Exploring the Snow Roads
The 90-mile-long Snow Roads Scenic Route runs from Blairgowrie to Grantown-on-Spey. It is well named. It takes the traveller through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery – Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms National Park and includes the highest main road in the UK.
Reader, take note. This is not a guidebook in the conventional sense – what this book aims to do is to put this ancient landscape into its historical and cultural context.
There are hundreds of stories to tell with a huge cast of disparate characters who left their mark behind them in the form of standing stones and stone circles; roads and railways; castles and churches – even towns!
In this extract you can read about one such indvidual who strongly influenced Tomintoul.
Take particular note of the Gordon Arms Hotel which dominates the square. It was once in the ownership of Tony Williams aka the “Laird of Tomintoul”. He discovered the town while on holiday in Ballater and fell in love with it. To the residents he styled himself “Lord Williams”, giving them the impression that his vast wealth was due to his being an aristocrat. In actual fact he was a crook, which is not necessarily a contradiction in terms.
In his working life, he had been Deputy Director of Finance for the Metropolitan Police and over a period of twelve years, defrauded it of £5.3 million. That shows a certain degree of cunning, not to mention a certain amount of cheek. It all began in 1981 with the theft of £200 from a benevolent fund and when no-one noticed, he carried on finding himself in financial difficulties after the break-up of his first marriage. A break of another kind came when he was appointed in sole control of a secret fund that had been set up to conduct undercover surveillance of the IRA, and pay informers.
1n the 1990s, he sent up a company, “Tomintoul Enterprises Ltd”, and set about buying up and improving the town. His first purchase was a cottage on the Square. He went on to buy and spend £1.5m on refurbishing the Gordon Arms, bought more cottages, a pub, a tearoom and the Clockhouse restaurant on which he spent a cool £500,000 on refurbishments. He also bought a time-share at the nearby Craigendarroch Country Club which boasts amongst its members, the Royal Family. Splash the cash and act like an aristocrat. No wonder he fooled everyone.
Like other exceptionally wealthy people, he banked with Coutts, bankers to the Queen. He also had bank accounts in London, Scotland, and the Channel Islands. Furthermore, he had two houses, mansions actually, in Surrey as well as a flat in Westminster. He also rented another in Mayfair at £2,000 a month, not to mention the little matter of a villa on the Costa del Sol. And here’s the thing – all this on a salary of £42,000! He told his wife, Kay, he had inherited a fortune from a rich uncle in Norway and willingly, she believed. One should always choose one’s uncles carefully and if he doesn’t exist, it may be necessary to invent him, as Voltaire famously said about God.
When he first began spending freely in Tomintoul, the residents could hardly believe their luck. To them, Williams must have seemed like an angel, providing employment for around forty people. That’s a signifiant number out of such a small population. But as the old dictum has it: if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. And perhaps being called the “laird” went to his head because he started buying up aristocratic titles, nine Scottish titles in all, as well as the 15th century Barony of Chirnside in Berwickshire, which is how he managed to get rid of another £80,000.
Sadly, it all ended in tears when his pochling was discovered. His banks had become suspicious because his deposits were so enormous they suspected something fishy and brought the matter to the attention of the police. In May 1995, he was sentenced in the Old Bailey to seven-and-a-half years at Her Majesty’s pleasure. His assets were frozen and the Barony of Chirnside was put up for auction, but only around £750,000 of the millions he had stolen were recovered. He was released in 1999 and worked as a bus driver as part of a prison-release scheme. Tomintoul’s benefactor was, of course, no danger to the public. He was a gentleman crook.