I doubt that Mr C gives a toss. I think you’re beneath contempt, Mr Coffey, and if you don’t like me saying so, I don’t care.