The fun, radical ways owners are saving their country homes

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Sir Ludovic Shaw Stewart – or Ludo, as he introduces himself – was 17 years old when his father passed away and, as an only child, he formally inherited the Ardgowan Estate. The 18th-Century house, which stands on 400 acres overlooking the Firth of Clyde on Scotland’s west coast, had been in his family for 800 years.

The site’s history stretches back even further: the legendary Scots king Robert the Bruce, an ancestor of Ludo, fought two battles there, and 1,000 years ago, a watchtower was built on the land to ward off marauding Vikings.

I remember going back on the train and thinking: how am I going to spend my days? What does it entail?

Growing up, Ludo didn’t spend much time at Ardgowan. As a child he attended boarding school, and then studied at Edinburgh University before moving to London to work as an art dealer at Sotheby’s, the international auction house. It was only in his late twenties, when an unexpected tragedy befell a close friend, that he felt compelled to reconsider his path.

(Credit: Steve Elliot, Art24)

By the 1980s, says Ludo, there was a tree growing through the North Wing at Ardgowan Estate and rooms that had been locked up and forgotten about (Credit: Steve Elliot, Art24)

Since his mother had recently remarried and was spending less time at the estate, Ludo decided to return to Ardgowan to take on the privilege and responsibility of managing a historic stately home. The plan that emerged, over the following three years, involved merging the site’s unique history with his own entrepreneurial spirit to create a business that will breathe new life into the estate and its local area.

How do I even begin?

“I remember going back on the train,” Ludo says now, “and thinking, How am I going to spend my days? What does it entail? How do I even begin?” He considered selling the place – and did part with Napoleon’s iconic hat, which an ancestor had picked up during a Grand Tour pitstop at the Napoleon family home – but eventually decided “to invest in the house, emotionally and financially.”

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