Behind the scenes: Ardgowan Estate

Sir Ludovic Shaw Stewart 12th Baronet of Greenock and Blackhall, or “Ludo” as he insists to be called, is a man fiercely determined when it comes to restoring and managing his family home, Ardgowan Estate.  

An old art dealer at London’s esteemed Sotheby’s, Ludo now focuses on the preservation and development of his striking 18th Century home in Inverclyde, Scotland, which he opens up to Insight Vacations guests. To find out more about life on Argowan estate, we sent our content producer, Rachel Gee, behind the scenes.  

“Waking up!” Ludo cries when asked about the most typical element of his daily routine. He has much more to share when it comes to the unusual goings on. 

“The job involves a whole variety of different roles and duties, and I love every aspect. Most satisfying has been the recent refurbishment work we’ve just completed in the downstairs rooms”. The work involved Ludo painting 272 gold stars in the property’s Rose room by hand. 

“About halfway through they all started running off, so I had to start again. It nearly beat me, but it was worth the effort, as the results look perfect!” he laughs. 

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Reconnecting with the property 

Despite the fact Ludo spent time away from the estate growing up, when he joined Edinburgh University and again when he headed to London to work as an art dealer, he says Ardgowan has always remained a part of him: 

“It’s funny, having spent a lot of time away, I didn’t really appreciate how much this place was under my skin. Over the past 4 years I’ve made my peace with the house and the lands beyond to the extent that I now feel myself to be a part of it.” 

The estate has been in the family for more than 800 years and with his own heritage linking to King Robert the Bruce and Native American Princess, Pocahontas, it is little surprise the estate means a lot to Ludo – it is a physical tribute to his ancestry. A nod to this is the cairn on the bank by the castle which marks the spot where Robert the Bruce fired the arrow in the second Battle of Inverkip in 1314. 

Ludo’s family name stems back to March 1667. When his ancestor Archibald Stewart was given the title, Sir Archibald Stewart, 1st Baronet, of Greenock and Blackhall. The family also have a royal connection, having descended in the direct male line from Sir John Stewart, who was the son of Robert III of Scotland. 

Ludo’s fascinating lineage and family history is displayed on the estate in the form of artefacts including letters, furniture, and fabulous paintings. One such artefact, which Ludo has now parted with, was Napoleon’s hat which Ludo’s ancestor, Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, returned home with after tracking Napoleon across Europe in 1814. For many years this sat in the hall in a glass case. 

“It was compulsory for guests staying in the house to put it on and march around the hall,” he laughs. 

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An unspoiled hideout 

And if you think living on a historic estate would be wonderful, imagine growing up on one. The 10,000-acre coastal property left Ludo with the ideal hiding sports when it came to games of hide and seek. 

“There’s an old ornate grotto hidden on the hillside in what was the Japanese Garden. I discovered it in a rhododendron bush as a child and thereafter won every game of hide and seek I ever played,” he explains. 

Though such a good hiding spot sometimes had its disadvantages: 

“Winning hide and seek is somewhat of a hollow victory when people get bored and stop looking…” 

The estate still offers Ludo idyllic hideouts. Though he now opts for a loch on the hill that no one knows about – well until now! He heads there to swim when he needs to clear his head. Telling me that the water is calming, so a nap in the heather on the bank usually follows. 

From hide and seek to the picture-perfect getaway spots, the estate has a sense of homeliness to it. It is little surprise Ludo is so proud to call it home. 

“The estate is cosy. For its size Ardgowan still very much remains a family home which I think is essential to the warmth of welcome our returning guests have a come to expect,” Ludo explains. 

And with a whisky distillery, along with the estate now being used for weddings and as the set for t television shows, including Agatha Christie’s well-regarded period drama, Ordeal by Innocence. Ludo is eager to share its alluring charm with Insight guests. 

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Article in partnership with Insight Vacations. See the estate for yourself and find out more about its fascinating history and its rumoured ghost. Ludo didn’t want to spoil the surprise – on their Best of Ireland and Scotland trip. Contact GrownUps Holidays for more information.